My teacher-friend who works in North Jersey purposely moved from the town that she teaches to a neighboring town. She got tired of bumping into her high school students at the local coffee shop or in the supermarket. I’ve never felt that way. In fact, I’m usually the one shouting out my students’ names if I spot them before they spot me. In case and point, this morning. I was walking down to get my coffee at Small World when I saw a familiar face on Nassau Street. It was a lovely, former student that’s now on her way to Johns Hopkins where she will swim her little tail off and study hard, I’m sure – she was studious.
We stood in the sun chatting; of course I asked her about her summer plans and what she’s going to study at Johns Hopkins. All the while, I wanted to give her unsolicited advice and ask her a million more questions on her views, like does she want kids and a big career and what would she think if someone like Anne-Marie Slaughter or Penelope Trunk told her that she should have kids at 25 if she wants the big career?
Alas, as much as I love to see my students in public, I realize that they feel a little awkward seeing me out of context (without the ID card, the heels, the slacks) and I do my best to let them get away from me without a good old-fashion Suzanne Kaplan Q & A.
So to the Johns Hopkins Swimmer, here’s the career advice I have for you and all other Gen Zers.
1. Know your values. Our values shape our lives. If you figure out earlier rather than later what is important to you, you will have a better understanding of what career paths (read: lifestyles) will mesh with your values. There’s a great inventory values assessment test that’s free. Try it! (I took it this morning.) It’s at lifevaluesinventory.org.
Quick story. A few weeks ago, I ran into a former co-worker of mine who went to Westminster Choir College for acting. She’s pregnant and working at a bank. When I asked her if she plans to do anything with acting, she said she didn’t want to because the lifestyle of an actress is grueling; it’s not how she wants to live. Had she known that she valued stability and a consistent workday she might have avoided accumulating student loans for a degree she’s not using – yup, she has loans.
2. Find out. If you think you want to be an actor, a lawyer, a computer programmer, whatever, get your information about what it’s like straight from the source. Talk to as many people as possible who are in the field of your interest. If you can, see if people will let you observe them in action. Another way to figure out if you like a job is by getting an internship. Thomas Frank, the founder of Collegeinfogeek.com thought he wanted to be a systems administrator until he interned and realized that he didn’t like it at all.
I mentioned Patrick Shock in my last post, and I have to do it again here, because he’s the epitome of someone who worked hard to find out what he wants to do for a living and is now headed to the number one school in the nation for dentistry. You should check out his interview, he’s amazing.
3. Experiment. You might have a strong sense of your values but still not know what you want to do. Try different jobs. You may surprise yourself by finding out that you like doing a job you never suspected you’d like. Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to the manager of a hotel where I was staying for a few days (I didn’t hold my Q & A back). I asked him how he wound up as a manager of a Marriot Courtyard in Maine since I had found out he was from Albuquerque.
He told me that he had been working in retail and really didn’t like it. He was thinking about going back to graduate school but took a job as a bellhop in a fancy hotel instead. Turns out he really loved it. So he decided to stay in the hotel industry and move up the corporate ladder. That’s how he got to Maine. Better yet, he doesn’t have to pay for grad school. Better yet still, he met his fiancé in the town he moved to for his management position.
4. Be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs, innovative and driven, are amazing problem solvers. They don’t wait for opportunities to come to them, they create opportunities, and they’re good at bouncing back from failure. You need to have all of these qualities no matter what line of work you want to go into. And, if the worst happens and you can’t find a job, you need to behave like an entrepreneur to figure out what you should improve on in your skill set as well as how to do it.
5. Learn how to network and start right away. It’s no secret that people get jobs through networking. Even Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram, says success is as much about who you know as it is about what you know. If you have recently graduated from high school, the time to start networking is now. Think of networking as creating community. It’s a give and take. If you have a friend that needs help in organic chemistry, and you know someone who is really nice and tutors in organic chemistry, you might offer to introduce the friend to the tutor. That’s networking. Get involved in your community. Meet new people. And be sure to create and update your LinkedIn profile.
6. Find mentors. It always helps you to have trusted role models that can give you advice. Find people to go to for career guidance who have experience in the career path you’re interested in pursuing. They will not only be able to give you helpful advice, but also can be an important part of your network.
7. Stay out of debt. Simply put, more debt equals less flexibility. If you take out loans, you might feel like you have lots of time before you have to pay them back. Remember how long you thought high school was going to take when you started the ninth grade? It went by quickly! The best way to understand how crippling debt can be is to find out firsthand, and believe me, I don’t want that for you. Talk to people who are shouldering north of 40, 50, even 100 grand in debt, and see what they have to say about it. Here’s link to an article in the Detroit Free Press in which nine Michigan residents talk about their massive debt.
8. Write your own script. There’s a million different ways to do things. One of my recent interviewees, Adam C. Baker is always telling people, “Write your own script.” Baker is a college dropout, yet is an incredibly successful blogger today and has just finished his first documentary I’m Fine, Thanks, which raised the most money on Kickstarter of any documentary today. By all means, this isn’t a recommendation to mess up your studies; don’t do that. Just know that the advice architect Kirsten Thoft gives to aspiring architects, “carve your own path,” is good advice for everyone.
What would you add to this list?