What Am I Going To Do When I Grow Up?

Archive for the ‘career coaching’ Category

If you have ever uttered this phrase or found yourself whining along those lines, it is deeply understandable.  There are a lot of messages that we give ourselves and pick up around us that invalidate the study of music, poetry, dance, language, history, comparative literature, and the whole spectrum of liberal and fine arts majors.

So, start by reading yet another amazingly helpful and concise posting by Kathy Hansen at QuintCareers.com.  If you aren’t already a fan of QuintCareers, let me introduce you.  I’ve followed them since 1998 when I was on the job market after grad school in English and found the content refreshing, direct, and useful.  Really, truly everything career from “I’m in high school and thinking about….” to “I’m a senior executive” to everything in between and beyond.  Start there and it’ll lead your job search journey along to many great resources, ideas, and practices.

Go now… read what she has to say about the amazing value of owning your degree.   It’s SO important in finding a job and, really in all of life…  If YOU can’t convince yourself of being likable, valuable, hirable… Well, it’s going to be  really tough sell to others.

If it’s helpful, learning to like yourself and value what is special about you IS something you can learn.  Undeniably, it *really*  helps to have great nurturing parents who’ve told you repeatedly how amazing, gifted, talented, and full of potential you are while setting clear supportive boundaries in developmentally appropriate ways.    But…..given that didn’t happen for most of us and even those that it did… well, trust me.  Not even the coolest parents are perfect.   We all have issues.

And that’s where I really want to add something to Kathy’s great list of ways to value–and, realize the value of liberal or fine arts degrees--and, it honestly might be much clearer to the fine arts majors than it is to those of us in the humanities, but PEOPLE are the most central and effective resource on a job search.  Liberal arts includes the humanities after all!

You might have heard people say, often with a snicker… that “it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know?”

Well, I’d argue it’s really, equally and crucially, both.

  1. Who you know gives you a chance to develop what you know
  2. Who you know gives you an opportunity to demonstrate what you know (and what you don’t)
  3. Who you know gives you a chance to increase who ELSE you might talk with about resources
  4. What you know can bring positive attention from who you know (and perhaps even introduce you to those you’d like to know!)
  5. What you know can connect you to others who share those interests
  6. What you know can change your perspective on who you know

Who you know is only part of the recipe of success.  If you ONLY know people and you are a complete idiot (and we all could possibly point to someone like this in our history?), you can rise quite far.  That’s true.  But you are still a complete idiot and at some point the emperor has no clothes and falls in disgrace.

What you know is only part of the recipe of success.   If you ONLY know facts and figures, information without social context and human connection is of limited use.  You can be very smart, but you need other humans to be able to put that information to work.

Connecting who and what through learning is optimal networking.   Intentionally setting out to learn from those around you through Informational Interviewing and less formal conversations too about what others are doing, how they got there, where they got started, when they learned some of their biggest lessons, and especially who else they would suggest you speak with in your mission.

Building community is crucial.  I’m not talking about fake networking of the worst most cheesy bad car salesman type.   I’m talking about being human.  Connect with other humans around what you want to learn about the world.   More on this in the future…

Sending fabulous energy as you connect with people around passionate ideas!

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If you are thinking about graduate school, please read the post at Grad Pit Stop before you do anything else.

Moving forward without writing things down, weighing pro’s and con’s, talking it through with a number of people you respect, and thinking that you will be fine is not a plan.    I say this because I didn’t do these things and it would mean a lot to me if others could learn from my mistakes.

I headed off to graduate school because it seemed like the next logical option without any formal or informal examination of my various broad reaching career options.  I loved studying, reading, writing, and discussing ideas along a broad range of deeply interrelated subject matter.  My faculty, who were great mentors and supporters, thought it would be a great option.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school and looking more seriously ahead at a field replete with ABD-ghosts broken and floating lecturers teaching night and weekend classes, cobbling together a meager income from several different adjunct positions all over the region, that I started to see with greater clarity that the field I thought was so wonderful had a rusty carcass at its core.  The dream of making tenure by 30 was mythic for almost any person, even department stars.

There were quite simply too many implausible odds on writing one of two published books a year and scoring a tenure-track position at even the most remote a college, much less a top-tier university.  Unless I was on a holy mission to prove something or another, it just didn’t seem worth it to continue into the Ph.D. program.

When I started I was on a mission.  But then I discovered that my mission wasn’t built on pure desire to know, it was built and driven principle on a genuine desire to prove myself as “good enough.”    This discovery was piercing.

Like many transformational moments it was deflating, dispiriting, and fraught with despair at the same time it was the foundation of discovering the path to my self.    I totally admit that at the time it was happening, I didn’t see the opportunities as much as I saw the devastation.  It’s only in retrospect that I see how it was all meant to be.

