Take that extra semester.
Why introspection is crucial to navigating your professional career… and life.
It’s your senior year. You’re tired of the freshman showing up at your parties with their drawstrings and their lanyards, you’re tired of endless professional development and resume workshop emails… you’re really just tired in general because suddenly sleep feels more important than trivia night. People are advising you from all directions, “apply here”, “add this to your resume”, “use professors as references.”
Suddenly, you’re free-falling through a balancing act of priorities: Should I cram my last credits into a single semester? Do I focus on job searching, or do I focus on maintaining my GPA? Should I attend the career fairs or reach out to companies on my own? Which company will pay me more? Can I negotiate my salary? What even are benefits? Does unlimited PTO really mean unlimited?
Frankly, you’re just over it, ready to get out in the ‘real world’ and be an adult.
Not relatable? You’re already employed, I guess, and college is so far in the past you can’t bear to commiserate with a student. OK. How about the way you’re calculating your day so that you arrive exactly at 9 AM and leave at 5 PM because you can’t possibly tolerate another minute of the procedural BS of your company. How about when you started to look for a new role and realized you didn’t even know what job title to type in? Keep reading.
Stop looking around at what everyone else is doing. Have you asked taken time throughout your professional journey to really ask yourself what it is you want to do, or did you pick a major (or career) and persevere because that’s what you think you should do? It’s time to sit down and ask yourself a hard question, “what are my aspirations?” No, I’m not asking about your passions, that’s what hobbies and side hustles are for. What do you want to accomplish? This is not an easy question.
Even more difficult is removing your mindset from your current environment. Separate yourself from your current experience, rather look at your life, your routines, your friends. What themes exist? Where do you prefer to spend your time? When was the last time you felt proud of something you did — notice, I’m not asking when you last received congratulations as a product of your work; when were you most proud of something you did recently?
Take the time. Take the extra semester. Take a gap year. Accept an alternative narrative to the 4-year degree seamlessly transitioning into full-time work. You’re education and your experiences are not meant to be streamlined
I wish I took an extra semester.
The story I painted above is my story (except I never went to a trivia night at our college bar). My experience of schooling, starting with grade school, was to get good grades and then seek the next achievement. I never spent time relishing in my success, that might be because they weren’t my successes, but standardizations placed on me. Being naturally competitive, I had to exceed those standardizations. I wasn’t taking control of where I put effort into learning and success. I never took the time to ask myself, “how is my effort spent going to help me achieve my goals.” When I finally took the time to confront that question, I realized the crux of the question was: “What are my goals?”
I still don’t have that answer in its entirety, and I still fall into my own trap of going full-speed all the time. Life is not to be lived and determined all at once.
Goals and aspirations are living objectives, they will change with time and with experiences. The important part, though, is to confront them first to influence your behaviors. And when you’re faced with an opportunity, ask yourself, “Does this put me closer to my goals?”