Skating Right into the Wall

Today’s guest post is from Matt Mansfield of Leverage The Web.

The year I graduated from college was a real eye-opener for me.

You see, for the prior 17 years, I had been skating along; moving from year-to-year, grade-to-grade, without thinking much about what was coming next. My education was all laid-out before me; a long road of classes and milestones all leading to the far-away day when I would graduate from college.

Then, out-of-the-blue, people ruined it all by asking me one simple question, “What do you want to do when you graduate?”

I remember sitting there, in the student union, trying to grasp that question. What did I want to do when I graduated? I didn’t know! And why were they suddenly asking me, the guy who they’ve been telling what to do for the past 17 years?! How should I know?! And why am I suddenly so damn scared?

Yes, the panic set in pretty fast. I knew I had to do something, but I really was not sure what. My major was business administration, a field that’s almost as broad as liberal arts. My classes studied cases from Harvard Business School where I was the CEO making decisions that effected hundreds of people and millions of dollars; not a very practical education for someone who would not be making CEO-level decisions for many, many years.

I began interviewing with recruiters on campus. I met with Anderson Consulting and was fascinated by what they did, once the recruiter filled me in on the details (nice prep work there on my part – ha!).

I took one career aptitude test after another. One memorable result suggest I was suited to be a forest ranger or a podiatrist (to this day, I cannot find the link).

Bottom-line:it was a tough time. It took a lot of soul-searching and research until I sort of fell into a job and started my post-college working life.

The point to all this? Do not let your education be a passive experience!

All those years of skating along, I was just being set-up to hit a great big wall at the end. Yes, I had basic skills, but basic skills are just that, preparation for advanced training.

In Europe, they take a much more trade-oriented approach to education. Even at the college-level, they ease you into tracks which lead towards a definite destination at the end. In America, we focus on liberal arts and thinking skills; all good to be sure, but neither directed nor structured (even at the college level for many!).

So, if the system won’t do it for you, you need to do it for yourself. How?

  1. GOALS: Don’t wait until the end of college to set career goals: Unless you’re one of the very lucky few who knows exactly what you want to do after you graduate, start researching and exploring opportunities from day 1. In your freshman year, try to take courses that touch on many things as opposed to the required ones you can get out of the way a bit later.  This is your time to find your place, to set goals and to begin working achieving them.
  2. VALIDATION: Learn if your have set the right goals: don’t limit your explorations to four walls. Talk with people who are studying or even working in a field that seems interesting to find out if it’s for you. Start working in fields that seem interesting, even if you are not paid (the payoff at the end will be worth so much more). This is your time to see if the field you selected fits you.
  3. ADVOCATE: Be the best advocate for your success: based on what you learn and discover in steps 1 and 2, make sure that the education you’re receiving will help you reach your goals. If not, challenge your teachers and their curriculum and, if that does not work, change schools. This is about you and your future.

In the end, my life has worked out fine. I often wish however, that I could have been spared that panic and scramble at the end of college. I wish that I had not had to spend the decade of my working life trying and exploring things while still having to make money on which to live. Heck, I wish I would have started the three steps above when I was a freshman in High School!

If I had, I could have jumped right over that wall.

He helps businesses and individuals by matching their needs with online software, tools and sites that help them save time and money, start new projects and grow their existing business.

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