Tuesday, March 13, 2012

5 Factors of Running and Finding a Career Path

As a runner, I typically set a marathon time goal and test out the progress of my training by entering races throughout the year. Whether it's a 5K or the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, I run regularly, try various nutrition and hydration approaches and pace myself before a marathon. Sometimes, my training doesn't always yield the results I want. Sometimes I don't reach my finishing time goals but I usally know I was just having an "off" day or it was something in my eating, hydration or training plan that caused me to miss my target. For me,  finishing well means at the end of the race, I'm still walking upright and not puking. Nice visual, huh? I always end a race knowing I did my best at that moment. Training time is never wasted time even if I don't always hit my goal. As I prepare for my next full marathon in October, I realize how much running and my "day job" as a career and student success coach, converge. When it comes to conversations with college students seeking the perfect steps to finding the perfect career, I have a few thoughts:

1) Finding a job is a competitive endeavor. You must move quickly. Being competitive does not mean you have to crush or hurt others, just represent yourself well. You will need some basic tools like a well-crafted resume, work or volunteer experience (most important) and an engaging personality with a dose of courage for networking. Many students say there are so many things they like and want to do--that's great, choose one thing and put forth some time and effort to doing it. You have a lifetime to change your mind and try new things. Don't over-think it and miss any opportunity to learn and grow. Despite an apparent economic recovery, it may still take anywhere from six months to a year to get an interview and obtain an entry-level job--even longer in some states. Whenever and where ever I run, I get focused and train my mind and body for that race. Same deal. Get moving.

2)  "Do what you love." " You can do anything." "Follow your passion." I don't agree with this advice.  I say put time and training into doing something well. It may or may not be your passion. You don't have to be miserable either. Get to know yourself. Sometimes you may have to temporarily do something that you don't love to figure out what you do love or are ultimately called to do. Most people have a vocation and an avocation. The effort and time spent discovering your career calling is NEVER wasted time. Don't be afraid of it. Do something. Start now. Change it if you want.

3) A college degree simply makes you eligible to enter the professional working world. It does not guarantee a dream job. A degree still matters for a better quality of life. Research indicates that those with a college degree tend to ultimatley make higher annual salaries and have a chance for greater career satisfaction. During the sprint to get a degree, you must acquire critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills that will help you in the real marathon of life. Grades matter but not everyone is a 4.0 student. Do your best but don't freak out if you have an off-semester. Get academic help when you need it. Stop pretending you know what you're doing when you don't.

4)Your training plan must include more than your degree. Choose extra-curricular activities, internships and part-time jobs wisely. College should be fun (it was for me) but networking and gaining work experience is what matters most. Volunteer regularly and choose activities that will help you develop and use skills for the future. Avoid over-extending yourself with things that don't ultimately matter. You can still have fun just be sure to initiate fresh, frequent and relevant discussions about what can (or cannot) be done with a specific major/degree well before the April of May graduation. Don't speculate about a career, conduct your own research. Stop listening to your room-mate. Tune out some of the advice and do the work to know what's out there for you. Set some goals, Have some fun. Make mistakes. Recover. Find good, realistic coaches who have experienced life. While everything may not be tied up in a neat little bow by graduation or the year after. Do your part and don't run from reality. Discover you. Ask for help when you need it. Get experience. Stop trying to make it perfect. Move forward.

5) Just like running, don't compare where you are or what you are doing to anyone else. You are uniquely created for a specific purpose. Your 10K time might be someone else's half marathon time! Define the three factors of success for you. Stop letting others dictate your definition of accomplishment. You are not your room-mate or best friend. Your training may be different from theirs...and it should be. You are not a clone of your parents or siblings or...well... you get the picture. Each attempt along your path of life can get you closer to discovering the thing that will allow you to use your gifts and talents. Don't fret about it, just move forward. Stop depending on others to take care of all of your needs. Do it yourself. You might even make a mistake. You might even fail. I have been injured while training or even while running a race, but I always recover. You will too.

Notice the picture of me on this blog finishing a half marathon? I was unaware the photographer was taking the picture. As I finished the race,  I realized I did not make my targeted finish time of 2:30. I finished in 2:51...not fast at all...but notice my smile? There was pure joy in my heart. There was a great sense of accomplishment and relief knowing I had done all I could to finish well on that day. I put forth the effort and I was fine. I didn't puke or aggravate my hip injury. That made it successful for me. I defined my path to success. Please keep running. Train your mind, body and spirit. Finish well.

I want to hear from you...leave a comment below...what advice would you give a college student on finding a career path? What advice have you received that has not served you well?