Archive for 2009

Why Penelope Trunk is really, really wrong

Friday, November 6th, 2009

When she gives her four reasons why traveling is a waste of time. Where do I even begin…

It was shocking to both me and my friend Joanne at Rogue Stampede (who first alerted me to this article and at whose blog this has been cross-posted) that a prominent Gen-Y career coach was pontificating such an insular opinion, especially in light of the U.S.’ strengthened push for soft power in the Obama era. I’m also astounded that Ms. Trunk, as a professional career guide, so discounts (or just fails to recognize) travel, international and intercultural competency, and linguistic skills as important 21st century career competencies. ALL careers these days (not just those I blog about) are international to some degree, and the sooner her readers understand this and equip themselves with the skills they’ll need to succeed in a global economy, the better off they’ll be. I’m afraid Ms. Trunk might eventually get left behind if she isn’t able to shake this insular outlook and apparent fear of that which isn’t right beside her.

But let’s pump the brakes for just a second. As Joanne mentioned in our discussion about this, other people’s lives and decisions are not for us to judge. If someone wishes not to travel and to remain close to home, that is their decision and there is nothing wrong with this. In the same way, those who do love to travel should be permitted to do so judgment-free, yet also have no right to view themselves as better or superior to those who don’t travel (everyone who’s traveled has been at some point at least a bit guilty of feeling better than the bumpkins who haven’t been where they’ve been).

Cut to a scene from last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men: When discussing the pompous, I’m-so-cultured opinions of someone who had done a lot traveling, one character commented: “Just because she’s been to India doesn’t mean she’s not stupid.” Beautifully said and that sums it up: Just because you’ve been on an airplane a few times and eaten some weird food doesn’t give you permission to act like a know-it-all jackass.

That said, I fervently believe the benefits of travel to an individual, both personally and professionally, are far too great and real for Ms. Trunk to so casually dismiss to her readers. Let’s start with her gross generalizations about culture. She says that you don’t need to leave the U.S. to find cultures different than your own. This is certainly true, but you do need to travel to fully engage and understand them. It is true that I can experience something about, say, the black culture of Baltimore by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates or having a beer with someone who grew up in West Baltimore. It is also true that I can experience something about Ethiopian and Eritrean culture by going to the 9th and U, NW, area in DC, known as “Little Ethiopia,” and eating a meal or talking to a cabbie. But these experiences cannot possibly be as powerful, formative, or true as actually traveling to those places. Is meeting someone from West Baltimore near your home and talking about black culture the same experience as actually walking the streets where he grew up and visiting his family? Is eating tibs and injera in downtown DC the same as eating them in downtown Addis Ababa? While the vicarious experiences we may have with other cultures near our home will be informative to some degree, to pretend that this is the same as actually going to a place and immersing ourselves in that culture is lazy and disengenous.

I was also intrigued by Ms. Trunk’s thought that it’s not culture that separates us, it’s economics. Jews, South Africans, French—as long as we’re from the same economic status, we’re the same, she intimates. She didn’t get along with those pesky farm kids in France, but the city kids were “just like” her. This argument strikes me as shallow and completely unthought-out. While the city kids in France may have been more socio-economically in line with her, did she really believe that this made them just like her? That there were no cultural differences between them? Did the notion that she was speaking French or (more likely) they were speaking English ever strike her as an obvious and smacking (cultural) difference between them? What about the cheek kisses in lieu of handshakes? The small coffees instead of the big Americanos? Long lunches and late, even longer dinners? I would imagine these were more annoyances to Ms. Trunk than cultural differences worthy of particpating in and trying to understand.

While one benefit of traveling and interacting with those from a different place is precisely that we do get to break down the walls of difference and see the similarities we have, it’s just silly to say that we don’t have cultural differences, only economic ones. Seems to me that this view is completely ignoring the fact that a whole host of factors contribute to our individual identities: national culture and socio-economic are two, but there are many more—and the mix for each person is unique and impossible to quantify. As Joanne recently wrote so eloquently on her own blog, “I am Singaporean, but I am also my own person, not a mere reproduction of my cultural background.” I think “cultural” here could be replaced with any number of other words (”racial,” “economic,” “religious”) and the statement would apply to all of us, no matter where we’re from.

