Step One of Vocational Choice

The first step in any successful career decision is to reduce anxiety – something I’ve learned the hard way. One cannot think straight and cannot make an adaptive heavy decision like this while stressed out.

So… how does one do this in the face of the gigantic social and often familial pressures with choosing a career? Obviously exercise, breathing techniques, psychotherapy and a solid non-processed food diet can help, but lifestyle factors play a huge and under-discussed role as well.

In other words, organizing your life such that there isn’t a huge deadline or pressure to make a decision. Contrary to many things, having a hard deadline or tons of pressure does not help. Why? Because contrary to things like school work, choosing a vocation requires a sense of play and whimsical exploration. Pressure and its attendent anxiety are the very opposite of play, and induce little workmanlike industry. So it can be very useful in getting stuff done after you’ve chosen a direction, but is harmful to attempts to decide on that direction.

So what to do? Well what I have done that has been far more successful and progressive was to get a throwaway part time job I didn’t hate, and moved into a cheap place and lived simply enough that the job could support it. I enrolled part time in school so I could supplement my income with student loan refunds.

And I spent the rest of the time playing. Making friends, working on projects for their own sake, reading and exploring. And this was enjoyable and led me to a choice that I am happy with. In other words, both the process and the outcome were great.

What else could one wish for?

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Is Passion Bullshit?

Passion as a means to make decisions about what career to pursue is clearly not bullshit. However, passion is evoked through movement. So sitting at your computer or lying in bed thinking about what you want to do will lead to the very opposite of passion. Worrying all day about what you are going to do, and about the future will not help you find your passion because stress and worry inhibit excitement and the loss of the self that accompanies work you’re passionate about (the “flow”).

So go do whatever it is that looks somewhat interesting to you (without consideration for its usefulness) and then, when you are at or near it, passion will show you the way.

But it all starts with movement.

 

Source:

Fuchs, T., & Koch, S. C. (2014). Embodied affectivity: on moving and being moved. Frontiers in psychology, 5.

Where to Look For A Good Entry-Level Job

The best place to look for a job is rarely in online ads. Why? Not only because that is where everybody else is looking (and hence that most get thousands of applications a day) but also because the best jobs at the best companies rarely have to even advertise positions (unless they are highly specialized). If you’re looking for a general position that does not require long training, experience and expertise, then guess what? So is everyone else.

So what happens to companies that offer these positions? Well, they get plenty of applications without even asking for it. When friends and family members of those who work these jobs hear about how much they like it, inevitably some inquire about whether they can work there too. So these companies get filled up easily within the social networks of people that already work there.

However, that is not to say there is no room for outsiders. Of course a company is more likely to hire someone if they have a connection to someone inside the company (who can vouch for them, and also studies show that knowing someone within a company before hiring increases the chances of them staying and succeeding), but applicants that are persistent and stand out from the crowd have an excellent chance.

So my advice to where to look for a good entry level job is to tell everyone you know and meet that you are looking for a job (and ask them about where they work) and to do research on the very best companies in your area for whatever industry you may want to work for. For example, say you wanted a simple part time job that pays well. I’d look up to find out what the best wedding caters were in the area, and apply there. It may not be the funnest job, but it pays well and requires little commitment. Perfect for college students or those looking to supplement passion projects.

Love or Art? You May Have To Choose One Or the Other

“We examined the associations between love, personality, and creativity for people in relationships of varying durations. Participants (N = 1,529) from regions across the United States completed an online survey. Consistent with prior work, we found that relationship length was negatively associated with passion, positively associated with commitment, and did not exhibit a significant association with intimacy…. Of note, artistic creative behaviors were negatively associated with all three love components, whereas everyday creative behaviors and self-assessed creativity were positively associated with each love component.”

Journal of Family Issues, 2015

3 Clues for Choosing a College

One of the most difficult parts of choosing a college is what to base the decision on besides “it’s close to my house” and perhaps considerations of price and prestige.

But those considerations alone are unlikely to lead to a particularly good decision.  One of the most enjoyable parts of college is going off to a strange unknown place where you don’t know anybody with other people that don’t know anybody and being placed outside your comfort zone and learning about yourself.

