Approaching my graduation in May 2008, with misgivings about graduating and my choice of major firmly in my heart, I went to the campus bookstore and purchased an armful of self-help books. I remember the girl at the school bookstore chuckled when I showed up…
“Are you graduating?” she asked me.
“Yes, how did you know?” I replied.
“Me too, and I just bought two of those books. Tell me if the others are any good.”
Over the next year I dutifully worked through these books. I did the exercises, thoroughly dog-earing each book, filling binders with reflections and personal journals. I also went to my college career center, which serves both students and alumni. There I took personality tests, attended a career fair, met with a career counselor several times.
I also talked to a number of people about my ideas – my mom, my brother, my uncles. One uncle of mine was able to introduce me to a number of interesting people doing creative work, to see if there was anything I could do for them – or just be around their work and see what they are doing.
But there was nothing I could do for anyone else, at least not in my then-present state of mind. Whenever I talked to someone about getting a job, even an internship, I felt like a fraud. I had no idea what I wanted to do, what I was capable of doing, and felt more confused and useless than ever in my life. Though one conversation with someone that same uncle introduced me to helped get me out of my funk.
He introduced me to a woman doing work related to my studies in urban planning. We met for lunch near her house, and talked about a few specific planes I might volunteer or intern. However she clearly sensed my confusion and offered me reassurances. She told me about her own twisting career path, and told me to explore a bit, try out some really different types of work.
It’s advice I’d heard before, but she had a way of saying it that got through to me. She suggested I abandon any and all preconceived notions I had – based on my studies, my degree, or what little career momentum I had at that point. I didn’t know what to do with the advice at the time, but it planted a seed that grew over time.
One day, more than a year after graduating I set all of my books and binders full of papers aside, and started free-writing, something I used to do a lot when I was growing up. I just wrote every single word which came to my mind. I put down a lot of things, but what eventually came out was a long list, a list of everything I’ve ever been interested in. I included everything from my childhood interests in big trucks and heavy machinery and five year old dream of being a firefighter, to my interest in various school subjects over the years.
In the end this list was messy, but I found it more personal and more helpful than anything else I had done in the past year, and I soon sold or gave away all those self help books I bought. I wrote it sometime in the summer of 2009.
I’m not ready to reveal my list here, but I’ll put up some more about my process later.