What do you do when you get a clue that external forces have actually shaped your early decisions about professional work significantly more than your own self-knowledge and informed exploration and choices?
I have decided to highlight the pattern of this phenomenon in my experience in order to encourage mindfulness and awareness, so that others can avoid the pitfalls of operating on professional auto-pilot.
As I made my way through the K-12 education system, the subjects and courses that I could take were determined by the government, the school system, my teachers, and whatever demonstrated aptitude I displayed in school. I can see now that my educational decisions were made for me.
Were my investigative or decision-making skills ever intentionally engaged by an educator or a parent who asked me about what I loved learning or what I wanted to explore? Not that I can recall. In this environment, classic 80’s movies had more impact on my professional choices, due to missing facilitation from adults in my early life.
In the process of making my decision about what college or university to attend, I let the SAT Exam system mold my decision because I had no real clue or guidance through this process. I checked the box on my SAT exam to receive information from different schools about their programs. Through that fateful decision to accept promotional materials, I received information about Carnegie Mellon University, which I had no previous knowledge and was not on my radar.
While I was offered a scholarship to attend New York University in my dream city, another full-tuition scholarship offer from Carnegie Mellon and the significantly cheaper room and board expenses caused me to choose Pittsburgh over NYC. Fortunately, CMU, as an educational and social environment was a phenomenal match for me despite my youthful inexperience in making decisions!
I recently realized that Carnegie Mellon’s career center and the employers attracted to or recruited by the university determined where I would work after graduation. Did I explore any companies or fields of work outside of the organizations participating in the on-campus job fairs and in the career center’s interview processes? Yeah….NO. It never crossed my mind to explore professional options outside of what I was offered during my junior and senior years on campus. Did I know to ask myself about what I loved, what I valued, or what was really important to me? Click to hear my response:[audio:http://firstgenerationprofessional.com/audio/wampwamp.mp3]
When I arrived at my junior year internship, I was told what industry and project that I would join. Did I think to ask about other projects or explore other industries during the three months of my internship? Wow. The painful truth is no, once again. Consequently, when I arrived on my first day of the official start of my professional career, I continued simply to accept where staffing managers and senior managers decided to place me.
When my professional discontent became almost unbearable, I finally made the leap in awareness and explored other competencies and sectors within the firm. Thinking on this now, the first glimmers of my true professional sense of self were birthed at that time. After some initial exploration, I decided that I wanted to work with people more extensively as a trainer and change management consultant. I set my intentions, worked through the “proper” channels, and received a transfer into the Public Sector industry to perform work that I had finally determined for myself.
Despite my efforts to shape my path, managers on a subsequent project, who learned about my past technology skills informed me that I would be assuming a technology role during a colleague’s extended leave of absence!
I expressed my frustration about this event and was informed that their decision was final. A few months later, I interviewed for and accepted a new position and finally resigned from that company.
As I have reflected more on the idea of the first generation professional, I have begun to think that my original definition of this term can be expanded.
Any person, who has not yet recognized the value of intentionally developing their work perspective and creating a vision for their career may also have an under-developed professional point of view and face similar challenges to someone who is officially a first generation professional. That person, who may have parents or other relatives who have embarked on a professional path, may indeed be the first in their family to think more mindfully about their work and how they want to more skillfully influence the course of their career life. Facilitating the understanding and development of a strong professional sense of self is at the core of my mission.
Developing your professional sense of self is the path to shape and influence your own path.
To what extent have external forces controlled and shaped your professional development?
To what extent do external forces continue to control and shape your professional development?
Have you birthed your professional sense of self?