Price is not particularly helpful because the sticker price for schools rarely matches the actual price you will pay.  For example Harvard costs 60k a year, and yet the average debt on graduate for Harvard students is 10K$.  Yes, you read that right.  Harvard only costs 60k a year for the wealthy few who can afford to pay that much.  If you’re family makes less than 60k, every penny of that gets paid for through grants and scholarships.  Yet there are other colleges that cost 10k or so a year and close to 90% of that will be expected to be covered by the student through payments or debt.  So ignore sticker price and focus on debt at graduate and the quality of the schools financial aid department.

Finally, prestige.  If you get into an Ivy League school, you should probably go – but I would question whether the effort to get into such a school is worth it.  Studies have shown students of equal ability do just as well in their careers regardless of what undergraduate school they went to it just takes those from less prestigious schools a little longer to get there.  That’s with the exception of students who plan to go into law or medicine.

So if not proximity, price and prestige – then what?

The most important metric by FAR is their retention rate.  If students are dropping out like flies, then that is a clear sign of severe problems – either the school has an incompetent admissions department that is doing a poor job admitting students who are a good match for the institution (or for college itself), or – more likely – the college is poorly run over all – with shoddy professors, incompetent administration, and inefficient mechanisms for bringing students together into a community or providing an enjoyable/profitable experience.  Transferring colleges is not fun or easy process – and dropping out still worse – and so if students are doing either at any appreciable level than it is always a sign of endemic issues.  Avoid colleges likes this like the plague.

College with high retention rates almost always have effective mechanisms for helping students feel like they belong in the college and like they are part of the larger school community.  Indeed, this is one of the most enjoyable and unique aspects of college as a total institution – unless you end up going to prison or a mental institution you will probably never experience anything like it again in your life.  Those are perhaps poor analogies – but how many great movies have been set in total institutions?  “One Flew over the Cookoo’s Nest”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Weekend at Bernies” and so on.  There are pleasures indeed in being thrown together with random people and seeing what happens.  Being part of a grand social experiment that may very well lead to the formation of friendships that will follow you all the days of your life.  Or nothing whatsoever.  It’s always half chance –  like life itself.

Secondly, the department you’re joining.  This is more difficult because of the frequency of student major changes and the difficulty at choosing a major at such a young age.  So I do hope you are not going to college right out of high school – but rather giving yourself a chance to experience the world and know yourself a bit outside the shackles of school for at least a year or two.  At that point you will hopefully know enough of yourself to choose a major that is aligned with your deeper interests and will teach you something you need to learn.  Once you know this major you can look at schools with an eye towards the department you’re entering.  The qualities of the department you’re joining will have a much greater influence on your college experience than the school itself, so look closely.  Find professors who are tough but competent, who care deeply about their subject of expertise and are (or were) active in their field.  Who also care about the institution and about being a mentor for students, which is often correlated with being older (as we age we begin to turn from our own ambitions to helping the next generation.  Younger professors are much more likely to be focused mostly on their own careers).
Also, smaller departments are more effective at promoting a sense of belonging and community amongst students and professors than large ones.

The last major variable to consider is percentage of students from out of state and percentage of students who live on campus.  Even if you’re going to a local college, I encourage looking for a college with high numbers of both.  Commuter schools are generally drab, empty places without a soul.  Not even the ghosts dare dance there.  When a college becomes a home, something changes.  Not just a place to flit in and out of, but rather a place to be identified with, to be a part of, which strongly influences the disposition of students both towards their studies and to their fellow classmates.

I don’t want this to be any longer, so I will leave it at that.  Bottom line: choose a school that meets all 3 criteria, and you can hardly go wrong.

Resume and Cover Letter Collaborations

Effective career counseling for self-promotion involves knowledge of what resumes and cover letters are “supposed” to look like (in other words, formats/content that has been proven to be effective in gaining jobs) and communicating this to clients effectively while at the same time supporting their autonomy and individuality. I’ve come closer to accomplishing both in my sessions than when I started, much of which has come by way of my own improved understanding of what makes a good resume and cover letter and improved understanding of how to communicate this in such a way that the endeavor becomes a collaborative one rather than a didactic one.

