You bettah work! Grad school?

Okay. So you are in your senior year of college, or recently graduated with a year or two of the “real world” under your belt, and your thinking “I have no idea what I want to do with my life”. Option one is to try a couple of jobs, or even careers, on for size to learn more about what is important to you and how you can contribute your skills and talent to the world; or option two…go to grad school.

Option One

How the hell is anyone supposed to know what they want to do for the rest of their life so early in their life? Right?! It seems almost impossible.

To me, it all comes down to purpose. What is your purpose? How can you figure out your purpose, when you are just getting to know who you are? How do you get to better understand who you are? By living…by life experiences. I studied acting as an undergrad and I loved it. At the time, I thought it was because I loved to perform. While that was a part of it, the actual reason was because I loved the community, and I learned about myself that being a part of a small, creative, inclusive, and vibrant community was very important to me. It took me my college major, a stint in documentary, living in Chicago and NYC, and a couple of years working in digital media to figure this out…a total of about 5 years (not including college). I learned from those experiences that I loved stories, and getting to know what makes a person tick, and how they set and achieve their goals (I also learned about diversity, and that each culture understands and creates their lives based on their culture…for the most part). Finally, I learned I liked helping people, one-on-one in a coaching/counseling format. This came to light for me as I worked on a documentary about the slave trade and white privileged, where diversity facilitators interacted with the subjects of the film. I saw change happen in the lives of the folks in the film…and I wanted to be able to help others in a similar way. Through all of these experiences I began to understand my purpose, helping people understand and meet their potential, and with that came concrete career options.

Option Two

In order to transition from a career in media production to a career in career development and higher ed, I had to get my graduate degree. A graduate degree was a necessity. I knew what I wanted to do with my degree, and so I knew how to find the best program, and once in the program, maximize it. Again, this comes down to purpose. Since I knew I wanted to work on a college campus in career development, I focused on getting relevant assistantships and internships that would help me get a job later on. I didn’t spend time floundering and wasting time because I was unsure of what I wanted to do. I saw this floundering in many of my classmates…they came to grad school right after undergrad without really thinking of why. A couple of them came to grad school because they were “not ready for the real world”. Bad idea. To me, grad school is not a place to figure life out, it is a place to make life happen (because you know what you want…you know your purpose). 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you have to know EXACTLY what your purpose in life is to go to grad school…shesh, I’m still figuring a lot of that out (because we are always evolving)…but what I am saying is, don’t go to grad school because you are scared of the unknown or the “real world”, or because you think being in a program will magically tell you who you are and what you should do with your life. I think it is a better idea to save yourself the time and money and let life put some stank on ya as you work for a couple of years, have new experiences, meet new people, etc. I know if I had not had those first few jobs, and lived in those first few cities, and met some incredible people (who became some of my best friends) I would not know so much about myself, and be helping others in a way that is very meaningful to me. So, if you ask me, YOU BETTAH WORK first – ha!

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Everyday I’m hustlin’ – Work/life balance

Work/life balance. I struggle with this in my own life. I love my job and my co-workers, but many days, by the time I get home, all I want to do is put on my “comfy pants”, close myself off to the world, drink a beer, and watch a heart warming episode of “Intervention” or “Hoarders”. And this becomes my life outside of work. Ugh.

For me, and for most folks I bet, work life is tightly woven into real life. Lots of my friends are people I met at work (and many times when we hang out, we talk about work). My job is typically one of the first things on my mind at the start of my day and at the end of my day. My job is a big part of my identity, and if I do well at work, I feel good about myself. I like to succeed, and get positive feedback…I get these needs met at work too.

BUT…then comes the feeling of burning out. I get easily frustrated, I get sick and tired of wearing a tie everyday, and the thought of attending another mind-numbing meeting makes me want to fake my own death and start a new life…someplace tropical. I find that, along with burn out, I’m lacking two things : 1. feeling like “old Ross” (the guy that loves music, cooking/burning food with friends, and brunches), and 2. inspiration.

Here are some of my ideas, and I think they can be extra helpful for those that have moved to a new city to start their career, and haven’t had the chance to meet a lot of non-work peeps.

