I take a deep breath and pause outside the doorway, toeing the line on the floor that marks my entry from the linoleum hallway to the warm, expectant room. “I’m just a freshman,” I think, “I don’t belong here yet!” But after all I am in college now, and I’m sure I have something to prove. I know that I am the one responsible for my future. So I lift one foot in front of another, and take my first curious step into our career services center.
Three years later I look back on that moment, feeling grateful that someone cared enough to push me to take that first step. I lucked into a first year advisor who also worked in our career services office. So while other freshmen were celebrating four more years of escapism from “the real world,” she insisted it was never too early to start learning about ourselves and exploring the world of work. Usually just hearing the words THE FUTURE can make a month-old freshman turn tail and run. But while covering our ears and yelling “LA LA LA LA!” may merely annoy everyone else, we’re the ones who end up none the better. And it turns out, it’s really not so scary.
I am beckoned into my advisor’s office with a warm smile and an invitation to sit. “Hi Jessica, how is the year going so far? How are classes?” she asks. I relax. Hey, questions I know the answers to! She seems genuinely interested as I chatter excitedly about a club I have joined and the new people I am meeting. We talked about my desire to help people and some activities I enjoyed doing more than others. I didn’t really see what this meant for my career, but was happy enough to comply.
But while I tiptoed around the 64 dollar question I knew was coming, the big What Am I Going To Do With My Life, surprisingly she didn’t ask it. She just praised how I was doing so far and encouraged me to keep trying new things. I signed up for a Saturday community service trip. And then I thanked her, walked confidently past the other students fidgeting for their turn, and smiled to myself. That’s all it took to be ahead of the game?
I didn’t know at the time that this early introduction would guide the rest of my career development process in college. I learned that trying new things and talking to people are among the easiest ways to explore. I always knew the name of at least one person who I could go to for help with a job search, or a great resume review, and even for a recommendation for my first internship application. What’s more, at least one person knew me: I always received personalized and valuable feedback about how new opportunities and decisions might align with my personal goals. Now I meet struggling seniors and recent grads who are frantically backpeddling, reaching out for the kind of support that they always shrugged off in college. So if you don’t know where your career services office is…find it. Because you never know what it is you don’t know.
Oh, and three cheers for student affairs professionals.