What You Said: “Work Is . . .”

What is work? . . . Drumroll, please. The jury has spoken.

With apologies regarding my thoroughly unscientific method, I want to share some of the input offered by you through my survey “What Is Work?” (still open to anyone who wants to complete it).

I asked respondents to define work ranging from “to earn a living” (1) to “a purposeful calling” (7) with “an even balance between the two” (4) in the middle. The ideal vs. realistic definitions of work swung from ideal being at the higher end of the scale—just above “an even balance between the two” (4.48)—to the realistic being closer to the bottom—near “to earn a living” (2.94), with over 50 percent of the responses being a 1 or 2.

This wasn’t a surprise. Most of us want and seek meaningful work but must balance that with the necessity of earning a living. The open-ended responses were more interesting.

  • 33% mentioned earning a living (“making ends meet,” “livelihood”).
  • 15% described doing something you “love” or “enjoy.”
  • 12% mentioned “money.”
  • 12% mentioned doing something “meaningful.”
  • 1% mentioned “enjoying” it.
  • Only one person used the word “occupation.”

The actual responses ranged from bluntly realistic to idealistically hopeful:

  • “slave labor”
  • “Beyond being a societal norm to have ‘work,’ people thrive on being busy.  It offers an important (at times frustrating) contrast to leisure.”
  • “Don’t know yet. What you do.”
  • “Work is a huge portion of one’s life. It is crucial that it is enjoyable and challenging so that one does not feel as if he or she is wasting away all of his or her time to earn a living, but obviously money cannot be ignored either.”
  • “A necessary part of life”
  • “Work is personal labor that fills our time and life with expressions of our particular gifts and skills.”

Thanks for your input! (The overwhelming majority of respondents were Penn undergrads but also included a handful of others (people employed full-time at Penn or elsewhere).) I find articles, opinions, and artistic creations about “work” very interesting and apropos—given my own work as a career counselor—and I’ve enjoyed sharing current Philadelphia artistic endeavors about work in two blog posts this year.

Pathways: Reflections on First Jobs

By Sharon Fleshman

I have always had a curiosity about people and how they see their place in the world. Perhaps that’s why I’ve landed at Career Services.  Twenty-two years ago, I was preparing to graduate from Penn and start my first “real” job, as some of you will do soon.   When I received my degree in Computer Science, I never expected to come back to Penn to work, or to be a career advisor.   I must say, though, that I have always had an interest in the world of work even as it relates to my family.  My mom is a retired social worker who touched the lives of her elderly clients.  My dad was a technician who envisioned how electronic components could come together to create useful tools.  My grandfather was a farmer who put his hands to the dirt and tractor to sow and reap. My aunt and grandmother were nurses who graced bedsides and operating rooms to care for patients.  A couple of my uncles were cab drivers who guided many travelers in the Bronx.  These jobs sound pretty concrete, right?  So what was my first job coming out of Penn?  A consultant.  Had my grandfather been alive at the time, his first question would have been — “What in the world is a consultant?”  All I know is that it seemed like a good gig at the time.

As time went by, I noticed a growing restlessness about my sense of purpose as it related to my career.   My church and community involvement was certainly a catalyst for my eventual transition to the non-profit sector as I had felt increasingly more fulfilled in my roles outside of work.  In spite of this, I have no regrets about my first job because I discovered a lot about what I want and don’t want in a career.  I liked certain elements of consulting.  I enjoyed helping clients in ways that required intellectual curiosity and allowed exposure to a variety of areas.   Consulting also challenged me to learn and adapt quickly and project more confidence about my abilities.    My colleagues were smart, friendly and motivated, but it was hard to forge strong collegial relationships given the need for consultants to move from client to client.   In retrospect, I realize that having a sense of community at work was and still is important to me.   When I found out about a Career Counselor position at Career Services twelve years ago, I was drawn to the opportunity to continue my advisory work in an environment that is more compatible with my work values.