Get inspired!

This is critical for me. I find that if I can create an afternoon of looking at, reading, or listening to some kind of art, I get inspired. I remember when I lived in NYC, I’d grab the Village Voice to see what cool things were happening for free during the weekends. I would also check out the free/donation days of museums and visit during those times. One time in particular I remember visiting the Met, and spending a couple of hours walking around with my headphones on listening to Panda Bear …it was awesome! Also, I love design blogs like DesignSponge or pop culture/smarty blogs like BrainPickings. All of these ideas are super cheap or free, and can be done with friends or solo. Getting hyped on some good art always rejuvenates me (and gives me good ideas for work).

Get Involved!

Love puppies? Volunteer at a local animal shelter. Passion for civil rights? Volunteer with the HRC or your local church. I admit, at first, the thought of spending more time “working” was not exhilarating for me…but you just feel so good after donating some of your time and talent. AND you meet some cool new friends that have similar interests. It is a win/win. As you decide how you want to donate your talent, think of things you naturally enjoy and that you are good at. God bless those Habitat for Humanity home builders, but spending the day in 90 degree heat hammering nails sounds miserable to me; I really enjoy working with folks one-on-one advising them or just listening to them, so volunteering for Hospice for a substance abuse rehab center would be a better fit for me.

Remember who you are and what makes you, you!

As an undergrad I studied acting, and I loved it! I have not acted in over 10 years. I miss it. I’ve decided that this summer I’m going to take an improv class, and I’m so excited. I feel like it is a step towards getting back to “old Ross”. Back in the day, when people listened to cassette tapes, I used to make mix tapes for my friends – I love to share music. I still make mixes for my pals…it is kind of an art form to me and it makes me feel more like myself. Also, schedule time to hang out with your friends, even if it is for a quick call. Connecting with your core buddies reminds you of who you are and what life is really all about (relationships).

There is a blog I like called Tim’s Strategy – here is  a post with an activity about making an “everything I’m doing list” and an “everything I want to be doing list”…good for reflection.

And finally…

The most important thing to remember is that you want your identity to be more than just your job. Think of yourself as a table – the more legs you have to stand on the stronger and safer you’ll be. If your a table standing on one leg (your job), and that gets kicked out from under you, it will be devastating (and you’ll find yourself on your ass). Create other legs for yourself, it makes for a happier life.

Degree does NOT = great job.

I read this article recently and it really got me thinking. Unemployment has gone global in a big way, and is greatly affecting our young professionals. Working as a career development professional in higher education I see students that think: degree = great job. Not necessarily true. And even if one does gain a great job based on a degree: degree does NOT = keep great job. The degree is just the start, and our job as educators doesn’t end with the review of book chapters, the sharing of good job sites, and techniques for writing a killer resume. To me the real “learning moment” comes in teaching young professional the art of life-long learning. Professionals, these days, will rarely get hired by “company x”, stay with that company for 50 years, garner an awesome pension, and live happily ever after. In reality…you work for yourself. Your current employer is simply renting your time and talent…if your talent does not grow with technology or current trends…why would an employer need your services any longer? Young professionals need to stay “rent’able”…and learn how to maximize and grow their skills and talent to get a really high rate for their hourly pay!

Here are some things I’ve learned about staying relevant, appealing to employers, and scoring a sweet “hourly rate” (salary):

1. Stay current. What is the latest in your industry? What is the next “big thing”? Who are the movers and shakers in your industry? What is a need that can be  filled in your field? All of this is a MUST KNOW as a professional. So…how do you stay on top? There are many ways. Professional associations. LinkedIn groups. Blogs. Not sure how to find these resources? Well…there is this thing called Google, and if you type in a search, it will give you relevant info – ha! For example, if you are looking to find some thought leaders in journalism on Twitter, you can type in “journalists, Twitter” and Google will give you some great places to start. No lie. I know this sounds obvious, but I spend a lot of time answering questions from young professional that a quick Google search would have answered.

2. Stay connected. This directly relates to the “stay current” rule. If you meet or collaborate with others in your field, you are absolutely going to learn something. Not only will you learn industry specific info, but you will also learn of other professional opportunities that can help you grow (and maybe even grow the green in your wallet).

