Choosing a Career Path and Sticking With It

We’ve talked a lot about getting a job, choosing a career and tips for being at work, but we haven’t directly talked about a career path yet. Knowing your career path early on is a big advantage. A career path can help keep you focused on your end goal. You may have a dream to work in a certain position or for a certain company. A career path tells you how to get there. If you haven’t chosen a career path yet, I’ve come up with a list of questions to ask yourself so you can find the right career path for you… and stay on track with that career path.

How do I know what job I want at the end of my career path?

Listen to your unthought knowns, as Dr. Meg Jay calls them in her book, The Defining Decade. There’s a voice inside you that knows what you like and what you’re good at. It also knows what you don’t like and what your weaknesses are. Listen to your inner unthought knowns. They’re called unthought knowns because you know them… You just haven’t thought about it yet.

To help focus in on your unthought knows try one of these techniques:

  • Make a list of all skills, interests, etc.
  • Pay attention at work – what aspects do you like and not like?
  • Have informational meetings to learn as much as you can and ask all your questions.
  • Find out the job descriptions of different positions.
  • Understand the different departments, how they work together, where their work ends, and another starts.

Nothing’s worse than working your way to a position, only to then find out its nothing like you thought it would be and you hate it. Do the research now while you still have the flexibility to move around to an area you know you will enjoy for the long run.

How do I get on a career path?

After you have chosen your end goal you can find out what your career path should be. Some of the techniques listed above can also help you discover the steps it takes to get to your end goal. Talking with co-workers who have been in the company or the industry for a few years can be very helpful. What’s even more helpful is if you can sit down with someone now who is in the position you would like one day. If you can find someone has been or currently is in a position you want here are some questions I would suggest asking…

1. What type of schooling do I need?

2. What type of experience and how many years of experience do I need?

3. Is there any additional experience outside of work you would suggest?

4. What skills should I be practicing?

5. Any final words of advice? Steps I should take? Positions I should hold? People I should talk to?

Will this job offer help me in my career path?

This is an important question to ask yourself every time a new job offer comes your way. My best advice, only take a job if you “side step” or move up on your career path. A”side step” is when you move to a different position, but you’re still on the same level as your previous position. You didn’t “move up in rank” is another way to look at it. Still a perfectly good option. This “side step” position can teach you new skills, give you more experience, introduce you to a new network or allow you to move to a new company.

Receiving a job offer is obviously a great sign that your boss, and the company likes you. They have faith you’ll do good for the future of the company. But, I would advise that accepting a position which leads you off your track does you no good. It would better serve you to politely decline and stay where you are. If you do have to decline, I would suggest having a conversation explaining the goals you have set up for your future. This conversation may also allow the employer to see the big picture you have for yourself and may look for opportunities to help you achieve it in the future.

Sometimes being offered a position that is lower than your current position can actually help on your career path. If your career path is for a position with a certain company, you may want to consider a lower job offer in order to start working for your dream company. However, I would not accept the job offer until I knew exactly what I would be doing, knew it would help me get to where I wanted to be, knew there was room for growth within the company, and knew I would be happy.

Am I currently doing everything I can for my career path?

It’s good to check on your own progress from time to time. But before you can check on your progress you need to have a set of clear goals with steps. From the information you got doing your research about the position you’re working towards and what the career path looks like you can make yourself a basic timeline. I say basic because I don’t want you over stressing and feeling completely depressed if you do not follow the timeline exactly. Still, a timeline will allow you to see roughly how long you should stay in a position to get the experience you need and tell you when its time to start thinking about getting a new position.

After you have your clear goals with steps, sit down to have a self evaluation or ask for a peer evaluation. To have a peer evaluation you could ask a co-worker or boss for feedback on how you’ve been doing. Then take that information and compare it to your time line.  Use the comparison to decide if you are where you should be, if you’re behind or meeting the bare minimum. Are you meeting work requirements? Have you required all the skills you can in your current position? Is there anything more you can be doing? In my opinion, there’s always room for improvement, that’s the way growing works. You grow as a better employee if you keep challenging yourself. It’s always better to be challenging yourself than to be safe. Safe keeps you in one spot, challenging keeps you moving up.

What career path have you started on? Do you have any additional tips or questions?

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Should You Move In Together?

