The following blog post is written to the graduating class of 2014 as part of the “Most Marketable Skills Campaign” that is put on by Webucator (an online learning company that helps individuals gain skills to further improve themselves). This blog post will fall under the “Ask Webucator Series” that is currently being hosted by this organization. This month, Webucator is focusing on Microsoft as it is an important skill for almost all jobs and almost all employers require a working knowledge of this software. To celebrate, Webucator is offering FREE self-paced courses on Microsoft to help others acquire knowledge and skills. You can check out the courses here: http://www.webucator.com/microsoft/index.cfm.
To the Graduating Class of 2014,
Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance. Many times people see high school or college/university graduation as simply a stepping stone, something that you have to do in order to get some place in life, however, it is really so much more than that. Graduation is a time of celebrating the fact that four years of learning really is a long time and that the skills you have made and the friendships you have developed during these years will stay with you for the long term.
My life looks radically different 5 years after graduating from high school and 2 years after graduating from university. Although I recently took a course called “Self-Care and Ministry” in which our professor encouraged us to create a five year plan for our lives, in reality if you asked me five years ago what my life would look like today, I really would have had no idea.
Since graduating from high school I first attended Bible College then followed it up with seminary and now have aspirations for moving on to my PhD in Theology. I’ve held various jobs during these years that have really challenged and inspired me, though some have been less than glamorous. Finally, I landed myself a more permanent position for the year with L’Arche Daybreak (an intentional community for adults with developmental disabilities close to Toronto, Ontario). It is through my work at L’Arche that I have distilled some key learnings about what success entails which I would like to share with you today.
The first thing you should know about success is that although everyone defines success slightly differently, there are many key elements that are included in almost all of the definitions. Our culture prides itself at being the best at everything at any cost. It is an unfortunate reality, however, that some people are willing to sacrifice the very things that should matter most in their life (for example close friendships, dating relationships, family, and their own health) in order to achieve whatever means they feel they have to achieve in order to “be somebody.” In reality, success is knowing who you are and what is important in your life and working within your gifting to be the best person YOU can be, not someone else.
At this stage in my life I have gone to countless job interviews just as you likely have done or will do. When I go to a job interview, I simply decide to be myself. I figure that the employer will have to be working with me all year so I never say answers just because it is what they want to hear. This may sound odd as many of us are conditioned to be try to please others, however, I have found that the majority of employers have respected my honesty and I have almost always been able to receive the jobs I have applied for. If I do not get the job I wanted, rather than becoming disappointed or comparing myself to the individual who did receive the position, I just remind myself that not receiving the job is not a reflection of my character, but rather points to some key difference in personality or fit the organization is looking for, then I go on to apply to another job that would be a better option for me. I almost always send a follow-up email to the employer thanking them for their time in the interview and asking them what I could improve on in the future. There have been at least two examples in my life when I have done this and the company hired me on because they could see I was interested in improving on myself and really wanted the position. What employers are looking for is not some canned response you found online, but rather an honest opinion about how you feel about the values of their organization.
An interview is really an opportunity for the employer to get to know you, to hear about your strengths and what you can potentially bring to their business. Success involves first knowing who you are, but secondly knowing what your gifts are. All of us have different gifts and no one gift is more important than any other gift. Perhaps you have the gift of art, writing, or mathematics. Or you might be an excellent teacher, musician, or entrepreneur. Being confident in your gifts without being a show-off about them is what brings success in the working world. Sometimes people are shy to talk about their gifts because they don’t want to come off as bragging, however, if you are able to claim your gift without making others feel bad about not possessing the same skill, you will actually find that many people will agree that you have that gift rather than chastise you for being a show-off. You will also find that the more confident you are in your gift, the more recognizable it will become to others.
The second thing you should know about success is that if you want to attain it, you must be flexible. As I mentioned previously, 5 years ago I had no idea that I would be working with adults who have developmental disabilities. I never trained for this field, never studied psychology, and never even volunteered with people who have disabilities. Yet, now that I am working at L’Arche it is a great fit for me and I can’t think of anything else that would have made me happier this year. I can’t say that I am planning to be a long-term L’Arche employee, but I can definitely vouch for the fact that all the lessons I have learned here have been extremely worthwhile.
Successful people use every experience as an opportunity to grow no matter how difficult or challenging it may be. If you recently graduated you may not be able to find a job in the exact field you studied right away. This may be for a variety of reasons and it does not reflect your value as a person if you cannot land full time employment a month after graduating. In certain jobs, more experience or more maturity (age wise) may be required. I have had a few jobs that have been in my field, but prior to that I worked many minimally paying jobs in order to help offset the high cost of university tuition. Yet even though I never received any intrinsic value in making telemarketing calls or in doing maintenance, I have learned that if you want to eventually succeed in your own field, you need to develop and maintain a strong work ethic whether or not you really feel passionate about what you are doing. You need to remember that you are never “above” any type of work, especially because even for a minimal job you may eventually need the employer to write a reference letter for you and you want it to sound good. Working in something other than your field also keeps you humble and can provide a different perspective for you. In almost all jobs the skills are transferrable and working with people provides continued confidence and social skills. Yet, at the same time as you are accepting a job to gain experience and to pay the bills, I would also recommend that you remain passionate about your field and still try to get some experience in the direction that you want to be headed in. Almost all employers value volunteerism highly and in many cases volunteer references are deemed as equal or similar importance as paid work references. You can also feel free to put volunteer experience on your resume. So, if you are having difficulty landing a paying job in the field right away, I would recommend that, if possible, you try to make an effort to at least volunteer at a similar organization that shares your values for a few hours a week. In fact, there have even been times when I have started as a volunteer at an organization and they have hired me back for the summer or even offered longer term employment because I had already developed a working relationship with them. If you are a volunteer, remember to apply the same work ethic you would to paid work rather than to take it easy, because that is how you will make a great impression on your supervisor.
Lastly, success means knowing what you want out of life. Since we were young children we have been asked by teachers, parents, and church members, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” At age four the answer was fairly simple. I want to be a firefighter. I want to be a doctor. I want to be an actress. Small children are a great example to us of the fire that should still be igniting our souls and guiding our steps. To a kid, nothing is impossible and so we can dream big dreams. However, as we get older the reality of life and of school sets in and we begin to doubt that we ever had what it took to be a nurse, a teacher, or a lawyer. Yet, a successful person knows that there is great truth in having a goal and working towards it. At the same time, the successful person must be aware of their own limitations (such as personal health challenges, academic difficulties in certain areas, or conflicting personality traits) and still be able to work with rather than against the difficulties in their lives.
Although having a good career is very important, knowing what you want out of your life is so much more than just knowing whether you will work for The UN, a non-profit, or the World Bank. Knowing what you want out of life also includes knowing how family fits into the picture (whether or not you want children and how children will fit into your career), how much time you will want to pursue other passions and hobbies, and the geographical location that you want to live in. You must be sure of where you want to be headed without being so inflexible that you refuse to leave your city of choice if there are better opportunities elsewhere.
So, to re-cap: success is knowing who you are and what your gifts are. It’s being so sure of yourself that you can be confident in what you are good at without feeling like you are a show-off. It’s being honest about what you want out of life and not being afraid to share your passion and dreams with others. Success is also about being flexible and being willing to accept every opportunity regardless of how challenging or frustrating it might be as a learning experience and a chance for growth. Employers love young adults who are vibrant, dynamic, and passionate about what they have studied and learned in school, but they also value (perhaps in an even greater sense) individuals who are committed, dedicated, and have good morals and who will build up the already existing team that is there. I hope that you will find your niche in the marketplace and that you will truly excel in all that you do.