Much of this is accomplished through communicating the parameters within which most effective resumes and cover letters operate, and then giving the client the space to explore exactly how they wish to communicate themselves within (or even outside) of those parameters. It’s also giving them space to consider where that line is between what about themselves they wish to communicate (even if it isn’t directly applicable for the skills and knowledge required for the job) and what they wish to subvert to the demands of the employer. Ideally this would not even be a decision, because the characteristics of the individual and the position would match perfectly, but obviously this is never the case. So to help clients explore what part of themselves they want to declare and have the employer know about because it is central to who they are and they wouldn’t want to work for an employer that wouldn’t accept that, and when and if they simply want to regurgitate what’s in the job ad.

In other words, it’s exploring the question of how much a resume and cover letter and interview should be expressions of who they are as opposed to simply a reflection of the needs of the employers they are hoping to work for. Really much of my improvement has come in the form of better managing the expectations of students, in that I cannot tell them exactly what their materials should look like because like everything else in this world it depends. The same goes for job search strategies and major and job choice.

Really, my job is to tell them what a resume and cover letter shouldn’t be and introduce them to the handful of principles that apply to nearly all effective resumes/cover letters/interviews, and then within those parameters help them think out what exactly they want it to look like to both express who they are and appeal to the employer.

Goal:

  • To put myself out of business – to help the client to develop tools to solve their own problem, in this case to understand what questions to ask themselves when putting together a resume or cover letter.

Process:

Sample questions to ask (focus on what conclusions they came to and how)

  • Is there anything else you feel I should know to better understand your concerns?
  • How do you feel about the resume?
  • Tell me about the process of researching and writing it
  • How did you feel while you were putting it together?
  • If you knew how, what would you change about it?
  • How they think employers might respond to it (look at it through someone else’s eyes)
  • How they could phrase parts differently

Plans and goals

  • What is your long term goal?
  • When they will act on their plan
  • Where they will do it
  • If you were to form an action plan, what would that look like?
  • “What might prevent you from expediting your plan?”
  • “What if you choose to do nothing?”

Don’t:

  • Ask why questions
  • Make suggestions of what to do: implies “you are not capable of finding this out on your own and you couldn’t have done it without me” Robs client  of learning and sense of achievement

Follow-up:

  • If they don’t follow through on their plan
    • something in the counseling process that produced the plan left an issue unaddressed
    • find out what that issue is: “what got in the way?” “Maybe you’d rather modify your plan”
    • Clients have a right to not follow through – it is our job to confront that choice.  Remind them they don’t have to.  Make the choice to do or not to do a conscious one.
    • Ask about an ideal picture of what their life could be right now compared to what it is.
      • What’s different?
      • What are the givens?
      • What changes can be made?
      • What fantasies could be realities?
      • What would you have to do to make those changes?
      • What would be the gains for you?
      • What if you could only change some things?

Closing:

  • What do you feel is different now than when you came in?
  • Was this meeting helpful? What particularly did you find helpful or unhelpful about the discussion?
  • What is it that is most important that you feel that you’re taking away from this?

Ira Glass on Creativity

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Choice of a Profession as Declaration of Faith

What does it mean to be a profession? It means that one takes re-sponsibility in some respect for the good of another person; that the work undertaken is performed by norms of responsibility set for the health of the  work as a whole, as an institutional process; and most especially that one is called to provide this special kind of service to another and, as one called, has become accountable. Each of these characteristics of a profession do not look to maximal financial returns but to what will preserve the integrity of the relationships, personal and institutional, that a profession requires. The calling that constitutes a profession-the profession of a physician, the profession of the ministry, the profession of a teacher, the profession of a lawyer-consists in a personal recognition that one has abilities that fit one specially for the performance of the service. For those who believe in God it is a recognition, a personal acknowledgment, of gifts from the Creator, a recognition and acknowledgment of what the evangelical parable calls talents that must be accounted for. The calling is not self-selection; it is a response to an invitation from the Master.

To profess in its root sense is to make a public declaration of faith; a profession is such a declaration of faith.

-John T. Noonan