A lot of couples move in together because it makes their lives easier. Maybe they spend so much time together anyways or they have so many sleep overs that their stuff is split between two houses; its just easier to live in one place. Or maybe they are both moving to a new city or state so they decide to get a place together because that’s easier than finding new roommates. For whatever reason it seems like more couples are living together before marriage than before.

It can be a dangerous choice if not thought out properly.

Personally, I’m not for living together. Trust me, I would love it. I’m in a long distance relationship and so badly I would love for my boyfriend to move to New York when he’s done with school. It would be easier for him to move in with me since I already have an apartment and he doesn’t know many people out here, but for me that might be risking too much. Reading “The Cohabitation Effect” chapter from The Defining Decade helped me confirm I’m making the right choice.

“…couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.” (p. 91)

Living Together is NOT a Test for Marriage

This is a common assumption for many people, young and old. This was true for Jennifer, one of Dr. Meg Jay’s clients. Jennifer was now seeing Dr. Meg Jay because she was getting a divorce after feeling she got into the wrong marriage too quickly. Jennifer and her husband Carter dated and lived together during their twenties. As Jennifer was nearing thirty she saw her other friends marrying and having babies of their own, Jennifer started to worry that Carter would never be serious about a career or their relationship. Jennifer thought living together would be a good test for marriage. With Jennifer and Carter as an example Dr. Meg Jay explains how living together is not a test for marriage…

“They vaguely had the idea of testing their relationship, but they didn’t venture into areas that typically stress marriage: They didn’t pay a mortgage, try to get pregnant, get up in the night with kids, spend holidays with in-laws when they didn’t want to, save for college and retirement, or see each other’s paycheck and credit-card bills.” (p. 93-94)

In the same way, marriage is not  a test to see if the other person will get serious about the relationship. 

At the very least if you are going to move in with someone you need to have a talk about what that commitment means for your relationship. Too many times couples who have been living together for numerous years feel that the next step is getting married, but too often these marriages quickly fail.

Sliding, Not Deciding

Often couples move in together after a quick decision without a conversation as to what the move will mean for the relationship. This is “what is known as ‘sliding, not deciding.’ Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation…” (p. 92)

Without a conversation couples can have different motivations for moving in together and different opinions on what it means for the severity of the relationship. Research has shown that twentysomething men are motivated to make the move for chances of more sex while women are motivated for chances of increasing love. “But both men and women agree that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than for a spouse.” (p 93)

Isn’t that sad? Why are we lowering our standards? If we’re looking for love and want to be on a path towards marriage shouldn’t we be at least keeping to the same standard?

Couples still slide into moving in together, probably because they are unaware of all these know facts from researches. It seems harmless because so many people are living together. It’s the new norm to live together before marriage or even being engaged. But, unfortunately as couples slide into living together, the time starts sliding as well.

Jennifer recalls how after a couple of years she wondered what her and Carter were still doing…

“Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the mot frustrating part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me.” (p. 94)

Time slides by and it suddenly feels like you should be married by now. The daunting thirty deadline gets closer. Friends start walking down the aisle. Then more friends are walking down and then baby carriages start appearing. Everyone else is settling down, making you feel behind.

Lock-In

The “lock-in” comes when there is a pressure to get married due to the number of years the couple has lived together and/or age. The problem is because the couples’ lives have become so intertwined it is harder to leave the relationship than he/she thought when first moving in together. When a couple moves in together they underestimate the risk of combining their lives financially because the consequences are in the future; the future possible problems don’t seem as real or complicated until the very real complications hit them in the face.

“Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for other options, or change to another option, once an investment in something has been made.” (p. 96)

The investments are called “setup costs”. The setup costs can be as small as a signature or as big as adopting a pet or splitting costs for all of the furniture. Setup costs, big or small, can lead to a lock-in. Setup costs create an attachment that makes it more difficult to leave later, even if leaving will provide a better option.

This can happen because of the “‘switching costs’… the time, money, or effort it requires to make a chance.” Switching costs are what couples underestimate and are what make it the most difficult to leave.  Lets say a couple adopts a dog. When one of them has thoughts about leaving the relationship one starts to wonder, who gets the dog? Or if you have a joint bank account or credit card, how will you get out of that smoothly to support yourself? Couples stay in their live-in relationships because of the uncertainty of how to leave and the fear of what will happen to the things, pets and even friends that “belong” to both couples.

Before long someone is forcing the other down the aisle. The couple is quickly married then most likely divorcing, and leaving is becoming even more complicated than before.

