September 30, 2019

LEE | The Myth About Career Exploration

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As I was frantically attempting (note the word attempt) to balance prelims, quizzes, interviews and job searches over the weekend, I took a moment to open up the fortune cookie that’s been lying around on my desk, hoping it might provide some insight to the essay I had been struggling to finish. The slip of paper read the following: “Before you wonder ‘Am I doing things right,’ ask ‘Am I doing the right things?’” Well, no offense to fortune cookie producer Wonton Food Inc., but I think that’s what I’ve been doing most of my life, only with little success at actually finding what the “right things” are.

I’ve always been an advocate for exploration — traveling to new places, absorbing new foods and keeping various career options open. For the longest time, I’ve been told by teachers, elders, career counselors and upperclassmen that the journey to find yourself is essential to discovering the right career path. While such guidance has helped me become a more flexible and open person, it hasn’t helped to answer the question of what I’m most enthusiastic about and where I find myself to be the right fit.

I’ve spent the past three years trying to figure out what I want to do, thinking that in due time I would be able to find what my true passions are. Yet as a graduating senior frantically sifting through career options, I find myself being at the same place I was back in orientation week, reading through pamphlets on the many career paths ILRies head into. While I have certain preferences for career fields such as HR and legal, based on the numerous times I was told to simply explore and find my passion, it seemed as if I would miraculously find a perfectly matching role.

I now realize that I had spent too much time following the advice of others to venture about various career paths instead of proceeding through the phases of trial and error in job searching. As I tried to fathom what my true “passions” are by signing up for dozens of organizations at ClubFest in freshman year, I stuck with none and lost sight of the merits of persistence. By spreading myself too thin and involving myself a little here and there for the sake of exploration, I neglected the need to limit search parameters.

I was also supplied with the myth that everything will work out as long as I exert enough effort to find a role that I’m passionate about. I didn’t realize back in freshman year that even if you find the right goal, and work hard enough towards that goal, some people simply have more luck or resources than others. It most certainly isn’t a level playing field out in the world of job searching, as the opportune financial or personal resources that certain individuals possess enable them to land a role that the equally capable person next to them couldn’t. The intricate world of job searching goes beyond mere goal-setting and matching qualifications.

Back when I was applying to college four years ago, I falsely perceived jobs to naturally come along once I got into the right college with a promising degree. Being surrounded by peers who would do anything to get good SAT scores and get into a top school, it seemed like my life would be pretty much set once I attended a renowned university. However, I’ve come to realize that in college, there’s only so much assistance that career offices can provide, and that I need to proactively seek and persevere with opportunities early on in my college career.

Career explorations have been helpful indeed. But at some point, you need to narrow down your options, make a choice and stick to it. The actual selection is just as important as the process of searching for the right career option. Of course, you should not shut out all potential options available, but instead of prolonging the exploration phase for too long, you should try it out even if you haven’t found the perfect match. Job searching isn’t so much about finding the optimal fit, but more about delving into an opportunity and discovering what you like and don’t like along the way. There are very few people who have found their true selves and fleshed out their career goals at age 21. It is simply unrealistic for college-aged students to search for and discover their “passions”, and telling them to just keep exploring simply doesn’t do justice to what the job search process actually entails.

DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at margaretlee@cornellsun.com. Here, There, Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.