By Song-I Yang (C’10)
With OCR in full swing and students scurrying around in business suits all over campus, you can’t help but feel a wash of anxiety as you face the unknown future. Maybe you don’t really know what to do with your life and, the question ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ draws blanks, and the last thing you want to do is write up halfhearted cover letters to companies you feel like you should apply for just because half the world seems to be doing the same. Sound familiar?
I was in your position not too long ago. Three years ago, to be exact.
In the fall of 2009, I was a senior who had switched majors countless times and contemplated every profession known to mankind.
That last statement is not an exaggeration. I considered being a doctor, a lawyer, a consultant, a teacher, an engineer, a fine artist, a not-so-fine artist, a waste collector, a pole dancer, a tree climber, a mountaineer, a monastic…you name it, I’ve seriously considered it.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but graduation was looming and decisions had to be made. The way I saw it, there were two general routes people took after graduating: (1) get a job or (2) go to graduate school.
As I considered these options, I realized something utterly important and surprisingly simple: I didn’t want to do any of that. After twenty-two years of disciplined schooling, more systematic schooling was the last thing I wanted and I also wasn’t willing to sell my soul to corporate America quite yet. But graduation was months away…what in the world was I to do?
I sought refuge in the readings and words of inspirational leaders, accomplished academics, and successful professionals. And it was strange — the consistent message that spoke to me was a very simple yet profound one: follow your heart, follow your passions.
Put a pause on rolling your eyes — I know that wasn’t exactly the practical information anyone really seeks, but I figured those seasoned individuals knew what they were talking about and I made a decision that would change my life forever and inadvertently ease me into a coveted position with a a top company: during the year after graduation, I followed my heart. I tuned down the waves of an over-analytical brain and tuned into the pulls of heartstrings I had neglected for too long.
My heart took me to various locations throughout the world and opened my eyes and ears to a wealth of experiences. It took me to the slums of India where I volunteered with a nonprofit organization; I spent a month in the bamboo huts of Thailand where I became certified as a yoga instructor and another couple of months in the classrooms of Korea where I taught English and discovered a penchant for public speaking. And finally, I found myself in mountaintop monasteries in Taiwan where I witnessed the immeasurable value of utter open-mindedness and kindness.
Throughout that year, I also decided to exercise my repressed creative muscles and launched a blog titled ‘Someday I’ll Find a Job’ to document my journey via photography and writing. I also read. A lot.
Life was amazing during that year (with the occasional hiccup of course) — and it was so because I was spending my time doing things I was honestly interested in and actively loved. In essence, I think that’s what following your heart really means. “Follow your heart” is just shorthand for “do things you love and invest your time in experiences you value.” These realizations alter your perspective during the job search in three important ways that build upon another:
Firstly, you shift your mindset in your approach to the job search. You are not looking for a ‘job.’ You are looking for experiences that you would love to be a part of. Experiences that will help you grow and foster your natural interests.
Secondly, you only apply for positions that meet the following requirement: you truly believe in the organization’s mission and culture. This does severely limit your options, but it pays off in the end. In the words of Steve Jobs, ‘don’t settle.’ It makes all the difference.
Thirdly, once you find that optimal place of employment, you become charged with much more passion and purpose than you thought would be possible than with any old ‘job.’ This sense of passion and purpose fuels a great amount of natural curiosity and effort in your application — enough so that recruiters will notice.
And the rest will be history.
I’m probably more idealistic than necessary and I realize I don’t offer practical advice like ‘call recruiter Z in 30 minute intervals’ or ‘indent your resume three spaces within the border.’ Honestly, that type of advice is trivial if your underlying foundations and heart-fullness aren’t set. If your heart is attuned, you automatically and naturally know what must be done for you to get where you need to be. So take some time to figure it out. Follow your natural interests and never settle, even if it takes a little more time than the rest. In the long run, you’ll be much happier and understanding with your decisions and outcome.
Video presentation by Song-I: Don’t GAG Yourself – A guide to finding your own path in the world
Song-I Yang (C’10) is currently employed at Zappos.com in Las Vegas, Nevada. Zappos.com has been listed on Fortune Magazine’s Best Companies to Work For since 2009.