As I sat in my office Sunday morning preparing for my next to last business trip before the Christmas holiday, I was wondering why some New York Times Crossword Puzzle devotees think it is cheating to look up answers themselves but have no remorse, not a scintilla of guilt, asking someone else do it for them.
I also was wondering why the United States Senator who brought a snowball into that august chamber during an early spring snow storm this year to prove there was no global warming, has been strangely silent about the unseasonably warm temperatures across most of America, including the warm Christmas Day forecast for his home state and the normally chilly northeast.
Then I had a flash of insight: the first is just weirdly strange and the second is just bizarrely political. So much for my random thoughts…
Sunday is a time of reflection — for the week just past, and the one upcoming. To be candid, there is usually a lot more focus on the upcoming since in a normal week, with a typically busy schedule, I also have to write three blog posts, a daunting task given that most of my submissions range from 450 to 710 words. Writing that many words is easy. Making it interesting, relevant and helpful is another matter.
Last night we had Christmas dinner with my youngest son, a first-year law student. Although it is very, very early in his law school journey, the conversation inevitably turned to the “what happens after surviving law school” question. Like many, he is not sure. The resolution is still in the distant future and there are many days and nights of angst, reading, writing and sweating over exams before he must cross that bridge. But, for some college seniors that deadline has arrived — winter commencement. For most seniors it is still five months away if they are lucky enough to get their diploma in the scorching sun or a stuffy, under air-conditioned field house. Those inconveniences aside, I want to take a moment to share some advice with those who have not a clue what they want to do with their lives post graduation. For the rest of you, read anyway. My five ideas apply to you as well.
Just get a job. That you get a job is the important thing. It does not have to be in your field of study. It does not even have to be work that is particularly rewarding. The point here is to get that first (the hardest) job and build a record of experience. Put your head down and work hard is advice that many career counselors offer. Volunteer for jobs you feel you can do but nobody else wants. On the bad days, grind. Chances are tomorrow will be better. Your goal, to get in two years of experience and to learn what it means to be part of a team, or to be held accountable for something that is important to others. This experience, ordeal, will help enormously when you begin looking for that next job, one that you really want and, hopefully, pays so much better.
Begin keeping a career journal. No, not a Dear Diary sort of exercise but a journal of your career (actually you will have hundreds of journals when all is said and done). Some of America’s most successful leaders said keeping a journal was one of the most helpful, rewarding parts of their weekly routine. Make entries about each job, your supervisor, title, compensation, and scope of responsibility. Along the way make daily or weekly entries about major accomplishments, setbacks and think critically about what you learned from these experiences. When you get a new job or a performance evaluation, include entries about those events as well. This type of thoughtful discipline will help you become the best executive/leader you are capable of being.
Build a Professional Network. Trust me on this one, it is never too early to begin this career critical endeavor. This must become second nature in your professional life. But know this, building, cultivating and reaping rewards from networking takes time, a lot of effort and the discipline to set aside time each week to feed and weed — add people who you want to get to know, people who can add value, and pull those who were only interested in what a connection could produce for them. Networking is not about you. The more you help others, the more valuable your network will become for you.
Be positive. That can be a challenge for most of us. As a former newspaper reporter who witnessed more carnage and mayhem on the crime beat, and reported on some creepy politicians, most of whom believed the concept of “the truth” included the phrase “self serving”, I sometimes find myself looking for, and pointing out, those things that seem to be wrong. And while that can be a useful skill in conducting due diligence for the clients, the happier life, I realize, can be found in looking for the new, the exciting, the innovative, and the creative, in ideas and people. I am a happier, more content, and I believe a more effective professional, when I let that side of who I am dominate. I am betting that you will, too.
Avoid being a realist. As actor Will Smith is fond of saying, being realistic is a pathway to mediocrity. Be honest with yourself but not about what you can’t do but what you can accomplish with your life. Do not let the naysayers hold you back. If you believe in yourself, then make it real. Do not let life happen. Create yourself.