Next point. Ms. Trunk writes: “People who love their lives don’t leave.” Are we supposed to take this as a serious thought?  Does she really believe all travel is about abandonment and running away? What if people love a life of visiting new places and meeting new people and experiencing new things? That’s exactly why I got into the business I’m in. I remember my dad saying, right before I left to live in China: “I’d feel a lot better if you just stayed here.” But for me, that wasn’t the case. He wanted me to stay in what he viewed as a comfortable place: my hometown, Cincinnati, working for a corporate real estate office. To me, this was the exact opposite of comfortable or a life I would love. For me, the comfortable thing to do—the thing that made me love my life far more than I did before—was to go to China, was to travel. We all have our preferences—some of us want to wander, some of us don’t. As I said before, no shame in either one. But for Ms. Trunk to say that one can only fashion a life they love by remaining in the exact same place and doing the exact same things over and over and never leaving it? I believe this to be a little silly at best, and willfully ignorant at worst. I love my girlfriend and my cat and my job, and I enjoy a good downward facing dog as much as the next person. But I also love to get on a plane and end up in New Delhi—because that is excitement to me. That is living. That is creating a life I love.

Ms. Trunk also believes it’s more “effective” to revel in the sameness of your daily existence than travel some place new to experience the vibrancy of a wholly unique place, culture, people, and life. I won’t argue that staying at home and fully realizing the beauty and complexity of the place in which you live is a bad thing. In fact, this is probably something more of us should take the time to do. But in no way will travel not help you see the world differently than before. In fact, it’s by traveling, by taking ourselves outside of those places we live and come to know so well (and often take for granted) that we are able to fully realize their beauty and complexity. It’s the same way that one only truly realizes what it means to be an American (or a Singaporean or an Ethiopian) when they travel outside of their homeland and are able to view their home country, culture, and people from a completely and totally different perspective.

Travel is not about running away. People don’t plan trips only when their lives are shit and changes need to be made, but instead of facing those changes and challenges, they flee (I wonder how much the Eat Pray Love mentality is affecting Ms. Trunk’s view here).  Travel for many is about the vitality of the experience. It’s about the newness of the place and the people and the food. It’s about the anticipation of the trip—the planning, the reading, the preparation for what you may encounter. It’s about the experience in the moment—the new sights, the new sounds, the new scents, the new flavors. It’s about doing those things you always wanted to do—and going with the flow when you’re pulled along on adventures that you couldn’t possibly plan. It’s about returning to the comforting embrace of home, sharing your photos and stories with friends, reliving the best moments, telling the horror stories of the worst, all the while teaching those around you a little bit about a place you’ve just been.

This is the beauty of travel to me, and if Ms. Trunk’s grown this sour on it, then I feel bad for her. I encourage her to plan a trip abroad to somewhere she’s always wanted to go (I know there’s at least one place) and when she returns, I’d be interested to know if she feels any different.

This made me laugh

Friday, November 6th, 2009

From the U. of Arizona Daily Wildcat, ten reasons “not” to study abroad. A few gems:

4. The legal drinking age is lower in almost every other country in the world and you’ll end up spending all your money on alcohol and exploring the night-life. You may also find it difficult to come back to the US and have these liberties again removed from you. Best to avoid the opportunity altogether.

5. Many universities have comprehensive orientation programs for international students and you’ll meet many people from all over the world who will tell you all these great things about their home countries and make you want to travel there. You don’t need the extra expense.

6. There’s no point in exposing yourself to any cultural diversity. Who needs more variety than what you’ve got right here?

9. You might end up somewhere where they don’t speak English and probably won’t be able to avoid learning the language. Even incidental language acquisition is a waste of your precious mental resources.

