Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Would You Tell Graduates?

It's graduation season again. I'm heading back to Princeton tomorrow for my 10 year reunion. On some level, I think "oh, I can't believe it's been that long" and then I think back through various things that have happened during that time and realize, yep, it has been a while. Since this season always inspires nostalgia, those of us who make a living dishing out career advice tend to seize the occasion to write columns and such on what grads should know. I'm curious what readers of this blog would like to tell bright young people headed out into the world. I have a few thoughts:

1. You're going to switch jobs. I work with the Princeton Alumni Council's careers committee, and every year we ask classes approaching major reunions to take a survey about their career paths. Basically, almost everyone switches jobs within the first few years out of college, with many going to graduate school 2-5 years out. That's when people become a bit more settled on career choice. So your first job should be something interesting that you'll learn a lot from, with the understanding that it's probably more of a project than anything long-term.

2. "Find your passion" is a cliche... for a reason. We ask alumni to give us their words of wisdom, and probably at least half give some version of "find your passion" or "do what you love." It's a nice sentiment, but the reason people harp on it is that we spend a lot of time working. Not the whole of our 168 hours, of course, but a lot. The difference in quality of life between people who whistle while they work and people who are counting the days until retirement is huge. As someone who's trying to build her career and her family simultaneously, I would add that loving what you do is key to getting over various obstacles that combining the two can present. When you love what you do, you keep at it, which is important because...

3. You get better with practice. I find this absolutely wonderful. I had to give an impromptu speech for something in college and it was horrible. I now actually like public speaking. I like being in front of an audience and drawing energy from them as we find common ground together. Did I change personality? No. I just practiced public speaking a lot.

4. Life is a risk. I have taken a few calculated ones over the years. Submitting that first column to USA Today as an intern who'd been on the job 6 weeks. Having it published has led to just about everything else, including, indirectly, this blog (I co-wrote Genius Denied with Jan and Bob Davidson after they read a column I wrote about gifted education in USA Today a year later... co-writing that book gave me the opportunity to write others...) Moving to NYC without a job rather than getting a regular journalism job. Spending 18 long months trying to get a contract for what later became 168 Hours. Some risks turn out well and others don't, but few calculated ones end in disaster. You have to play career fairy godmother to yourself.

5 Be like Oprah. So it's been the last few episodes of her show this week. BNET had a great column about career tips anyone who wanted to build an empire could learn from her. A few? Bet big on yourself, nurture other people's talent (hello Rachel Ray, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil...) and never coast. Wherever you are, you can always set your sights on something bigger and better, and work to bring yourself there.

What would you tell grads that you've learned over the years?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Not everyone does job hopping. I had one job for 4 years after finishing my PhD, then switched to my current job, where I've been for 25 years. I expect to continue at this job until I retire in another 10 years.

(And yes, I did know that the first job had a high risk of being only for 3-6 years.)

'Nother Barb said...

Think about what you liked in school, even as a kid. It may lead you to your "passion". I always liked writing and using language, but was too sensitive about my creative writing, and too shy to be a journalist. I really enjoyed writing reports (in college, when the teacher gave a choice between taking a final and writing a research paper, I chose the latter), and eventually became a technical writer and editor. I LOVED that job.

In conversation with an inventory control manager (for construction fasteners), I asked if he'd had collections when he was a kid. He did, and he'd catalogued them meticulously and kept track of which things he was seeking to complete them and when he needed new cases for them. Bingo, inventory control.

These don't sound like glamorous, exciting careers, but they make us happy.

Anonymous said...

I'd pretty much just recite this:

Well, not just that. But that essay covers so much of the important stuff, and does it so well.

atxteacher said...

I think it's important to be open to possibilities. I was passionate about kids but thought teaching wasn't high profile enough (got lots of encouragement for medicine or law). But when I finally stopped to evaluate what I really wanted to do and what I really cared about - I realized I had been teaching in some form or another since my very first lifeguarding job. Turns out, it's my calling!

Tracy said...

Know the happiest people I know from young to old never have stopped being curious and learning! Spend time learning how you learn best. Continuing to explore and learn will pay off in every area of your working and private life, giving you great satisfaction no matter your path.