So, I share this with you so that you might be much clearer on your mission, more conscious of actual field realities,  and more fully engaged in guided career exploration.

Sending fabulous energy!

Often students who are planning to go to graduate school dismiss internships and even the idea of career planning entirely.  I’ve truly had student-after-high-ability student absolutely refuse to consider the idea of working on career exploration and development activities while in college because “I’m going to graduate school.”

So, if this is something you’ve thought, you aren’t alone.  Lots of students only focus on getting a degree.

Consider this:  Just because you plan to get ANOTHER degree doesn’t mean you are prepared to enter the job market.  Just having a degree (even an advanced one) does NOT automatically get you hired, nor does it guarantee a satisfying meaningful career.  It just means you have cleared the academic hurdles set up by a specific program before they will issue a degree.

I’m not saying that degrees aren’t important and valuable, nor am I dismissing just how hard you might work to earn the degree.  What I am saying that a degree is not the entire recipe for success.

Getting any degree at any level is a huge commitment of time, energy, and money.     Yet, going to school is only part about the classes and subject matter.   Half of why you come to college is to learn technique and information.  The other half is about networking and gaining experiences.

So, here’s some very real talk on the issue of graduate school and internships:

1) First, internships, volunteer work, and other experiences that show involvement, leadership, and dedication make you a better candidate for graduate study.  Engaging experiences make you an more interesting person who can write better letters of application, have more people to ask for letters of recommendation, and brings more meaning to the process.

2) You might not anticipate this, but it’s possible that you might not get into graduate school or not get into programs you want to attend or it’s possible that by the time you are finishing up your seniors year you just can’t bear the idea of MORE school and decide to put grad school off for a year or two.   Internships lay the groundwork for your career, providing experience and networking connections in a field.

2) Graduate school just is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a lot of work.  If it’s meaningful work that fits into your long terms career goals then it’s enjoyable and worth it.  At least most days.  😉   But if graduate school is just because you are good at school and feel that “it’s just a logical choice and really what else would you do?, then you are going to graduate over-educated and completely ill-prepared for a meaningful job search.  Internships, volunteer work, and leadership experiences at any time help prepare you for the job market in ways that more school never will.

3) Internships, volunteer work, and leadership experiences all help you explore who you are in different situations.  These experiences help you develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t when interacting with people in professional settings.  Eventually, school will be over and you will need to confront the question of “what you are going to do when you grow up?”

4) Depending on which graduate program you attend there may be a HUGE range of career development support available to you.  Some graduate programs are absolutely AMAZING in terms of what they provide in terms of leadership development, networking opportunities, internships, practicums, co-ops, residencies, clerking, teaching, researching, or other applied learning experiences.  Yet, sadly some number of graduate program are abysmal, providing even less support for graduate student career development than the inadequate scraps of career services they provide for undergraduates in the same programs.

I could probably write volumes on the subject of the inadequacies of career development at university, but I’ll sum it up this way… depending on what type of graduate program you are looking at and why you are looking at it, they might be selling a dream that isn’t as shiny as you think it is.  So, if you are going to graduate school because you want to be faculty, be prepared to examine the rusty interior of academia before choosing that path.   More on that topic in future posts.

No matter what your educational plans are in relationship to your career plans…wherever you are in your journey, it’s never too early or late for more experience.   So whether it’s a part time internship or a volunteer experience or any other kind of structure that allows you to meet people and connect with specific fields, it’s an invaluable in yourself.   You are totally worth it!

Sending fabulous energy!

If you’ve been reading along in my series on going to graduate school, you might at some point in the process get overwhelmed.  That’s totally normal.

If it’s helpful, I get overwhelmed as much as the next person.  Thinking about life… career options… relationships… from the big picture to the smallest pixel… there are moments when it can all become too much.

From questioning where one might to live, work, study, or raise a family?  to considering what others might think?  how it might work?  or even what might happen if…? Sometimes, it can be good to pause, take a minute to breathe, and consider the larger purpose of why we are heading off to do something.

Just like anyone, I can get caught up in exploring the enormity of options, unknown variables, quantity of elements to coordinate, etc…that it’s just a seemingly never-ending pointless laundry list of tasks and duties and responsibilities…and it’s at that moment, especially if I find myself discouraged, frustrated, or wanting to just quit, one of the most powerful things I’ve found I can do for myself and others is to ask “What’s the Point?”

Try it.  Take a deeeeeeep to-the-belly-kind-of-breathe…hold in and sloooowwwwwlyyy–as slowly as you possibly can– but evenly…let your breath out.  Gather your focus in doing so.   Slow your heart rate by slowly breathing in and out.  Ask yourself: “What’s the Point?”