Who are your professional advisors? Mentors? Don’t have any? Make some! Every company has a board of directors to help guide them and set goals. You should too! These advisors will be able to provide resources, advice, and encouragement. If you love your company, but feel there is nowhere to grow, connect with a leader in your company and ask her/him to grab some coffee for a quick info meeting. Pick his/her brain! How did s/he get started? What resources do they use to stay on top?

3. Have Enthusiasm. This is pretty simple. If you love your work, you will be excited about it. That excitement, that enthusiasm, will shine through not only in your attitude, but in your passion to learn more and grow in your field. Other professionals (ESPECIALLY YOUR BOSSES) will notice this, and trust me, everyone loves to work with someone that is not only good at their job, but enjoys it. If you can’t find the joy in your current work…maybe you should strongly consider doing something different.

4. Have a killer work ethic + don’t be a hater. I don’t know about you, but I know the folks at my job that come in late, leave early, turn in crappy work, and spend their lunch breaks complaining about how much their job sucks. DON’T BE THAT PERSON. No one likes a hater. Want respect and autonomy in your job? Make sure you work hard. Again, if you like your work this will come to you pretty naturally.

Be your own beatbox.

UPDATED y’all! (4/26/13)

My carpool buddy and I have developed some life/work rules. We always forget them, so I thought I’d post them and update them as needed.

Never come with problems. Always come with solutions. My first real boss told me this, and it is the best advice I ever got.

Don’t be an jerk. This includes straight-up in your face jerks, passive aggressive jerks, smack-talking scheming jerks, etc. If you are a good person, folks will want to be your friend and/or work with you.

Do your own time. Don’t compare yourself with others or get mixed up in their drama. Set goals based on your aspirations and work towards them. This is your life, so live it as you. Do your own time.

Always hustle. Work hard. In my experience folks will happily assist you, stand up for you, and collaborate with you  if they trust you will work hard and give the best you’ve got.

Keep it cool. Every workplace has its horrible managers, gossipy coworkers, etc. It is fine to daydream about the destruction of their professional or personal lives (hahah…just kidding…well, kind of), but when in meetings or in public, always keep it cool. Keep it professional.

Be your own beatbox – all you need to be is you. My acting teacher in college used to always say this…when acting in a scene he could tell when we were trying too hard or not being authentic. No one likes posers or rhyme biters. Be your own beatbox. Speak in your own voice.

Car grin.

Sometimes folks get so wrapped up in finding a job, keeping a job, growing in a job, or defining themselves by their job that they forget about who they are “job free”.

Today was one of those job free days for me. I had lunch with some friends, saw a movie, and laughed harder than I have in a long time. The weather was gorgeous…over 65 degrees on a January afternoon. Driving home, windows down, this song came on the radio…and I took the long way home so I could hear the whole thing…and had serious “car grin”.[ Have you ever been at a stop light, looked to the left, and the dude in the car next to you is grinin’ from ear to ear for no obvious reason? Car grin.]

Don’t forget you are who you are regardless of your job situation. Don’t forget to roll down the car windows and turn up the radio on sunny days, dance in the kitchen when something tastes extra good, and laugh loud when with friends. Make time for inspiration and those moments that make you, you. For reals.

Sketchy.

I’ve always been a development nerd…I geeked out about the MBTI in high school, have always read career development books for fun, loved presenting on any topic to any group of people, and over the past few years have had the opportunity to conduct workshops on various professional development topics to great groups of people.

So now I’ve decided to do some writing…well, blogging. This blog is a bit of an experiment…or a sketch I should say…I’m free-styling some lines and shapes, doing some shading here and there.

The goal is to help professionals, specifically young professionals, in planning and managing their careers…and maybe tell a good story or two. I hope to focus on four things:

1. Cover the “career basics”.

2. Share existing resources and work others are doing.

3. Create and share new ideas that can add to an already strong body of resources.

4. Tell a random story every now and then. I love a good story, and I want to practice telling them.

We’ll see what this sketch turns out to be…