All of this is not to say that one can only find meaning and purpose in a particular field or sector.  My point is that your first job will not define your entire career, but it can potentially be a springboard for cultivating self-discovery that will help you to progress in your development.  As you enter the next phase of your life in the world of work, make sure to take the time to reflect on lessons learned on the journey.

Lessons you can learn from Rudolph (and friends) about your Career Path

By Anne Reedstrom & Claire Klieger

‘Tis the season for many holiday specials, including one of our favorites, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which has a surprising number of career parallels–okay, maybe only if you’re someone who works in Career Services which, after a time, causes you to see career parallels in everything.

  1. “What’s the matter with misfits?” Don’t let others define who you are or what to do. Like Hermey’s desire to be a dentist (if you share that desire, go talk to Anne & friends) despite his  family history of toy making, you should give yourself permission to look at a wide variety of options. Even though it may feel like most students at Penn go into banking, consulting, and other “business” careers, in reality there are lots of students who choose a seemingly less traveled path (and they don’t even have to run away from home to make it happen).
  2. Don’t hide on the island of misfit toys. These self-banished  toys felt like no one would want them because they were different but, ultimately, they realized their value. In other words, there is a home (or job) for everyone, whether you are a pink spotted elephant, an ostrich riding cowboy or a visual studies major. It’s okay if you don’t yet know where you fit best. And, instead of relying on the King of the Misfits, you can use career services (and our exploration page) to help you discover options that will be right for you.
  3. Embrace your red shiny nose.Some of you may feel similar pressure from parents or peers to adopt a particular career path, just as Rudolph’s father wants him to wear a false nose to better conform to traditional reindeer norms. What he discovers, however, is that accepting what makes you special allows you to identify your own strengths and the path which will let you best capitalize on them.

    courtesy of Rankin/Bass
  4. Remember that “Bumbles bounce!” While you might not be able to survive a fall off a cliff like this famous abominable snowman, you can recover more easily than you might think from setbacks such as a bad academic semester, switching career tracks, or a challenging job search.  You may aspire to different goals than professional Christmas tree topper, but you all have many skills which, regardless of where or how you have learned them, are transferable to many different working environments.

From our island of misfits to yours, enjoy your holidays, watch many cheesy holiday specials (Anne recommends Year Without a Santa Claus), and come back to campus refreshed and ready for 2012.


Exploring Careers? Check the Obituaries…

One exercise I have seen suggested in career counseling books and workshops is that to learn what really matters to you, you should try writing your own epitaph.  The idea is that you can see what you want to be remembered for, and as a result become more focused in your career exploration and job search.

I know it sounds creepy, perhaps this blog might have been better timed in a month for Halloween, when talk of the dead and the undead is more socially acceptable. But I will venture forth in sharing a Sunday ritual I have had for years (not eating eye-of-newt, I promise):  I sit down in the morning and pore through the Sunday New York Times Obituaries.   As a career counselor, I have always found the profiles of people in their long career spans to be very compelling.  I can’t think of a better place to learn about the variety of careers available, nor to really illustrate the varying roles of fate, of ambition, of goals achieved and how unanticipated experiences have changed the course of people’s lives. When you read obituaries you also see how a personality, for example a style of leadership or capacity for empathy, can play a huge role in the nature of someone’s achievements.

While reading the obit articles can be sad because the lives described are at their ends, it is also thrilling to be reminded how much people can accomplish for society in how many ways.  If you are currently exploring your options, this is an unconventional, but inspiring approach to learn about the world of work.  These are some of the people profiled this week:

Entertainment/Communications Careers

Founding Force of the Big East Conference

Gavitt harnessed the burgeoning power of televised sports coverage with his nascent league to produce a powerful conference.

Man Who Shaped Miniature Golf

Mr. Lomma and his brother Alphonse are widely credited with having shaped the game’s familiar postwar incarnation

Painter and a Creator of Pop Art

Mr. Hamilton, whose sly, trenchant take on consumer culture and advertising made him a pioneering figure in Pop Art, was known for his cover design of the Beatles’ “White Album.”

