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When people ask if I would do anything differently during my undergraduate years at Michigan, I hesitantly say yes. But, if I had known in my first year of undergrad everything that I know now, where would be the fun in learning-as-you-go? I began college thinking that academics alone was the gateway to professional success. But, I am graduating with a transformed and more holistic understanding of professional identity and career development. Below are a few powerful lessons I’ve learned about career exploration and professional development throughout my undergraduate experience at Michigan.
Undergrad is the start, not the end point, of a lifelong journey in exploration
Your undergraduate experience is often said to be the place where you “find your passion” or the springboard for launching into the rest of your life. I wouldn’t say that I am ‘set up’ for the rest of my life but neither was the bar. I can confidently say that I’m ready to take the next step beyond college. And that’s OK — talking with LSA alums and Hub coaches has taught me that you don’t have to have the rest of your life figured out by the time you graduate. The better thing to aim for is to make meaning of your experiences, identify the skills and expertise you’ve gained, use those insights and lessons to plan out your next steps, and learn how to articulate the value you’ll bring to an employer, an admissions committee, and so on.
During my internship at the Opportunity Hub, I had the chance to connect with a lawyer to discuss their journey to law school and beyond. This conversation was impactful because it showed me that your degree doesn’t equal a career. In other words, your career is not set in stone based on the specialized degrees you gain. For example, a law degree can take you into business, or education, and can continue to evolve your career. Case in point: They graduated from law school and went on to practice law in the public sector, before deciding to explore the business realm and pursue an MBA. Now, they work in higher education, leveraging all of the skills they have learned along the way.
I left this conversation feeling way more confident about my next steps, and less fearful of any change that will come my way. Connecting with LSA alums, employers, and Hub staff is a great opportunity to foster meaningful relationships and learn more about their professional paths and apply those lessons to your own journey.
My biggest takeaway about career development is that I want to keep doing it. I want to keep learning, growing, challenging myself far beyond my immediate post-grad life. And I am hopeful that as I continue to traverse my career and life that rather than “find my passion,” I’ll find purposeful and meaningful work instead.
There is value in not liking an experience
Through different experiences I have encountered during my time at Michigan–whether it be internship experiences, student organizations, or classes–I have unknowingly pressured myself to like or derive joy from the work I’m doing. I think this self-imposed pressure stems from preconceived notions I had about my career options. Unbeknownst to me, I assumed that I would enjoy any work experience directly aligned with my major. I found myself searching for a reason to love each experience: for a reason to say, “Yes, I am on the right career path and this experience proved it.”
My last on-campus job was as a research assistant within the Center of Political Studies. I thought this job was a perfect opportunity to advance my research skills in a field that I am interested in. But, while the subject matter was interesting and I gained skills like conducting social science research, the work itself was fairly isolating and I found myself wanting more collaboration and interaction with others. So, even though this job was not all that I imagined it to be, I was able to identify what qualities of work I found glaringly missing and use that information to seek out my best next step.
After some introspection and an opportunity to reflect on my life these past four years, in addition to talk with LSA alums about their pathways to success, I’ve learned that not liking every class, internship, or student organization is a valuable opportunity to uncover more about yourself: your interests, goals, career aspirations, and sometimes even the work you find purposeful.
In short, I have found that honest, meaningful reflection is the backbone of career development: it is how we are able to confidently take our next career step, with knowledge and perspective. So how can you apply my experience to your own career journey? Don’t be afraid or discouraged to embark on a summer internship or part-time job you aren’t very enthusiastic about or don’t see value in right away. Because it could be that experience that unlocks insights that you can use to make choices about your future.
It’s never too late to start with the Hub
For me, college has felt like a race to accumulate the most experiences in your respective major. There’s this feeling that everything needs to be decided in your first-year so you can use the rest of your undergraduate years to finish that race.
What that attitude doesn’t allow for is time. Time to reflect, to change course, to try something new.
Going into my senior year, I was looking to join a new student organization and for a new on-campus job. Part of me debated putting myself out there like that in my final year of college, thinking, “What could I gain in a year?” and “Is it even worth it?” But without these experiences, I would never have opened the door to new career possibilities.
The idea that it’s “too late” to join a club, change your major, or apply for your first internship goes against the very premise of a liberal arts and sciences education: to learn more about yourself, the world, and your place in it. That isn’t done in just the first or second year of your college years, but continues with you throughout your undergraduate journey and into your post-grad life. Now is the time to think about your interests, reflect on your past experiences, and seek out professional development opportunities.
But if you have no idea what professional development is or how to go about exploring careers, the Hub is a great place to start.