I love sarcasm. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Etiquette of the email request

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

David Comp vents about some rather rude emails he received from a random reader asking for assistance. David’s certainly not against helping out readers when they email with questions—all he asks is that they respect the fact that he is a busy person and may not respond to them as quickly as they might like. The offending emails went like this:

–Start October 31st message—






–End October 31st message–

No response from me other than my automated reply which I mention above.

–Start November 4th message–




–End November 4th message—

My first reaction is to wonder why this person is typing in all caps, the online equivalent of shouting. My second reaction is that I feel David’s pain. I receive a fair number of random email requests too and, like David, I’m generally happy to get them and respond. But also like David, sometimes life and work obligations get in the way and I don’t respond in as timely a manner as I or the writer might like. When this happens, I often appreciate a gentle follow-up/reminder from the writer. What I never appreciate is a pushy, entitled follow up like David got.

David wonders how much of the above two emails is intercultural miscommunication. Seems like there certainly could be some in there—the writer doesn’t appear to be a native English speaker and the awkward phrasing, caps fetish, and weird pushiness might be a result of tenuous English skills and limited understanding of American cultural “norms.”

Even so, I can’t fault David for feeling annoyed. I’d react the same way—and did recently when I received an email from someone I don’t know requesting career information. I was taken aback by how terse and impersonal—and demanding—the email was. Rather than using a gentle and conciliatory tone (”I know I’m imposing here, but might I trouble you for some assistance…”), this email took a rather demanding and impolite tactic, simply saying, “I am having trouble finding an international job and I need your help.  Please answer the following questions…” And then (I’m not making this up) there was a list of ten questions for me to respond to. And these weren’t easy-to-answer questions—they were asking for essays. I was astounded that this person thought this tactic was a good way to get my attention and advice. Rather than wanting to help them out, I was put off and wanted to delete the email with extreme prejudice.

If you’re emailing someone for an informational interview, for career advice, or for help with an academic or professional project (especially someone you don’t know or have no connection to), be very conscious of how you approach them, especially via email, and how much you’re asking of them. My main two recommendations when writing someone to ask for assistance, whether you know them or not, are: 1) Keep your requests (especially your first one) short and manageable (you’re much more likely to get a response if the person feels like they can accomplish the task reasonably fast) and 2) Always give the person an out (as in, “I know you are busy and may not have time for this…”). This allows the person to beg out if they are indeed too busy (and you should recognize that they may be) and is also the respectful thing to do.

One final thought: Just because email allows us to fire out quick messages asking for things doesn’t necessarily mean this is a good practice, no matter our culture.

Beyond Translator, Travel Writer, or Diplomat

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

An article of this title, penned by yours truly, just showed up in the fall 2009 edition of ND Global: the European Edition newsletter.  It’s a pretty decent read (if I do so say myself) on exploring the possibilities of an international career, so give it a look.  Reproduced below for your convenience:


Beyond Translator, Travel Writer, or Diplomat:

Exploring the Possibilities of an International Career

By Mark Overmann

Many of us—me included—have gravitated toward the field of international affairs because of a love of travel, languages, and cultures other than our own. This is only natural. Something I’ve come to learn, though, is that pursuing an international career is not synonymous with working abroad. Just because a job enables you to travel (or live/work abroad) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best opportunity for your career in international affairs. In the same way, even though a job doesn’t have a travel component, it may still help to build your career in international relations in significant ways. Building your career and traveling abroad can, and hopefully will, overlap, but they are not one and the same.

This is an important distinction to consider. Many young professionals looking for international work out of college and graduate school—again, me included—judge the worth of a position based on its travel component. The reality, though, is that many jobs available to those just out of college and grad school won’t include extensive travel—at least right away. But that doesn’t mean the work you’re doing stateside won’t be valuable and exciting, and it certainly doesn’t mean it won’t eventually lead to a position that does allow you to travel. (I’m only now beginning to travel regularly as a part of my job.)

