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If the phrase “entering the workforce” gives you the jitters, join the club. Trading air forces for loafers is no easy task. Neither is confronting long-held perceptions of what it means to have a career and the realities of launching into life beyond college.
Students today are feeling all sorts of ways about the future: the thrill of calling the shots on your own life, discovering purposeful and meaningful work, and relocating to a brand new city for a job are happily commonplace when planning your next steps. But so is indecision and uncertainty.
So in response, I teamed up with the Assistant Dean of Student Development and Career Initiatives and also director of the LSA Opportunity Hub, Dr. Joslyn Johnson, to debunk some of the common career myths out there among LSA undergraduate students with a good dose of reality in this two-part series.
Let’s dive into today’s Part 1 conversation.
Myth #1: My major equals a career and predicts opportunities available to me.
Fact: You can holistically choose skills from your undergrad experiences that apply to many different industries.
As a neuroscience major, I assumed that my academic area of focus was a one-way ticket to medical school or a PhD in a science-related field. After some reflection, I realized that my classes as well as experiences outside of the classroom – clubs, internships, on-campus jobs – all added to an ever-growing toolkit of skills and competencies that positioned me to pursue myriads of varied career possibilities out there.
“I really encourage students to reflect on how they want to use what they're learning from their major,” said Dr. Johnson. “And so, to break that myth, it's really much more about how to talk about what you've learned in a way that people — whether that be a grad school admission board, employers, or others — can understand so they can see the bridge between your education and skills and whatever related or unrelated career path you take.
With that in mind, it’s important that undergraduate students take the time to reflect and understand what skills they have and practice articulating their experiences to others.
Dr. Johnson says, “It really is more about a person's ability to develop a career narrative. By career narrative, I mean that they're able to connect the dots for others so that others don't have to do the leg work to figure it out.”
For example, if a student majoring in chemistry is interested in careers within education, they can practice reframing their learned skill set to appeal to that industry. Maybe their attention to detail in solving complex scientific problems can be translated to observing behaviors and patterns in K-12 students that are indicative of learning challenges. Or the patience cultivated in a chemistry lab can be helpful when working with younger students in a classroom environment. It’s all about framing and narrative.
Myth #2: Most people know how the career world works, and I’m the only one who is confused.
Fact: Everyone has similar feelings of confusion so it’s important to acknowledge your own questions, ask for help, and welcome change.
It’s easy to scroll through TikTok and other social media platforms to consume content teeming with advice about entering the workforce. But sometimes information overload can leave students feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
In these instances, it may be helpful to remember you aren’t alone. Dr. Johnson offers some encouragement: “Where I used to work, we recognized a phenomena we called the Duck Syndrome: above the surface of the water, students appeared to be floating along, but underneath, they're pedaling hard and are hesitant to share this with others because they sense they're alone in their feelings.”
If you are a student that is looking for help in making sense of your career options, a Hub coaching appointment could be a good place to start. A Hub coach will work with you in identifying what pressing questions and fears you have about embarking on your career journey. With fears pinpointed and by being equipped with the answers, the process of exploring careers, industries and creating next steps becomes more manageable.
Additionally, it’s important to recognize that your direction may change, and to welcome these pivots as an opportunity for growth.
“There's nothing wrong with setting goals and knowing the direction that you want to go in, but to pin yourself in a box of ‘I should know exactly what I want to do’ is to say that you’re not going to grow as a person. Who you are now won’t exactly be who you are later,” Dr. Joslyn shares.
Myth #3: When choosing a job, I have to make a choice between solely money and status versus following my passion.
Fact: It’s important to consider every factor of a new job and prioritize what is most important and least important to you at any given point of your life.
I get it. It’s a no-brainer that on the face of it, a six-figure salary is a lot more attractive than accepting more modest earnings. But you’ll also discover that doing a job you’ll enjoy is also important, while also navigating various financial needs. Both are crucial parts of the job search.
“The word ‘solely’ is the real issue. There's nothing wrong with exploring different elements of a job, but if someone gets a job based on money or status alone without considering the work itself or the workplace, they may be very disappointed with the environment itself or the fact that they may not feel a sense of fulfillment.” Dr. Johnson advises, “You’ll want to think about financial security or the financial goals that you have and how they align with your skill sets, and then make a holistic decision based on your priorities. It’s never good to make a job decision ‘solely’ on one thing.”
But what if you’re really passionate about something? We’re often reminded as liberal arts and sciences students to find what you’re passionate about and really align yourself with it.
Dr. Joslyn Johnson dismantles the “passion” narrative.
“You could be passionate about coloring, and that's awesome. But you may not want that to be what you do as a profession,” Dr. Joslyn Johnson shares. “Passion can take shape in many different ways, and sometimes it can also be hard to sort out because when people think they find their passion, they often think it's just one thing. And until they find that one thing, they can't move forward. So, it can be very paralyzing to think in terms of passion.”
Instead, she proposes the idea of finding meaningful work, or purposeful work. The difference between finding your passion and finding purposeful work is an important distinction and a part of what Dr. Joslyn Johnson studied during her PhD candidacy.
“I like to talk about purpose because sometimes people can merge passion and purpose together, or they have that feeling of needing to search for their purpose. But if you think about purpose at the most basic level, it's really understanding what is meaningful to you, what your core values are, and what you can do with your skill sets that will also have a positive impact on others.”
Purpose isn’t just supposed to be translated to a job or an overarching career aspiration. Rather, it’s an ever-changing and shifting awareness of yourself and your core values. Purposeful work is how you incorporate yourself and your values into what you do on a daily basis.
“When talking about purpose, it's something that evolves: think about it like a snowball, something that's going to build over time. That's the way I like to describe purpose because through your life experiences, you will continue to find things that correlate with what's important to you and how you want to have an impact on others or the world.”
Dr. Joslyn Johnson also reminds us, “Purpose is not a job. It's really important to understand the difference between purpose and a job because someone can find purpose in a job that they're doing. But the job itself isn't that purpose.”
When journeying through the process of self-reflection and fleshing out your purpose, it can help to talk to the people closest to you. Family and friends can share the ways you show up in different environments. Maybe you’ve noticed you take on more of the caretaker role in your friend group. Or maybe you’re always the one cracking jokes at the dinner table when you’ve noticed a loved one had a bad day. But how does this translate into purpose?
Dr. Johnson tells us an anecdote about an individual she worked with who explained that through various life experiences, they discovered their purpose was loving things that were typically deemed unlovable.
“That person could have also chosen to work at a humane society, caring for animals that have been abused, as an example, byt they eventually became a physician assistant in a prison system. So that environment allowed them to show up and do something that was purposeful, but it wasn't the only way that person could have done purposeful work,” she shares.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my conversation with Dr. Joslyn Johnson where we tackle an additional three career myths that are prevalent among LSA students today.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the Hub and not sure where to start, check out this roadmap to the Hub’s services, opportunities, and events.