Yes, I will agree that this is not the case for all couples. For example, the cohabitation effect is less likely for couples who move in together after a public engagement. I thin the key here is if you are considering living together, first be sure to have a converstaion. Find out why you want to live together and what it will mean for the relationship. Talk about what you would do if you ran into any of the problems we talked about here or how you could avoid them. Second, be sure to re-evaluate. Having the initial converstation is a good start, but you need to make sure you continue to “check in”. Think on your own to make sure you are happy and have what you want. But also make sure you are always being honest with each other. Revisiting the conversation can be a good thing.

For me, I will continue to stick with my decision to not live together before I am married. I think it is too easy to fall into a lock-in. I also worry that it could ruin a relationship, even if the relationship does not work out romantically, I would hope that we would be able to to stay in each other’s lives. Leaving a live-in relationship seems too messy and might ruin that chance of being friends, instead there could be too much animosity.

What do you think about the cohabitation effect?

 

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Dr. Meg Jay from The Defining Decade – 30 Is Not The New 20

Check out my girl, Dr. Meg Jay! She’s on TED talking about her lessons for twentysomethings.

I did a post series on her book, The Defining Decade, where we learned about the importance of using our twenties to build of future in work, family and personal life. Listen to this talk, read some of my posts, and take the time to read The Defining Decade. If you learn and act, you will be better prepared than most of your peers.

“Thirty is not the new twenty, so claim your adulthood, get some identity capital, use your weak ties, pick your family. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.” ~Dr. Meg Jay

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Dating Down

Many twentysomethings do not take dating seriously. Dating is thought to be a time to have fun now and worry about marriage later. All the first dates and not serious relationships are practice for when you want to get serious. 

If dating in our twenties is just practice, why are we practicing bad habits that could stick?

You can be a very successful twentysomething, but still have a bad love life. You can have a career, control over your finances and a fancy apartment, but at the same time uphold a condensing life of self judgement and settling. A life that consists of a respected nine to five day job, but a booty call at night. Or an uneven relationship with a live-in partner who has no job and doesn’t pull his or her weight. Relationships can be hard work, but there is a certain level of respect and equality that should be met for both parties.

At any age anyone can fall into dating down. It can stem from what Dr. Meg Jay calls your “untold story” or settling. An untold story is like a story line in your head created from past conversations and experiences about yourself. It may depict how you view your love life and how you play a role in the dating field. Here is what Dr. Meg Jay has to say about untold stories…

“The power of these untold personal stories is that… they can loop silently in our minds without anyone, sometimes even ourselves, knowing about them. The stories are found hiding… in the gaps between what we plan to do and what we actually do, or between what happens and what we tell people about what happens.” ~The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay (p. 108)

These untold stories need to be told and edited. Stories that aren’t shared are of shame and can eat away at you left unspoken. Let your untold stories out and create a new story. Let the past out and replace those stories with the new edited you. New stories of all your accomplishments and best qualities. Share stories that you are proud of, then you will see yourself becoming more proud of yourself. Editing your story will allow you to have the strength to recognize when you are settling and how to never settle again.

Once you treat yourself with respect, others will too. 

Think about what you want and need in a partner. Take the dates you do choose seriously. Find out what traits you like and dislike. Find out what qualities you want or need in a relationship. To create good dating habits we need to switch from being wanted to wanting. Take charge of your love life! Choose your partner, don’t like your partner choose you.

You’re next boyfriend or girlfriend could be your last.

*This post, quotes and this post series come from inspirations and lessons found in The Defining Decade and should be accredited to Dr. Meg Jay.*

 

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From Work to Love

We’ve talked a lot about the work lessons from The Defining Decade, but is that all? Is work all we need to concentrate on in our twenties?

“[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse.” ~David Brooks, political and cultural commentator

I’d like to know why there are no classes. That seems like a pretty good idea to me.

I love how Dr. Meg Jay opens her section on love with this quote. It really opens your mind to the subject.

Why isn’t marriage a subject talked about? And when it is, why is it frowned upon? We talk about wants in our career and plan for our careers, why aren’t we doing the same for marriage? Is it one of the most important, if not the most important decision of our life.

“With one decision you choose your partner in all adult things. Money, work, lifestyle, family, health, leisure, retirement, and even death become a three-legged race.”