A substantive experience abroad

Whether you end up working in the United States or abroad, traveling extensively or not, the best preparation for an internationally oriented career is spending time abroad (and preferably studying a language at the same time). As Sherry Mueller, my co-author on our book Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development, often notes, she looks first for a substantive international experience on the resume of a job applicant. For Sherry and many other managers, not only is time abroad expected of an applicant for an internationally-focused job, but such an experience also indicates that the applicant has developed the broader skills that come with immersion in a different way of life: adaptability, confidence, resilience, the ability to succeed despite language and cultural barriers. These are skills that all employers prize, but especially those in international affairs.


A few catch-up links RE: the Foreign Service

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Struggles of interns to get clearance at the State Department: a “long, difficult, and frustrating process” during which you are apparently required to disclose every non-American friend on Facebook you’ve ever had. As if this were even possible.

State’s Hometown Diplomat Program helps you receive a hero’s welcome at your high school.

Selling the Foreign Service in Canada. Again, as if this were even possible.

Make your trip to the career fair about more than the swag

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Career fairs, as a subset of networking, have never been a strong suit of mine either. They feel forced, artificial, like everyone’s going through the motions. That said, they aren’t a bad thing to go to just to get a sense of what is out there. The career services office at Tufts University gives some pointers on getting the most out of a career fair and not looking like an idiot while you’re there:

Myth: I’ll look like a buffoon if I don’t come with my resume, cover letter, portfolio and salary requirements in hand.

Fact: While it is a good idea to bring along your resume, it is certainly not necessary. Some students go into the Career Fair hoping to land a job. Others go just to ask questions and see what’s out there. Either route is fine. Employers realize that everyone is coming in with a different level of preparedness, eagerness, etc. They are happy to talk with you (and some even have cool little giveaways…just saying). At the very least, be sure to grab the business card of everyone you talk to. That way, you can research the company later on and get back in touch with them should you feel inclined to either apply for a job or request an informational interview.

Myth: There’s no point in going to the Career Fair. Getting a job right out of college is not for me. I’m Eurotripping to find myself, man.

Fact: Going to the Career Fair does not mean you’re obligated to apply for a job. As mentioned before, students come in with various intentions. Some want a job, some want to ask questions, some just want to experience what a Career Fair is like. The Fair is what you make of it. When it comes down to it, why not go? It’s a chance to hone your conversational skills, make valuable connections, and practice wearing the slightly uncomfortable business attire that will soon become your everyday look (PJ bottoms don’t usually cut it in the workplace). Just go in with an open mind…you may be surprised at what you find.

The professional networking blowhard

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I myself have ranted and railed in the past about my dislike of “networking events”, my discomfort with and general poorness at the entire of concept networking, and how if you do go out networking, try not to look like a dirtball (I even once ventured into the parallels between networking and food). So I thoroughly enjoyed this post on the prototypical DC “networking blowhard” from why.i.hate.dc:

If you’re like me, you hate the entire idea of these sorts of things. Does anyone really believe that some dude you meet at a happy hour and exchange your “program assistant” business cards with will really be able to get you a job somewhere? There are a few problems with this logic, the first being that anyone who has the power to truly influence hiring decisions won’t be going to a networking event at the Front Page. Second, if you do have any sort of influence at your organization, you aren’t going to go out on a limb for someone you barely know. Third, the economy is in the toilet and there’s 500 people applying for every job opening in this town.

As such, these events are often attended by the person I’ll describe as the professional networking blowhard. This is the guy (or girl) who absolutely has to tell you about how amazing his job is, and how much he has accomplished in the 23 years he has been alive. Did you know that he went backpacking in Asia and is so tired of seeing temples that he will be happy if he never sees one ever again? Also, when he studied at Oxford, his flatmate from Mehhh-He-Ko (Mexico) taught him about the perils of the Zapatistas? What does he do now? Well, he works on an important program at [prominent non-profit]. You’ve never even heard of where he works, but don’t worry, he’ll tell you all about it. If you work for another non-profit, or a government agency, he’ll have a story about how just the other day he ran into the executive director (or cabinet secretary) of where you work. “Yeah, I totally ran into Secretary Chu downtown and we talked about renewable energy. He’s a nice guy.”

