A Walk on the Wild Side: Love What You Do

lou-reedFor a while, I felt a little self-impelled to write Lou Reed kind of songs. I should have understood that a Lou Reed song was anything I wanted to write about.” – Lou Reed

Sglamour_women-of-the-year-maya-angelou-s-2009-speechuccess is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

The two quotes above are from American artists and cultural icons who passed away very recently. Together their statements address an issue that is often overlooked: while at this point most graduates are used to hearing the advice “do what you love,” I think it is just as important to love what you do.

There is a lot to be said for focusing on the rewards that, rather than coming from external recognition, are derived from self-development, being true to who you are at any moment, and enjoying the person who is growing and maturing. You do not always have to know your long-term goals, or even “follow your passion” in order to like yourself, like what you do, and like how you do it.    It is hard to argue with Ms. Angelou’s definition of success.  When Lou Reed stopped limiting himself to what he thought was the Lou Reed sound he found authentic appreciation for his own work.

To me, “love what you do” isn’t an exhortation to find something you love, but suggests that whatever task you take on, whatever role, you have the opportunity to make it yours. A job, project or career path has the potential to provide a measure of fulfillment if you look for the aspects of it that you appreciate. You can focus on what would improve it, and work towards making change. Or you can find that a job, even one you don’t want to do “forever,” might give you more insight into who you are and what matters to you.

The Complexity of Career Planning

puzzlepiecesI’m currently studying complexity theory, the way “patterns emerge through the interaction of many agents.”* Because the actors and issues and environment continually change, patterns also change as they emerge, stabilize, and then perhaps dissipate. Observation and flexibility are the keys here.

This seems particularly applicable to planning and navigating careers. Since everything is in flux—organizations, technology, economies, the environment, politics, relationships, and YOU—we’re aiming at moving targets. Preparation for a career can take years as we study, develop skills, and gain experience. When we finally get “there,” the “there” has likely changed.

So in order to prepare for the evolving and complex landscape of the future, developing the skills of observing, learning, and adapting is critical. “Probing” is key. Your liberal arts education at the University of Pennsylvania provides a foundation for this perspective. I encourage you to observe, question, discuss, and engage as often as possible. In the realm of career planning, this means opening up to a range of options. If you have already identified a career goal, plan for it and pursue it while simultaneously continuing to learn about other opportunities and how they are similar to or differ from your initial focus. If you are exploring career options or haven’t yet begun to do so, jump in and learn about career possibilities in every setting. Pay attention to the work that people do and ask them questions about it. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, do it! And talk to others who also do it to see if/how they’ve used their skills in professional settings.

The best tactic, the one that will help you adapt to how the future unfolds, is to explore.


*From Kurtz, C.F., Snowden, D. J. “The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-Making in a Complex and Complicated World,” in IBM Systems Journal (42:3), 2003.

The (Adaptable, Resourceful, Multitalented) Versatile PhD

Graduate students and postdocs may be aware of Career Services’ many resources on academic careers and the academic job search.  But are you also familiar with the resources we have for PhDs/ABDs who are considering a career beyond academia? The Versatile PhD is one of the valuable tools Career Services provides to help you in your decision making and your job hunting.

The Versatile PhD is a web-based resource that you can use anytime, from any computer.  It includes:

  • A thriving, supportive web-based community where you can participate in discussions, network with real “Versatile PhDs” (humanists, social scientists and STEM trained individuals working outside the academy) or, if you prefer, just read and learn.
  • An online collection of compelling first-person narratives written by Versatile PhDs who describe how they established their post-academic careers and give their best advice for you.
  • An associated LinkedIn group where you can begin to build an online presence and network with Versatile PhDs in a wide variety of fields.
  • Free online “Career Panel” discussions where Versatile PhDs working in a given field share their specific professional experiences in that field and answer questions from members. Online panels in 2012 included Careers in Market Research, Careers in Corporate and Institutional Research and Careers in Program Evaluation.  Panels from prior years are archived on the site.

Coming up on November 12-16, 2012:  Entrepreneurship for STEM PhDs featuring STEM PhDs currently running businesses they started from the ground up, or working in small start-ups.  The panel is presented in an asynchronous format; participate anytime during the week.

University of Pennsylvania graduate students and postdocs have access to all the content areas on the website, including the upcoming panel  – go to the Career Services Reference Library (on the left side of Career Services homepage) and click on Online Subscriptions.  You will be asked to provide your PennKey and password to access The Versatile PhD.

Guest Perspective: Pause Before you Jump (into your post graduate plans) – Advice for Seniors

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.

Continue reading “Guest Perspective: Pause Before you Jump (into your post graduate plans) – Advice for Seniors”

Considering Jobs

My favorite barista is a dancer. Today, while preparing another of her oh-so-perfect lattes, she mentioned that her dance company is interviewing people about what their jobs mean to them. They’re at the beginning of this creative endeavor, allowing the process itself to take them to an unknown destination. They do plan to create a dance. Will they interpret their interviewees’ stories through movement? Use interviewees’ words? Voices? Where will the interviewees’ stories lead the dancers? Where will the process itself lead them? Where will their artistry lead us all?

What is a job? What does “job” mean to you? Does it matter?

We’ve used the word since the 1620s, but I would guess that many seventeenth-century jobs are uninteresting to today’s students or no longer exist. According to Merriam-Webster, a job is “something that has to be done” or “a specific duty, role, or function” or “a regular remunerative position.” I assume most of us associate “job” with that third meaning, similar to dictionary.com’s “post of employment.”

None of these definitions address why we need a job, other than “remunerative.” (Perhaps a better definition might be “something your parents ask you about during spring break”!) “Remuneration” is something that rewards or pays. What the reward or pay might be is not part of the definition. So, what do you want your reward to be? A paycheck? A large paycheck? Vacation time? Healthcare? Prestige? Comfort? Luxury? Creating something? Changing an expectation? Providing care? Increasing knowledge? Changing the world?

These questions might not be on your next interviewer’s list, but they should be on your list so that you will know what you’re seeking, why, and how to demonstrate that you and the job “fit” one another. Exploring these questions with a friend, family member, or a career counselor (or on our website) is an ongoing, challenging, and meaningful exercise.

So, what do you think? A past blog of mine addressed a similar issue and invited readers to complete a survey. You are welcome to do so now, and to share this invitation with friends and family so that we have many responses.

As a career counselor and someone immensely curious—from a sociological and historical perspective—about “work,” I am looking forward to the future dance creation of Real Live People (in) Motion, and I’d love to read your thoughts in our survey.