Young Professional Advice from Friends – Rebecca Fraser-Thull

This is a  Young Professional Advice from Friends post written by Rebecca Fraser-Thull at Working SelfYPAF is a is a collection of voices from different ages, places and industries to share advice on starting a career and conquering your twenties.

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Our Happiest Moments Appear In the Bull’s Eye of Our Worst Times

            My life between 22 and 25 was downright miserable. I was in a doctoral program I’d entered solely to avoid getting a job; my new husband couldn’t land the teaching job for which he’d long trained and instead spent eternal days scrubbing rental cars in a suit and tie; and our financially-deprived notion of “eating out” was the local SUBWAY followed by a stop at the gas station for ice pops.

After three years of agony, I finally decided to ditch the PhD program that had been the wrong move from the start and move to my dream state of Maine. Once we left Ithaca, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the great times we had. And I still can’t:  We were newlyweds, reveling in the splendor of our wedding photos and taking weekend trips (albeit to friends’ couches) at the drop of a hat. We were the proud parents of our first dog/pseudo-baby, snapping pics of him at every opportunity and taking him on long walks through a new park every weekend. And I was a graduate student who, despite hating every pressure-filled minute of seminars and homework, met people whose views of the world changed my own and who helped me discover confidence in my own voice in a way I couldn’t have otherwise.

Part of this “weren’t the hard times actually good” thing is a trick of the mind – psychologists tell us we rosy up the past to maintain our sanity – but part of it is just life, which comes in a hodgepodge of excellent and atrocious, hilarious and gut-wrenching, mundane and sublime. The first time we feel the full force of this wicked brew is in our 20s, and it’s so disorienting that we don’t know which pieces to cling onto, which to worry about in our minds, which to plaster across the Internet.

My advice? Keep making music, even if your instrument is bent, rusted and out of tune.  When the days are slogging by and the nights are filled with trills of panic, snatch a moment to sit in a park and look at the lush beauty of nature or to read a snippet of a novel that contains words that whisk you away. When work is unbearable and the tunnel ahead looks darker still, steal a day to run to the beach or into the mountains, or to volunteer to care for homeless pets or homeless vets or whatever your passion might be. When life feels like a lot of crud without much cream, make the fancy dish you’ve been eyeing on Pinterest or schedule the weekend road trip you’ve long been plotting.

Believe me, you’ll be glad that you kept making beautiful music with your dilapidated twentysomething instrument. Because before long, the high notes are the only things you’ll carry with you.

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Rebecca with her first dog – and “baby” – Rundle, now passed, back when they were making happy moments amongst the misery of a poorly-chosen graduate program.

Rebecca Fraser-Thill runs the website and blog Working Self, which explores the intersection of work and identity with a focus on twentysomethings. She has been teaching psychology at Bates College since 2003 and is also a life and career coach, freelance writer, and keynote speaker. Connect with her on Twitter @WorkingSelf.

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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?