Sherry and I have often emphasized the point why.i.hate.dc is getting at: networking events that seem more like adult versions of high school mixers are far less worthwhile than those events or occasions at which you are actually engaged with people and a subject you really care about:

You’ll find the real people to “network” with at events that have some sort of meaning, or that revolve around something you are actually interested in. Reach out to people who write things you enjoy reading. Attend a community meeting about a topic that you feel is important. Volunteer for something that’s a bit obscure and isn’t filled only with people trying to deal with liberal guilt.

Yes, I’m still here

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Long overdue apologies, Dear Reader, for my recent absence from this lively space. I blame it partly on an extended, post-Mexico City hangover but mostly on the responsibilities of my real job here at the Alliance. The launch of our new website (check it out–it’s hot), our 2009 Board and Membership Meeting, as well as all sorts of exchange-related things going down in Congress and at State have kept me fairly occupied. I take it as a good sign—that I’m enjoying the work I’m doing—when throughout all the business, I hardly miss the things I’m neglecting (except, when I run out of clothes, clean laundry).

Anyhow, catch-up posts to come. Thanks for hanging around with me.

Age discrimination in the Foreign Service?

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 mandates retirement at 65, having raised it from 60, and the policy based on the rigors of overseas service. But it does not apply to political appointees — among them, high-profile diplomatic envoys such as Richard C. Holbrooke, 68, or George Mitchell, 76, or, for that matter Clinton, who will be 65 in October 2012.

The Federal Diary at WaPo uncovers the case of a Foreign Service officer forced to forgo a new position she was offered in Algiers because she will turn 65 before that assignment is over. She’s suing, alleging age discrimination.

“Imagine if someone told Hillary Clinton she couldn’t be secretary of state because she would turn 65 before her term is up,” said Thomas R. Bundy III, a lawyer representing Colton.

Hillary: “We’re hiring”

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

We’re hiring.  That’s right.  We are actually hiring.  We’re increasing — all things hopefully coming through in our budget — we’re increasing the numbers of foreign service and civil service personnel, because the — the need is so great.

So said Hillary in a conversation with Secretary of Defenense Robert Gates at GW on Monday to
“Discuss American Power and Persuasion.”

[Sorry for the dearth of posts. Back from Mexico and it's a slog catching up.]

Yo voy el Distrito Federal

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

One nice little tidbit I discovered in my prep for a trip to Mexico City tomorrow for the Western Hemisphere EducationUSA Adviser Conference is that the city is known to residents and those in the know as el Distrito Federal, or DF. Clearly I’ll seem like an old Mexico hand with this bit of knowledge on my side—until I try to say more and it’s clear my Spanish is terrible.

Anyhow, I’ll be down in DF all next week so posting will be light until I return. No tengo nada que declarar.

Not everyone thrives in the Peace Corps

Friday, September 25th, 2009

At the Georgetown Dean’s Lunch Seminar I spoke at on Wednesday, one of the participants, a freshman, asked if I thought a “gap year” between graduation and, in his example, law school would be beneficial. I responded that, while everyone is different, a year abroad after graduation before entering grad school was tremendously beneficial for me—not only because it allowed me to recharge my scholarly batteries, but also because it broadened me, allowed me an experience I may not have been able to have at any other time and that has helped me tremendously since, both personally and professionally. So yes, I said, I think a “gap year” can be terrific for many, especially if it is spent abroad gaining international exposure and language skills.

A young woman, a senior, followed up by saying that in her research into possible international opportunities following graduation, she was having trouble winnowing out those that might be right for her. For example, she said, should I do the Peace Corps, do a Fulbright, teach English?How do I know what’s right for me? After we discussed the difficulties of knowing what is “right” for her or anyone else, I brought the conversation back around to the fact that she had just lumped the Peace Corps and “doing a Fulbright” into the same category. I thought it was very important for her and the other students to realize first, “doing a Fulbright” does not mean just one thing—there are many different ways to be involved with Fulbright.