When I’m asking “What’s the Point?” it’s not typically in a despairingly dramatic “ohhhhhh woe is me….what is the point of living…” while swooning, gnashing my teeth, and falling on my heroic but trite sword of death, while whining that “it’s not faaaairrrr.”  Not typically.   but you know everyone has their moments.  😉

More helpful in asking “What’s the Point”, I’ve found, is that it calls for a focus on purpose or mission.  In  Breaking the Rules, A Visionary’s Guide to Effortless High Performance, Kurt Wright examines the difference between a goal and a purpose.  For example, going to graduate school or getting a job is a goal.  It is a specific (albeit large) task that can be accomplished.   Goals are great.  But, a goal without a reason is hollow, demotivating, and unlikely to be successful.

Consider any time someone orders you to do something.  It really typically doesn’t matter who it is doing the ordering: it could be your mom, your boss, your significant other or roommate; it could even be yourself, but almost every time, our natural response is “Why?”  Often that “why” question is a way to resist…or contest power…but that’s deeply understandable.  Anytime we commit our time, energy, and resources to a task, it it is more helpful to know why we are doing so, than to simply march forward with a 1000-yard stare into meaningless action.

So, in someways whenever we get overwhelmed, frustrated, or otherwise feeling grumpy about something, it can be useful to take a moment to consider that core “Why” questions because the answer is central to providing a motivating reason to each goal.  Providing context and purpose is key to swift action and to meaningful results.

“What is the Point?” is another way of asking “Why?’ and gets at the central motivating reason or purpose of the goal.    Knowing the purpose of a goal is much more likely to move me into action.  Simply telling myself “I have to do this or that” makes me actually resist or procrastinate action.  When, we know why we are doing something, we have the power of choice.

Yet, if it’s helpful for me to share, sometimes that all important “why?” question can simply be too confrontational, too personal, too combative, or too philosophical to be helpful in asking ourselves and others.  It’s a crucially important question to ask, but because it’s the most core question,it can be too much for us to address, especially at stressful moments in life.

For example, even people close to us…even when we mean no confrontation…even when we ask a simple curious “so, why’d you park out front, honey?”…and it’s not a deep philosophical issue that requires soul searching…people can snap at you when you ask “why?”

So, here are ways to ask “why” in more effective frames:

  • What’s the larger mission?  What’s the central purpose?
  • Where does the mission point?
  • How does the larger purpose or mission frame options?
  • When does the mission connect?
  • Who benefits?

Ask yourself these questions at any point along the way.  Asking and answering these can keep you going, as well as keep you focused and motivated.

It can also be a great tool in crisis.

  • So, if you haven’t yet articulated a specific mission and find yourself adrift, unfocused or unmotivated, this can be a great jump start.
  • Or, if you at one point were on a mission and then started to forget to keep checking in with your mission and begin to get frustrated and overwhelmed, this can knock you out of your rut.
  • Or perhaps like all of us, even when you are clear on a mission, certain days and experiences are just hell.   Being able to not get stuck there is key.

Asking great questions, creating mission statements, or reciting inspiring quotations  and the like are a powerful tools in controlling our thoughts, beliefs, motivations, actions, and are a few of the key elements of transforming our lives on our terms.

Sending fabulous energy!

When looking for specific graduate programs, students frequently ask me about college rankings.

Of course, you can turn to resources like US News & World Report College Rankings if you just want some ideas of programs that might be worth looking at.   However, much has been written about the issues with these rankings.  I’ll sum it up this way:

  • These rankings often look at the entire university or college and often do not address the specific strength or weakness of a programs like music, law, or pharmacy within the university.
  • Even when the rankings break down to department, program, or school, rankings do not speak to specific strengths or weakness of specializations within a field.  For example, a top ranked law program may not actually focus or offer much on entertainment law.  Or, a well-ranked English program might not do much in the area of Post-Modern literature.  Even though a program is “good” doesn’t mean their focus matches your interests.   Every program has to make choices about what they want to be known for and they can’t be good at everything no matter how big the program is.
  • Rankings capture what people in the past think or report in response to cryptic questions.  Rankings do not speak to where a program may go in the future.  They can be a good indicator of central funding or on going support, but if the only faculty member teaching music cognition leaves the program and that’s what you came to study… well, it doesn’t bode well for your future studies in the program.

So, how can you do good research into programs?  Well, start by reading my previous posts on graduate schools.  Then, a next great step is to regularly read The Chronicle.  You can see trends in programs.  You can look at the facts and figures available regarding salary and opportunities.  And, you can ask questions in the forum.

