I had the privilege yesterday of heading back to my former employer, Georgetown University, to participate as a speaker in a College Dean’s Lunch Seminar, a project I actually worked on during its inception a few years ago. The purpose of the seminars is to get Georgetown grads, as well as other folks working in DC (like me), to sit down in an informal setting with students and talk careers—and generally reiterate that your college major in no way defines your career path and, besides, career paths are never straight anyway. In giving a snapshot of my own career, I felt as though I was able to convey this message quite clearly. One participant, a junior about to head off to study abroad, wrote me later and confirmed this impression: “Your talk today really reassured me about having an open mind concerning my future,” which I think is a nice way of saying, “It’s nice to hear from someone else who had absolutely no idea what he wanted to do and didn’t end up in a gutter.”
During the course of our discussion, this same young woman, the junior, worried about her lack of focus and her lack of goals. She spoke of how she was incredibly laid back about her career path, preferring instead to experience things and see where they take here, but was feeling constant pressure to “get it together.” She felt like maybe she should set some goals, impose some direction on herself.
I responded maybe, but I also cautioned against setting goals just for the sake of it, only because you feel you have to in order to prove something to someone (parents, professors, others). To me, following your instincts and passions—listening to yourself and going where you are drawn—can be far more effective and rewarding than setting arbitrary goals you’re not even sure you want to reach. I don’t mean to downplay the idea of setting goals and striving for them should you truly know what you want. But when you’re like this young woman, or another young woman with the self-described problem of having “too many interests to narrow down,” it’s far better to listen to what your gut is saying rather than try to live up to what others are telling you. As my former colleague and the organizer of the lunch, Tad Howard, said, at some point you forget about the need to please or impress others and you find you consider yourself “successful” because you’re doing what you want to do.
A great lunch all around and many thanks to my fantastic former boss, College Dean Chet Gillis, for inviting me back.
UPDATE: Tad has admonished me that this post didn’t mention perhaps the best part of the seminar: that he eschewed the normal lunch fare of sandwiches and instead ordered us hot turkey—which was not only tasty, but also classy.