The Defining Decade: Identity Capital Part 3

Another common misconception about the twenties is that it’s the last chance for freedom before real life begins. Dr. Meg Jay shares one of her client’s worries about letting go of her freedom too soon…

“I encouraged Helen to get some capital. I suggested she start by finding work that could go on a resume.

‘This is my chance to have fun,’ she resisted. ‘To be free before real life sets in.’

‘How is this fun? You’re seeing me because you are miserable.’

‘But I’m free!’

‘How are you free? You have free time during the day when most everyone you know is working. You’re living on the edge of poverty. You can’t do anything with that time.’

Helen looked skeptical, as though I were trying to talk her out of her yoga mat and shove a briefcase into her hand. She said, ‘You’re probably one of those people who went straight from college to graduate school.’

‘I’m not. In fact, I probably went to a better graduate school because of what I did in between.”

Helen’s brow furrowed.

I thought for a moment and said, ‘Do you want to know what I did after college?’

‘Yeah, I do,’ she challenged.

Helen was ready to listen.”

After college Dr. Meg Jay got a job with Outward Bound as a grunt in logistics, driving a van through the Blue Ridge Mountains. When an opening for an instructor position came up, she quickly seized the opportunity. She traveled through North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, Boston and more. She led trips for a wide variety of groups, from war vets to CEO’s to school groups. Jay recalls that when she started with Outward Bound she thought she would only be with them for a couple of years. Before she knew it 4 years had flown by. Jay comments on a visit back to her college town…

“Once, on a break between courses, I visited my old college town and saw an undergraduate mentor. I still remember her saying, ‘What about graduate school?’ That was my own dose of reality. I did want to go to graduate school and was growing tired of Outward Bound life. My mentor said if I wanted to go, I needed to do it. ‘What are you waiting for?’ she asked. It seemed I was waiting for someone to tell me to get going. So I did.”

Jay went straight to preparing herself for grad school. She made all the preparations for her portfolio and the interviewing process. She quickly realized that no one wanted to talk about her portfolio pieces or discuss scholarly articles and researches with her. After seeing her resume every interviewer wanted to talk about her Outward Bound experience.

Jay had a piece of capital that was different from other graduate school applicants. It made her memorable. So memorable that she was known as the Outward Bound girl until she got her doctorate from Berkeley.

From Dr. Meg Jay’s experience we learn that not only is it OK to take some time before entering a career or graduate school, but gathering unique experience can be very valuable. Unique experiences set us apart from a crowded applicant pool. It can give the interviewer or employer a visual to remember us by.

It is also important to notice that once Jay’s undergraduate mentor reminder her about her original desire to go to graduate school she took action right away. If Jay had put off preparations for graduate school she may have spent too much time at Outward Bound. Even though Outward Bound gave her some capital, too much time there may have set her back.

Now that we have understand what identity capital is and have the great example of Erik Erikson and Dr. Meg Jay to follow, we can discuss some of the practical advice Jay gives while we wrap up the chapter on identity capital in The Defining Decade.


20 thoughts on “The Defining Decade: Identity Capital Part 3

  1. This is a really interesting article Katie. I definitely see the value in taking some time to put some interesting experiences on your resume before a career/grad school. Personally, I did that simultaneously while I did my undergrad degree.

      • I got a lot of interesting experiences during my undergrad because I worked full-time while I was a student. I held jobs in retail, banking, and technology, so I picked up a varied skill set.

        I also adopted my little girl during my Senior year and got really involved with the adoption community. I helped host events and share my experiences with others. Things like that go a long way to making you a more interesting candidate, particularly for grad school.

        • That’s awesome! I love how you diversified yourself. Diversity doesn’t just help you look good, but I think it helps you understand what you like and don’t like. It gives you the confidence to follow the path you have chosen because you have experimented with other options.

  2. I agree with Dr. Jay 100% – not only is it OK to take time before grad school, in many fields it is highly preferred. Grad school isn’t a place to find yourself; it isn’t like college in that vein at all. You should walk in knowing exactly what you want out of the degree, just like Dr. Jay did after her Outward Bound experiences. You’re providing a great overview of the book here, Katie!

      • I am talking from experience, but the opposite one – I went straight to grad school, which was a mistake. This post of yours actually inspired me to write a post about grad school on my site (see pingback below). Thanks so much for the inspiration!

        • I just read and responded to your post. I absolutely loved it! I hope every graduate school applicant sees your wisdom, or gets the same advice from somewhere else before they take the plunge.

          Saying my post inspired you are such kind words, thank you.

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