Question: How should a student / individual define a particular career path to go down? Many students have no idea about what they want to do after they graduate. The furthest they get is choosing a major. As I have come to understand in today’s age, a major by no means must define ones career.
Answer: Using a stakeholder approach may be a help here. A stake holder approach simply means involving everyone who has a stake in the outcome. We may want to meet with our reference groups, employers, parents, family, friends, faculty—as those who know us best tends to help us realize what we may want do with our lives. Businesses use this same approach when making decisions—involving everyone who has a stake in the outcome as part of the decision. As a student, involving others may be a help in much the same way.
Whether an associate’s degree, or a doctoral degree—we are reinventing ourselves with every bit of education, training, and experience. This journey requires self-reflection. What do want the degree to do for us? An education is simply looking to shortening our learning curve by those who have already walked the path ahead of us. Education, training, and entrepreneurship are all paths to consider, however none offers a guarantee for success. As we discussed at Secret Knock, I don’t think any extreme is the way to go (to only get a degree, or to only go into business). Even with my 6 yr old business and all of my successes to date, I still find myself struggling with trying to know what I don’t know before it’s too late.
One of my favorite techniques is Informational Interviewing. Find someone whose job or business you find intriguing and ask to talk with them. You are not asking for a job; you are simply wanting to pick their brain to learn more about what they do and how they got there, and whether this would be of interest to you.
Second, an internship is a grand idea. If you think you found something that is of interest to you, volunteer for an internship to find out. I once did a 6 week internship and I am glad that I did because it was a HUGE WASTE of time in the sense that it was nothing like I thought it would be. I only invested 6 weeks instead of 6 years, so to speak. Knowing what we don’t want is often as valuable as learning what we do want. What I thought I was going to do wasn’t anything like the actual experience. Sometimes we have to simply put ourselves out there and see if we like or not. When we volunteer, no harm no foul if we don’t like it. No large commitments, simply say thank you and move forward. Many people change their majors or their focus often as a result of both informational interviewing an internships. It is simply about learning.
Good video that might help? Realistic Expectations for the Doctoral Scholar http://youtu.be/U080oZc-5cc
Question: Finally, What advice would you give to young adults, approximately 20-25 that have demonstrated a desire for self-advancement but are just getting started in their professional journeys.
Answer: Find a mentor—several of them in many different areas. Be humble to accept their counsel. I wish I would have had more mentors sooner in my career; AND listened more carefully. As a female, there weren’t many available when I was in my 20s. I now have become the mentor to help others the way I would have loved to have been helped.
The difference between a coach and a mentor is that a coach knows the rules; a mentor has played the game. My role as a mentor is to shorten the learning curve and increase the success of my followers. It is so much easier to follow in someone’s footsteps, than try to blaze a trail on one’s own. I learned this lesson rather later in life. I was full of piss and vinegar during my college days, far more interested in the social experience of my under graduate years, and missed some major opportunities, not yet full appreciating their full value. I have hired many a business coach since then and a few mentors along the way as well. Sometimes I lead, very often I follow, as everyone has something to contribute based on their experiences if we will listen.
My grandmother gave me the best advice. The Good Lord gave you two ears and one month; one should speak in the same proportion. Listening is THEE best advice I can offer to someone just starting out. BE A SPONGE and find value in everyone. It’s all in our perception. We can think of feedback as criticism, or as a gift—it is ALWAYS OUR choice. Maturity is something that comes with time, practice, and wisdom. Learn to recognize these teachable moments and surround yourself with others smarter than you to always keep learning.
My best to your success!
Dr. Cheryl Lentz
The Academic Entrepreneur