There are many such resources along the way.  Use them all.  It’s a process and great research on the path to well-thought out decisions doesn’t happen over night.  Research and uncertainty are just part of the gig and are deeply understandable.  Anyone considering graduate school at moments gets overwhelmed, frustrated, and annoyed.   So, one thing you can do for yourself is to connect with others who are in the same place.  Sharing resources and experiences can be very helpful .  It provides support and a good catalyst for making progress.

Sending fabulous energy!

Well, check this out in the NY Times.    Keep playing with this powerful demographic tool to see how it breaks down for race, gender, and age.

Take a look at what happens to unemployment rates without a college degree.  Wow!

Even worse off without a high school degree.   Yikes.

If you are wishing this broke out graduate school as well, you aren’t alone.  But in other research graduate school generally increases employability.    Although, as I say that, I am quick to add that over-educated and under-experienced deep in student loan debt without a plan is no where to be either.   Go back to some of my recent posts on graduate school for more context.

One resource that may be helpful in assessing career options is the Occupations Outlook Handbook.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a biennial publication by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. It includes detailed information about the nature of work, working conditions, training and education, earnings, and job outlook for hundreds of different occupations. It is an excellent first stop to learning about a given career – what it entails, entry requirements, job prospects, and earning potential.

And, if you are seriously considering graduate school, start reading The Chronicle.  The Facts and Figures section will provide data on faculty and other administrative salaries, the Advice section will provide context and assistance as you move forward, and of course the Jobs section provides valuable research information for now and later.

Sending fabulous energy!

Not sure if you should stay in school and plan for graduate school or graduate into a weak job market?

It’s admittedly an understandable strategy.  School is what you know.  Sure, you might be tired of it, but often people find that what is known and unpleasant is preferred to that which is unknown and therefore scary.

At the same time, graduate school is a major investment in specializing within a discipline or field and typically provides very specific training and research opportunities.   Grad school is best engaged in consciously, deliberately chosen and part of a genuine career plan…it’s really not a  place to hide out or avoid the question of what you are truly going to do in life.

There are really many paths to graduate school and that’s really important to remember.  It is NOT crucial to go directly to graduate school after college.  In fact, depending on the program, taking time between college and graduate school to work, travel, volunteer, and gain experience in life, ranges from improving acceptance rates to actually being required.

There are basically 2 schools of thought on this issue:

  1. Many people argue that taking time off of school puts you are risk of never going back to graduate school and you should go while you have the school momentum going for you.  Additionally, some career fields cannot be entered unless you’ve earned a graduate degree.    Of course, if the ONLY reason you are going forward to graduate school is inertia, it’s unlikely to be a successful and rewarding experience.   Weigh out the costs/benefits carefully.  Graduate school is very expensive and a huge professional investment.  Of course, there are also inarguable benefits to graduate degrees and the career fields they open access to.
  2. Others argue that taking time off between degrees allows people to grow, gain experience, and avoid school burnout or fatigue.  Additionally, some graduate programs actually require that people gain work experience or  do post-baccalaureate travels or internships in order to be competitive for their programs.   Many people who choose to apply to graduate programs later in life make more conscious choices about programs, research them more completely, and find the program to be a more rewarding experience, personally and professionally.  This is not always the case.

So what might you do?  Well, start with thinking about the following:

  • Why are you thinking about graduate school?   If you are going because you don’t know what else to do in life, don’t go until you are really clear on why you are going and how it will translate into a career.  Just a vague feeling that graduate school might be helpful for you is not enough.  If you are on a mission and this graduate program fulfills a particular goal in a larger career plan that has been realistically and fully researched, then graduate school is likely part of a good path for you.
  • How motivated do you feel about school right now?  On a scale of 1-10, where do you fall?
    • If going to school, leaves you moaning and groaning and wishing for something else, than put grad school planning on hold right now.  Choose career planning instead.  If at a later time graduate school is something that is part of a well-thought career plan, you will be motivated to go back.
    • If the opportunity to study, discuss, write, research, and work-harder-longer- hours-than-you-ever-have-imagined-working-in-your-life on a life quest makes your eyes shine bright, then graduate school might be heaven for you.

So, if you aren’t sure about whether or not you want to go to graduate school, that’s wonderful.  It’s good to ask questions.  To not question your decisions at all isn’t good planning.  It’s bullheaded and likely to lead to ill-conceived plans of all sorts.  Questioning leads to better answers.  Better answers leads to better decisions.

If it’s helpful, I question my career decisions all the time.  It’s when I can’t find answers that I know I need to do more research.  The issue isn’t questioning, it’s not questioning when it comes to great research.  And great research is really what graduate programs are about.   So, start asking great questions of yourself and those that can help illuminate the way.  Enjoy the process…

Sending fabulous energy!