Wow, that’s eye opening and intimidating. Once you say, “I do” you are tied to this person. There’s no wonder why people have so many doubts as they head towards the aisle.

The worst part is if you chose wrongly, you can’t get rid of that person.You can’t give your two weeks and walk away hands free. Sure you can get a divorce, but in some way you are still bound to that person, most likely financially. Then if you have children together, think about the hassle you will have to go through to schedule “drop offs” after the hassle of filing a divorce in the first place. Then of course there’s the most important part, how it will affect your poor children.

Now enough with the melodrama let’s get down to the facts and see what we can do to choose correctly.

“Today’s twentysomething spend more time single than any generation in history… Currently, the average age for first marriage is twenty-six for women and twenty-eight for men, with more than half adults marrying over the age of twenty-five.”

Well that doesn’t sound too bad. Twentysomethings are taking their time picking their spouse. There’s bound to be fewer mistakes made, thus less failed marriages.

WRONG!

“…the divorce rate holds steady at 40 percent.”

The divorce rate has not changed because we’re taking our time. We can’t avoid divorce by delaying marriage.

Dr. Jay shares how her first psychotherapy client was a twenty-six year old  female who was dating down, named Alex. Dr. Jay was also in her twenties at the time ans saw no problem with this. When her supervisor encouraged Dr. Jay to work on this problem with Alex the classic “It’s not like she’s marrying the guy” response came out of her mouth. Her supervisor responded with…

“Not yet. But she might marry the next one. Regardless, the best time to work on Alex’s marriage is before she has one.”

I urge you to start thinking about your marriage before you have one. I will be covering Dr. Jay’s lessons on how to pick your family, living together, dating down and what “being in like” should really mean. I hope you follow these posts and take a serious look at your present and future.

Do you want to grow together with your spouse during your twenties or worry about marriage after the “age thirty deadline”?

How to Get the Job

Resume? …Check!

Portfolio? …Check!

References? …Check!

Cover Letter? …Check!

Impressive Professional Outfit? …Check!

You have everything they told you was required… why haven’t you been hired?

Chances are you have all the content, but your writing might be why someone else is getting chosen over you.

Having the right qualifications, easy to read formatted resume and praised recommendations are all important necessities when applying, but the cover letter is what separates you.

Picture yourself as an employer. You have two twentysomething applications in front of you. Both are from Ivy League schools, have the same GPA and meet all the qualifications. You only have the budget for one new employee. Which one do you choose?

You choose the one who most resonates with you; the one who wedges his/her way into your memory; the one who told you a better story.

“A good story goes further in the twentysomething years than perhaps at any other time in life.” ~The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay (p. 62)

The cover letter is your opportunity to capture your future employer’s attention. Instead of telling a chronological explanation of your highlighted experiences and accomplishments, create an engaging story. Grasp their attention. Make them want to read your cover letter because it is different from the tens to hundreds sitting in the same pile.

Go back to the basic writing skills you learned in English class about a story arc. Do you remember this chart?

story arc

Try to use the story arc to tell your professional story. Be selective and share specific moments that can form pictures.

“As a twentysomething, life is still more about potential than proof. Those who can tell a good story about who they are and what they want to leap over those who can’t.” ~The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay (p. 62)

This was hard to hear the first time I read this. I was very proud of all my accomplishments in college. I thought my experiences set me up very well. To think my experience meant nothing kind of hurt… It took my pride away, but only for a moment.

I realized the point wasn’t that the experience gathered as a twentysomething was not important, but that it was more important to showcase traits that can be improved upon. 

When an employer is looking to hire a twentysomething most likely they are looking for someone to grow with the company. Someone who has the fundamentals to be a good employee. Someone who can listen to directions and improve over time. Someone who can be easily trained.

How can this be reflected in an a cover letter? It sounds like something that has to be demonstrated in person and perhaps over a period of time.

The answer is in the story. Your well written story will show that you have the two most basic, yet highly necessary skills needed of every employee; communication and reasoning.

Having good communication means you can receive direction, relay information, and express your own thoughts. Reasoning is important because it allows you to operate on your own and make key decisions. Having both these skills gives the employer something to start with, something with a success rate that can be molded into the long term employee they need.

In your story you can relay what type of person you are and what type of employee you can be. (I think both are important.) You can reason out how you can be a key aset to the company and how you want to grow.

