A Career Lesson for My Younger Self

For starters: Think purpose first, profession second.

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Utamaru Kido/ Getty Images
Utamaru Kido/ Getty Images

I don’t often look back over my life with regret because I believe everything that happens does so for a reason. As unpleasant or confusing as it may be in the moment, time has a way of shedding clarity on the most challenging of experiences. That’s also been true for my career.

While the path to my current business as a career and business consultant was a circuitous one, in hindsight I believe I may have landed here sooner if I had heeded the lesson I’m sharing with you today.

Since most careers originate in college, I would have told myself:

“While you’re in college, focus on purpose over profession.”

My parents were born into the Great Depression, were teens during World War II, and lived a slightly nomadic lifestyle due to my father’s military career. So the message I received, from my mother in particular, was to seek “security,” either in the arms of a husband or in the confines of a good company.

Focusing on the latter, like a dutiful daughter I spent my entire college career seeking an education that would lead to gainful employment, instead of seeking a clear understanding of who I was — or even my own interests. I also spent several years floundering, changing majors, and became completely frustrated by the entire experience.

From a developmental standpoint, experts agree that one of the most dynamic periods of psychological growth occurs during the college years. It’s during those critical years that we learn to integrate our identity, enhance our intellectual development, and internalize our own personal set of beliefs and values.

In addition, new students are tasked with navigating a new environment, finding a new social circle, developing autonomy, as well as the added pressure of declaring their chosen career for the rest of their lives.

It’s just a bit too much to put on such young undeveloped shoulders.

When I look back over my college years, I wish I’d taken advantage of the variety of courses offered to expand my knowledge, fuel my curiosity, and hone in on my inherent skills, gifts, talents, and abilities. I would have also studied abroad to learn more about other cultures, economies, and history. And my engagement in campus activities would have been far more robust, allowing me to absorb other perspectives and viewpoints.

By removing the pressure of finding a job, I would have been open to learning where best to apply my “superpowers.” By taking a “purpose-driven” approach, as opposed to a career-focused one, I most likely would have landed a bit closer to my life’s work, instead of doing so almost 30 years later.

As I noted previously, I don’t regret my path because it’s enabled me to share my insights with my own college-age children. By helping them tap into their values, passions, interests, and personality, the lessons they learn at the end of each semester are as significant as the book knowledge they’ve acquired.

They’re also uniquely positioned to make career choices that will showcase their strengths, and that they will ultimately love.

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