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.