“Stories that sound too simple seem inexperienced and lacking. But stories that sound too complicated imply a sort of internal disorganization that employers simply don’t want.” ~The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay (p. 62-63)

This is why I would suggest outlining your thoughts first. Organize them in a manor that pertains to the position and to each other. Then you can get a better handle of capturing the best illustration of yourself and keep it all on one page.

Take your time on your cover letter. Personalize them for each position you apply for. Select specific illustrated stories that most apply to the position. Get feedback (I’d love to help review your cover letter through email at asktheyoungprofessional@gmail.com).

This might not be your one chance, but it is probably your best chance to grab the attention of an employer.

I know I need to go back and update my cover letter. I encourage you to join me because it turns out our English teachers were right, our writing skills will always be important.

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How to Customize Your Life and Not Settle

  “You wouldn’t believe the jobs I can’t even get. I go for jobs and people just look at me like, ‘Why haven’t you done something by now?’ I wish someone had told me to think about my resume a long time ago.” ~31 year old female client of Dr. Meg Jay

“You can’t pull some great career out of a hat in your thirties. You’ve got to start in your twenties.” ~ 41 year old male client of Dr. Meg Jay, advice he wants his son to know when he is twenty.

Ian (the same client Dr. Meg Jay spoke of on the topic of a search for glory) was having trouble committing to a job for a couple reasons, not wanting to limit himself and not settling being the main reasons. Ian was led to believe he could do anything, so naturally Ian wanted something unique. He did not want to settle for the normal 9 – 5 desk job.

I have to admit, I was like Ian. I did not want to be limited or restricted to a desk either. It is part of the reason why I ended up as a film major.

I think it is common for twentysomethings to think this way, especially Millennials. We’re dreamers. We dream big and want to take part in something bigger. We want to be different by making a difference. Working a 9 – 5 desk job hardly feels like a way to fulfill that dream.

When talking to Ian about his hesitation to settle for the norm, Dr. Meg Jay had the following response…

“I’m not talking about settling. I’m talking about starting. Twentysomethings who don’t get started wind up with blank resumes and out-of-touch lives only to settle far more down the road. What’s so original about that?”

What’s so original about that? Nothing.

Still, it can be hard for twentysomethings to understand and accept this concept. In Ian’s case, Dr. Meg Jay found a way to get through to him by applying Ian’s passion of customizing his bike, to his life.

Ian’s main mode of transportation was his bike. He was not a dirt bike racer nor was he a mountain biker. He liked the customized bike because it was a way to convey himself to the world. He explained how he started with a generic bike and overtime he made the upgrades he wanted. After a while he got the result he wanted but he still has to put in some extra work to maintain the upkeep of a customized bike. To Ian the bike said that he was “a product of different parts, someone who cannot be defined by a label.”

Dr. Meg Jay took this opportunity to explain that…

“Ian’s life could be personalized and changeable, but it was going to take some time and effort – and he would probably need to start with some common parts. Having an uncommon life wasn’t going to come from resisting these choices, it was going to come from making these choices. Same as the bike.”

This resonated with Ian. He could picture starting somewhere and then being able to add parts to his career to get him to the uncommon life he wanted.

This is where the difference is. Ian was not settling; he was starting. We all need to start somewhere. Then we find the chances to customize our own unique life.

The best place to start is somewhere you have talents and an interest. In my next post we will talk about how to get started.

This starting process was true for me too. I got started by jumping on an internship at Sesame Workshop. Now I have a job as a Production Assistant. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is the most basic entry level position in film and video. Nothing special about it at all and thousands of people do it. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful, I’m just saying that the position is not unique. It is the normal way to get started in the business. I now have the opportunity to learn new skills and experiences, the parts to my customized career. Maybe in the next year or so I can use those parts to make a bigger update with a change in position. Whatever happens, I cannot and could not make these changes without first starting as a Production Assistant  And I never would have been a Production Assistant if I didn’t start with an internship.

Hear what Ian had to say after he took a position in Washington D.C. as a digital designer…

“Above all else in my life, I feared being ordinary. Now I guess you could say I had a revelation of the day-to-day. I finally got it there’s a reason everybody in the world lives this way – or at least starts out this was – because this is how it’s done.”

This is how it’s done. Don’t settle, customize.

 

*All quotes from this post and this post series come from The Defining Decade and should be accredited to Dr. Meg Jay.*

 

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