The career “rat race” should be a “fun run” instead
“So, what are you going to do now that you’ve graduated?” That’s the question that’s such a challenge for so many students this time of year. In 1986, when I graduated from UGA, my answer was, “I’m going to the beach!” I truly had no plan. No job. Nothing. And I was not freaked out. I decided early on in my senior year to just focus on being a college student that year and not spend my time searching for a job and worrying about my career plans. I thoroughly enjoyed my senior year. I took some classes that truly interested me but weren’t on a required course checklist. I deepened relationships with good friends. I had fun. And then I graduated and went to the beach. There I stared at the stars a bit and asked myself the “what next?” question.
In answering that question, I just decided I wanted to keep on having fun. And what I thought would be fun would be working in Washington, DC. I had grown up enthralled by American history and the U.S. presidents in particular, so I thought I would enjoy living and working in DC. I then found out who my U.S. Congressman was and made an appointment in his local district office. I put on my only suit, typed up a resume, and went to meet Buddy Darden. I vividly remember introducing myself to the Congressman and saying, “I’m here to convince you to hire me for a position on your staff.” That’s about as bold as I’ve ever been. I had nothing to lose and didn’t even know if he had any open positions on his staff. After a chuckle his response was, “Well, you’ll have to convince me to fire someone on my staff first.” He called me the next week and hired me. (I don’t think he actually had to fire anyone to make room for me, though.) Thus began my post-college career in the working world. I did thoroughly enjoy my four years working on Capitol Hill. I had some unique experiences – sitting in the House chamber for Reagan’s final State of the Union address, getting shoved by Dan Quayle‘s Secret Service agent, and getting locked in the West Wing of the White House temporarily during a security lock-down, for example. It was an intense job, but it was fun, too. And that, I think, is the key for making your plans following school. When pondering your career, fun should be a primary consideration. Even for (especially for) a first job out of college.
A couple of books were influential in guiding my thoughts about career planning. What Color Is Your Parachute? is a classic career guide. A new edition is published each year. This book inspired me to not follow the conventional wisdom about how to get a job. You know, send out lots of resumes and scour Web sites for open positions that might be a fit. Instead, I came up with what I thought I would enjoy and took the initiative to create an opportunity.
The most recent career guide I’ve read, and the most original, is The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need by Daniel Pink. This book is in the manga comic book format. It’s a quick and easy read, but the 6 career secrets it reveals are right on target. If you read the book, I think the most significant point is explained near the end of Lesson 1, the difference between “instrumental” and “fundamental” reasons for your career choices. “Instrumental” means seeing a job or your education primarily as a means to an end. “Fundamental” means you’re doing something because you enjoy it or find inherent value in it, whether it leads to something else or not. Most people pursue their careers with instrumental factors as the priority, gutting out a lousy job or a major that’s uninspiring because they hope it will lead to something better down the road.
But what’s the point in living life like that? That is, as has been said, like climbing the ladder of success only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
(Pink, a former Al Gore speech writer, is on top of some of the key issues facing thisgeneration. A previous book of his, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, is well worth your time.)
Congratulations to all you graduates. Now, figure out how to keep having fun the rest of your life.