Many students are in the midst of graduation and embarking on their next phase of life. Unfortunately, I doubt the majority are fully prepared for what is about to hit them smack dab in the middle of their lives. I think the biggest problem is that they have been sold a bill of goods by their parents and teachers; I am curious to how that will affect our young, eager minds darting out into the world. Most students are told to “do what they love” and that they should find a career in an area that they are passionate about and will enjoy doing for the rest of their lives.
My question aimed toward that advice is: why? Why do you have to prepare now for the rest of your life? Why do you have to get in an area you love? Why is so much emphasis placed on a specific career path? I believe students are being misled. The preparation and advice is mediocre at best. The advice that should be doled out is that every student should acquire the skill set necessary to excel in business and to manage/interact with people. More than anything else they can learn, everyone needs to understand how to effectively communicate with others and how to build solid relationships. Interaction in the workplace, both internally and externally, is under-examined and under-emphasized in many college settings.
In college, the focus is about specialization – Accounting, Marketing, Law or Medical – which, sure, are all very important courses of study if you plan to head in one of those directions. But even in those areas, communication and basic business skills are not only needed, but are a must. Yes, there are classes that cover these areas, but I wonder if they are adequately emphasized. Your parents may want to see you become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant and be sure that you love whatever you select. I know they are trying to be helpful, but how can you possibly know you actually love doing it until you are years into the field?
This is why I view early specialization as a huge mistake. When you are just entering your twenties, it is ludicrous to strive to select one area to pursue for your career path. The advice that should be given is that in the working world, no matter what you do, there are certain skill sets you need to possess. These tools will help you no matter what field you enter, and will propel you to success regardless of specialization.
Undergraduates should focus on subjects like: Cash Flow, Relationship Building, Effective Communication, Negotiating Skills, Interpersonal Psychology, Contracts, Budget Preparation, Strategic Planning, Writing, and Project Management, just to name a few. Knowing the principles in these topics will help you in any business you choose. Targeting skill sets for a specific area you think you will love or be happy doing is extremely premature for undergrads. You need to understand solid business and people skills. Then, go get a job and put them into practice before running off to grad school.
The other challenging question is: why do you need to work in an field you love? Why should your passion be your work? If you truly love an area, why ruin it by turning it into work. I was a huge sports fan as a kid, and have put twenty plus years of my life into the sports industry. I am not as much a sports fan as I used to be. Sure, I still enjoy it, but when I go to a game, I look at it different from how I would as a pure fan. I am now critiquing everything surrounding the game. That may not happen to everyone, but if you work hard at your job and strive to be the best, your industry will always lose some of its luster. That’s why I advise caution when choosing a career because you are a fan or extremely passionate about the area. There is a reason they call it work.
You need to find work you enjoy, but you also need to make sure work doesn’t destroy what you enjoy. Things appear glamorous from the outside looking in, but once you are in, they are never as wonderful as they seemed, if, in fact, you are truly working at it and not just coasting in “just happy to be here” mode. There are many folks who fall into the “just happy to be here” category who are not really making an impact in or contributions to their industry. They are typically the ones who love their job, but hate their compensation. There’s a reason why they are bitching about the money they make; they realize that the only way to truly earn more is to actually work, and probably do not want to make that leap.
So, forget about specialization, forget about turning your passion into a job, and focus on some basic business and interpersonal skills that afford you the opportunity to make a great living so you can enjoy all the things you are passionate about on a regular basis. Happiness is the key, and turning your happiness into a job will just dilute your joy of life. Why would you want to do that?
With that said, don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Go do what you feel is right for you, make your own mistakes, learn from them, and congrats on the next phase of your life. Exciting times are ahead. Oh, one last thing, read Winning the Customer.