Balancing Act: thinking about the future and being present here, now

Last night at Penn Convocation, I listened to remarks by several senior leaders, all of whom offered good advice. Trustee Claire Lomax, Col ’84, greeted new students on behalf of the board and Penn alumni. One of her statements really resonated with me. She told the students to “be present,” to enjoy and fully participate in Penn and the Penn community. Oh, sure, you may be saying, of course I will do that. But too often, we meet students, be they undergraduates or graduate students, who are so focused on the future, on the next step, that they do not fully engage now in all that Penn has to offer, both academically and in the range of activities beyond the classroom or the lab.

This may seem counterintuitive for a Career Services person to be saying, but it really isn’t. Don’t select classes to protect your GPA. Learn something new, even though you may not get an A. Pick up a new skill or try a new activity (an intramural sport or a performing arts group, for example), as Provost Vincent Price suggested during his Convocation speech. The choices, both on campus and off, are well beyond anything a great many of you have seen before. Be here, and by fully engaging, you might serendipitously discover a path to your future. But don’t choose something for that reason alone. Being present is its own reward, one you don’t want to miss.

On behalf of everyone in Career Services, all the best for a great semester.

The Twisted Career Path of John Hodgman

J. Michael DeAngelis, Information Resources Manager

Cheesemonger.  Book Editor.  Literary Agent.  Magazine Writer.  Advice Columnist.  Author.  PC. (Not a Mac.)  Actor.  Comedian.  Internet Podcast Judge.  Deranged Millionaire.

The path John Hodgman took to his current career is not your usual one.  In fact, I’d say it’s one of the more unique I’ve come across.  Listening to John tell the story of how he went from not knowing what career he wanted at all to becoming a “minor television celebrity” is, to me, inspiring.   I’ve written in the past about my own non-traditional career path, but what I like about John’s story is how he used each part of his career path to springboard him into the next, even if it didn’t look like a logical leap on paper.

Most of all, I admire his willingness to take chances and to say yes to opportunities that were presented to him, even if they seemed scary or unattainable.  Enjoy this video with John discussing his unexpected career with comedian (and native Philadelphian) Paul F. Tompkins and think about what turns your own career may take.

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 Way Will Open

This morning I had the pleasure of attending our graduation ceremonies, and hearing John Legend’s inspiring commencement address. That followed a weekend at my son’s college graduation at another university, where it was a pleasure to hear from additional commencement speakers, student speakers, deans and dignitaries. I have heard so much wonderful advice, heartfelt stories, lessons learned. And now I have to write a blog post for graduation day.

What is left to say? Only that all of us at Penn are so proud of you, our graduates, so lucky to have had the chance to work with you over these past years. We are confident you will do well, wherever life and your education take you. I hope we in Career Services and others here at Penn have helped you take this first post-Penn step. If you are still looking for or deciding on that first opportunity, let us know. We are here to assist, and our office remains open in the summer.

What if you are unsure if you have made a good choice in a first job, or a graduate program? Please know that there is not just one “right” choice. Move ahead and, to quote a Quaker saying, “proceed as the way opens.” What this means is “to undertake an action without prior clarity about all the details, and with a respect for the ambiguity of the process. There are things we don’t know, and can’t know. There are many paths. If you are not immediately on the right one, take a different one. As you go, you will gain the clarity that will inform your next choice, and the one after that. As one of the commencement speakers said, you can’t connect the dots of your life looking forward, only in looking back. So good luck. Do well (and do good). Trust that the way will open for you, as it has for so many other Penn graduates over the years. Congratulations.

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.