Six months prior to graduating with my master`s degree, I walked into the career counseling center at my university. There was a woman, Jackie, behind the desk next to the door, who greeted me immediately.
“Do you have a meeting?” she asked.
“A meeting? With who?” I asked.
She explained that there were career counselors on staff and I could set up a meeting, though their schedules were fairly full and I`d have to wait a while.
“Can I get in to see a counselor today?” I asked, feeling a sense of hope that maybe someone could actually help me figure this out.
“Let me check on their availability for the day,” she said as she flipped around and headed down a short hall to some offices. Jackie came back accompanied by Kris, a career counselor on duty at the time.
“How can I help?” Kris asked.
“Well, I`m set to graduate with my masters in speech communication in May and I`m not entirely sure what I can do with this degree. Can you help me understand what jobs are out there and what companies might be a good fit?”
While I`m not entirely sure what Kris was really thinking. The look on her face was one of utter confusion, which, of course, spawned the following internal monologue about what Kris was thinking, “She is about to complete her master`s degree and still doesn`t know what she wants to do?”
After a short pause, Kris took me over to the bookshelf, directly to the right of the front desk, pulled a thick binder off the shelf and said, “This is a listing of all the companies in Denver. Go through them to get an idea of the companies located in Denver.”
With a massive binder on the table in front of me and Kris now gone, I began flipping through the pages, completely overwhelmed. “Am I the only idiot who doesn`t know what she wants to do?” I thought, as I sneaked a peek to see if anyone was watching me.
Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of companies within the binder, my complete lack of focus and terrified someone might see me (the master`s level student who should know what she`s doing), I quietly shut the binder and quickly made my way to the exit.
“I`m good,” I said to Kris before she could say anything more.
That was the beginning of my pretending. Assuming that everyone else clearly knows what they`re doing at my age and education level, I began acting as if I knew what I wanted and where I was going.
Terrified no company would hire me, I took the very first opportunity that came my way, as a fellow with the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. “I just need to get a start,” I thought as packed my stuff and headed to D.C. to begin my career.
A few months into my fellowship, I learned that research was not what I wanted to do full time, so I requested a mentor. Five mentors and almost a year later, my panic button was fully engaged and I didn`t know what to do. My mentors were all scientists with a strong interest in research — it made sense they thought I should do more of that. They didn`t know what to do with all my energy and enthusiasm — and neither did I.
Eight years later, I`ve published two books (one a Washington Post best-seller), have a third on the way, have helped dozens of leaders learn to use generation gaps as a competitive strength, rather than a corporate weakness — and I still don`t know what I want to do!
I`ve learned the only way to find out what I`m really good at and where I add the most value is to explore. Rather than worrying about my title, awards, etc., I focus on gaining new experiences, learning more about myself, and listening for ways to help solve problems. I also deeply enjoy learning about others, how they`ve overcome life`s challenges, and how they continue to develop their careers. Taking an active interest in others, listening to their stories and finding ways to help them has been my greatest source of continued inspiration and knowledge.
Offered with Respect, Misti Burmeister, best-selling author, “from Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations“