Too many people don’t really do what their heart’s desire is, but they try to do something else because they think—well, it will be easier to get a job or to make money. And if that happens, then when you’re doing it you feel like you’re working, but if you do what you really want to do, you feel like you’re playing.
With Stan Lee’s passing earlier this week, the world lost one of the creative minds responsible for some of our most popular characters and heroes in entertainment today. In remembering his legacy, I was considering the ways in which we can learn from Stan Lee’s career and was struck by the quote above: it’s nothing special. At face value, it’s just some inspirationally packaged platitudes that we’ve all heard about following our dreams and doing what you love. What stood out about the quote is that Stan Lee got his start and gained prominence doing almost the exact opposite—taking an easy-entry job to earn cash and get started in the writing and publishing industry even if it meant working in a less desirable medium like comics.
Stanley Lieber turned 18 right around the Great Depression. With a love of reading and desire to become a writer, he landed a job through a family connection at Timely Comics, a precursor to Marvel, the now Disney-owned behemoth. In an interview with the New York Times, he explains how comics were so trivialized by people at the time that Lieber felt the need to create a pseudonym to shield himself and hopefully his future, more serious, writing career by dividing his first name to form Stan Lee. One of Lee’s primary goals in the comic industry was to change it and force the medium to evolve by creating more layered characters with stronger stories.
In these ways, Stan Lee started by taking a job that didn’t really meet all his dreams or goals—it was a quick way to gain some writing skills, but in a field that he felt he had to shield his future reputation by adopting a new name. Even if at the beginning, comics weren’t Lee’s loftiest passion, he brought his desire for powerful characters and writing to his career and leveraged his love of literature to take the medium to greater heights. While doing exactly what you love and desire is an excellent goal for us all, we can see from the results of Stan Lee’s inspiring legacy that sometimes bringing what you love to what you do is just as meaningful.
Congratulations 2017 Graduates! As you celebrate your accomplishments at Penn and take your next steps into the world, whether it’s working full-time, graduate and professional school, volunteering, or travel, it’s a good idea to consider how you will continue to grow as a professional after Penn. For years, you’ve had structured syllabi for classes and countless resources to help you grow just steps from Locust Walk. Now, as you embark on your new life, it’s up to you to ensure your continued growth and to provide structure to the ambiguous endeavor known as professional development.
Why bother with professional development?
Before getting into the how of professional development, let’s talk about the why. Professional development is an investment in yourself. It’s making sure you continue to build skills and remain relevant as the world shifts around you. It’s about staying on top of your game so you can be an agent of change rather than a person reacting to change and trying to keep up.
As a student at Penn, you were all about the possibilities and pondering how you could make your mark on the world in numerous ways. No matter how many years pass since your commencement, never stop asking yourself that question. Keep learning so you can give your future self choices. Do things today that you will thank yourself for in a few years.
Where to begin…
Attend Conferences – These are great venues to meet other professionals in the field, learn best practices, gain insights into the future direction of an industry, and meet people in your field.
Read industry publicationsand general business news – Staying informed will help you perform your current job better and is helpful for networking situations, brainstorming, and future interviews.
Attend Networking functions – Get to know people when you are not looking for a job. Building professional relationships now will make your life much easier for down the road when you are ready to switch positions and call upon some of these contacts.
Identify mentorsboth inside and outside your field. Find people with career paths you admire and see if they are willing to share advice about what has worked for them. Check out QuakerNet to find Penn alumni within every field imaginable. Conduct informational interviews to learn more.
Look for dream positions. What skills do you need for those? Where’s the gap between what you can do now and what you will need to do that job? How can you work on that in the meantime? Perhaps taking a course on coding through Lynda.com or a workshop/course at a local college to build your skills.
Pay attention to your hobbies and interests. Perhaps your hobbies are just that – distractions for fun that you never want to monetize. But, sometimes there’s more to it. There are stories of many entrepreneurs who turned a blog they started on the side into something that later became their primary source of income. This takes a lot of time and energy, but with commitment, it’s another possibility. Keep in mind that not every interest you pursue has to make sense or relate to your career. When Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class for fun, did he expect it would inform his design aesthetic for wildly successful products at the company he would build?
Keep in mind that Career Services is here for Penn Alumni and we can help you come up with a professional development plan tailored to you. As new grads, this is the best time to develop good habits (investing in a retirement plan, professional development) that will benefit you for years to come.
One or two times a month, an advisee will share with me their dislike of their science classes and wonder if they should continue on the path towards medical school. There is not an easy or quick answer to this question and it’s a great discussion to have with your pre-health advisor or important people in your life.
First, elaborate on what it means to “not like your sciences classes.” How many classes have you taken? Is it one class or all of them? Is it only lecture classes or labs and seminars as well? Did you like science in high school? Is it that you like the material, but not the exams? Do you like the classes, but would like them a lot more if they were smaller or there was less grade pressure? Do you dislike the classes because you feel you are not doing well (and are you being too hard on yourself or are you truly struggling)?
It is quite common for students to be a great fit for medicine and not like all their science classes. Some people really do not like physics or chemistry, but are genuinely excited about physiology or neuroscience. Many people dislike the high stakes exams, but adore classes that integrate projects and readings from current journals.
Occasionally, students don’t like their science classes because they are conflicted about pursuing a medical career, or truly do not want it. Maybe they used to want it, or a parent wants it, or they have some other career interest tugging on them. If your heart isn’t in the long-term goal of working in healthcare, it can be very difficult to engage with the challenging scientific coursework.
If you are someone who confidently feels that you don’t like science at all, then you need to reconcile this with your desire to become a doctor. Medicine is a scientific career. You will undertake demanding studies in science in medical school and devote yourself to life-long learning in the sciences. Nearly all of the students we work with who go on to medical school demonstrate enthusiasm for science. It may be that there is another career that will encompass the aspects of medicine that attract you, but without the significant amount of scientific training.
As always, you can make an appointment with a pre-health advisor to talk through this question by calling 215.898.1789.
Do your research. Make sure you are as clear as possible on the employer’s core values to see whether they align with yours. Hopefully, your research started when you prepared to interview but you may still need to review the organizational website, read recent news related to employer, or speak with others (especially alumni) who work at the employer. As it relates to salary, be aware of what a reasonable range might be so that you can negotiate effectively. A number of resources accessible on the Career Services website can be helpful in this regard. Consider other criteria such as professional development, health benefits, financial planning options, location, and so on.
Know your bottom line. Regarding the offer, think about what allows for some flexibility and what is non-negotiable. Perhaps you know that a certain salary is required for you to meet your financial obligations. Maybe you need a certain level of supervision for the pursuit of a necessary licensing or certification. Your responsibilities to your family may require that you live in a certain region.
Consult with a mentor and/or Career Services advisor. It can be very helpful to invite another person to be a sounding board. Speak with trusted mentors who know you and your chosen career field well. Make an appointment with a Career Services advisor who can point you to useful resources and help you sort out your thoughts about the offer.
“For 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
“Success 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.