But second, I said, it seems to me that the Peace Corps is not just another abroad experience. Though I wasn’t a PC volunteer, I know many who were, and from what they’ve told me, the Peace Corps is a very specific, and often very difficult, experience, one that is not right for everyone. I relayed to them the story of someone I know who, despite being one of the more idealistically gung-ho people I’ve ever met, just resigned his Peace Corps position a year and a half early. His reasons for resigning were: he wasn’t doing the work he wanted to do; he didn’t believe he was effecting any positive change; he was not enjoying the culture he was living in; and he no longer wanted to, in his words, “help reinforce a system that only hurts the people I want to help.”

While I didn’t quite know how to interpret this reasoning, again not having been a PCer myself, a good friend who completed the Peace Corps in a similar region wasn’t terribly surprised: “There are inevitably those who thrive and those who quit. The Peace Corps isn’t for everyone.”

If you’re interested in the Peace Corps, try to talk to as many people as possible who have done it before. Get a clear picture of what it really is. Because the Peace Corps is not just “going abroad,” and it’s not for everyone.

The power of the interwebs

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Back in June I posted, a bit randomly for a blog on international careers, about a Craigslist housing scam I’d come across while looking for apartments in DC. Though I managed to give the topic a career slant, I wrote about it mainly because I was short on actual career topics at the time, plus I thought my brush with the scam was interesting/funny/a bit scary that someone might actually get sucked by it (I knew it was a scam right away, but even so, I still tried to convince myself it wasn’t, the apartment being advertised looked so amazing). So I posted and didn’t think much more about it after that.

Then, in early August, a reader commented on the post, saying she’d come across the same scam, just with some details changed, which she provided. Then another commenter did the same, then another and then another. And it’s still going—another comment came in this morning—with each person relaying their own brush with the scam and posting the relevant details to help others avoid it. Clearly each commenter Googled the fake name of the scammer and the details given to find out if the Craigslist offer was too good to be true. Commenters may have been disappointed when coming across my post and its thread to find it was indeed a scam, but they were also relieved that they’d been able to verify it was too good to be true and they hadn’t gotten sucked in.

No larger point here, other than that I’m happy that a throwaway post for me has turned into something of a public service for those out there apartment hunting on Craigslist and trying to avoid the scams that seem more prevalent everyday. Though I’m not really sure how to feel about the fact that an item completely unrelated to the subject I usually write about has become the single most commented-upon Working World post ever. I guess I’ll take my audience any way I can get ‘em.

I’ve said I don’t believe in mentors…

Friday, September 25th, 2009

…and now I’m officially one myself. At least according to American University.

As of last week’s kick-off ceremony, I’m now an alumni participant in the AU School of International Service mentoring program, and thus a mentor to one lucky young senior in SIS—which is a bit ironic given that I wrote in Working World about my hefty ambivalence toward the concept of mentors. One reviewer of the book took this ambivalence to mean that I don’t believe in mentors at all—that I completely reject the concept—which I think overstates things. It’s more accurate to say that I’ve never been completely comfortable with the concept, nor have I actively sought out any mentors, or ever imagined myself as one.

But here I am. Not only as an official mentor myself, but also pointing out in events we do for Working World how my view of the concept seems to be evolving over time. While I still don’t love the “mentor-protege” terminology, I’ve at least come to see that I do in fact have mentors in my life and that a mentor doesn’t have to be someone you seek out to give that title and fulfill that “role.” Rather mentors can and should be those to whom you naturally gravitate—relationships that form organically on the basis of mutual interest and respect, nothing that is forced or artificial.

Which I realize is a little bit contradictory to my participation in a formal mentoring program, which are by nature a bit forced and artificial. But I’m looking forward to it nonetheless. In our initial meeting, my AU senior, as I’ll call her (I refuse to call her my protege), and I seemed to be on the same page. We both admitted we’re “not really sure how this works” and that we’d just play it by ear, keep it fast and loose, and see how things went. We’d be natural and not force anything. I think that’s the right way to go.

More updates from my trials and tribulations as an AU mentor as things evolve…

Goals v. gut — Dean’s Lunch Seminar at Georgetown

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

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.