From College to Career: Taking the Long Road

Between graduation weekend recently passing and my friend Chrissy’s recent blog post on being a late bloomer I’ve been spending a lot of time considering my college to career path. I should preface this though by letting you know I’m an internship coordinator. This basically means I spent 50% of my time speaking to primarily undergraduate students who have one of two attitudes:

Option 1: I’m just getting started in my career and am trying to figure things out. I’m hoping this internship will help me determine the focus I want my career to have in the long-term.

Option 2: I know exactly what I want. I’ve always known what I want. Even if I haven’t, I have come to my current conclusion by a series of logical steps including shadowing, internships, volunteer activities, school projects and so forth (Sidenote, overacheivers always provide examples.)

I can safely say I didn’t fit either of these options when I was in school. When I interned during my sophomore year of college, I was… terrible. I thought I would connect quickly with my work reading the slush pile at a children’s publishing house. Uh, no. I was incredibly intimidated by the constant silence that permeated the building. No one ever seemed to walk through the old converted house. No one stopped by to chat. No one exchanged humorous stories about their weekend. My mentor tried to offer me some guidance but mostly kept to her incredibly quiet self. I started to shrink beside the staggering pile of papers. By the time the summer ended I had learned very little, mostly due to my own inability to ask questions, and still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an editor.

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I may have totally lacked direction but sometimes I looked like Nicole Kidman back then. So there’s that. 

Since I didn’t have a plan B I just kept working at my hospitality jobs and my anxiety grew over what to do next. I spent most of my senior of college depressed that I had no sense of direction. It worsened during summer camp and the months I spent living with my mom afterwards.

There is this expectation when you come out of school (or perhaps this is just millennials) that you should know what it is you want to do. You should be focused and forward thinking. If you don’t know what it is you want then at least create some sort of awesome app/non-profit/small business in the meantime to prove you are kicking ass at being an adult.

One of the other somewhat acceptable options was to travel after graduation, which I did. I assumed that traveling would help my destiny emerge. In reality it took another 5 or 6 years of customer service/hospitality work before I landed a job in a publications department finally putting me on a career ladder towards an editor role. It was then and only then that I found out where I was most suited- human resources.

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I found my way to cycling and HR all at the same time. 

Although it was shocking to discover, I’m really social. I like working in teams with lots of collaboration. Problem solving? Strategy? Love it! I’m all about process improvement and trying new ideas. If you’d told me that ten years ago, I would have never believed you. Turns out I prefer books for fun not for livelihood. I wouldn’t make a great editor.

Most of the interns I work with find my career path unnerving. They are focused overachievers and the idea that their internship won’t put them on the path to success completely throws them off. They nod suspiciously as I suggest there may be alternate routes to finding their path. For the rare few though my zigzagging journey gives them breathing room. Their graduation panic starts to subside. One of our best interns is taking the summer off to travel before applying for full-time positions with us in the fall. When we talk about strategies for how to present her time traveling to employers, I know she’s making the most of both worlds: her ambition and her need for more.

As you might guess there are times I wish I started my chosen career path earlier. Maybe I’d make more money or be in a position with more influence. But just as often I think about how I could have traveled more and taken my time. It leads me to think I struck the right balance after all. Looking at today’s college students and their ambitious inclinations I have to wonder what Haines’ generation will be characterized by. I hope we’re able to share with him the importance of the journey over the destination.

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