Political Careers

Leader in Gay Rights Fight

Mr. Evans helped form and lead the movement that coalesced after gay people and their supporters protested a 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar.

Antiwar Leader in 1960s

Mr. Oglesby led Students for a Democratic Society as it publicly opposed the Vietnam War, and his speech “Let Us Shape the Future” is considered a landmark of American political rhetoric.

Charles Percy, Former Ill. Senator

Mr. Percy was a moderate Republican who clashed with President Richard M. Nixon over the Watergate scandal.

Education Careers

Man Who Fought Standardized Tests

Dr. Perrone’s ideas on flexible teaching methods led to a loose network of public alternative schools in New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Cultural Musicologist

Christopher Small, a New Zealand-born writer and musicologist who argued that music is above all an active ritual involving those who play and listen to it

Judge and a Scholar

Mr. Asch, a judge with a Ph.D. in sociology, wrote scholarly works about civil liberties and made notable decisions about landlord-tenant law and gay employment.

Hi Tech Careers

Early Chronicler of Video Games

Mr. Kunkel helped start the first published gaming column in 1978, and later the first video game magazine.

Pioneer of E-Books

Mr. Hart began the digital library Project Gutenberg after a July 4 fireworks display, when he typed up the Declaration of Independence and made it available for download.

Builder of Cargo Container

Mr. Tantlinger is credited with creating, in the 1950s, the first commercially viable modern shipping container, which changed the way nations do business.

And, for the thrillseekers…

Daring Italian Mountaineer

Mr. Bonatti was a member of the Italian team that conquered K2 in northern Pakistan

Air and Land Daredevil

Ms. Skelton was a three-time national aerobatic women’s flight champion when she turned to race-car driving, then went on to exceed 300 m.p.h. in a jet-powered car.

What do you want to be remembered for?  I’ll close with a quote from my colleague John Tuton: “…our society focuses so much on the outward trappings of success like salary and possessions when folks are alive, but I’ve never seen a dollar sign on a tombstone.”

Strategic Self-Assessment

By Sharon Fleshman

Whether you are exploring careers, conducting a job search, or contemplating a career change, self-assessment can energize the process.  Begin by reflecting on your previous jobs, projects and activities. Don’t limit yourself to the experiences which seem most related to your immediate career goals.  Try to move beyond occupations and job titles. Take a look at your resume or CV and go line by line. Identify where you made the most impact and what gave you the greatest sense of fulfillment.

Next, you’ll want to pinpoint skills that emerge from these experiences. Chances are that these skills can transfer to a variety of career options.  For example, research skills could be applied to meaningful work in any number of areas such as academia, program evaluation for a non-profit, or marketing research for a corporation.

In addition to skills, think about what you valued in past experiences in which you found meaning and success. Identifying your work values will help you to consider the work environment which is the best fit for you.  In other words, you could perform the same job in two different settings but find that you thrive much more in one setting than the other.  What about your interests? Perhaps they would provide clues as to what’s next on your career path.  It may be that you decide to try out some career options by way of internships, volunteer work, or short-term projects to tease out all of this information. There’s nothing quite like hands-on experience to provide a fresh perspective.

Finally, you will need to consider the current priorities in your life and how they relate to your job search.  Are you willing to relocate or do personal commitments limit your geographical options? How do your immediate financial needs affect your choices?

You will find that self-assessment not only helps you identify potential career paths, but prepares you for next steps in the job search.  Your networking meetings will be more focused and fruitful because you have done your homework.  Your resumes, cover letters, and interviews will be more compelling because you have taken a thorough inventory of what energizes you, what matters to you, and what you have to offer.

In addition to our Career Discovery webpages, there are a number of tools and inventories that can help you facilitate the self-assessment process.  As always, Career Services advisors are available to provide guidance as well. Enjoy your summer!