Back-to-school time isn’t just about your coursework. It’s also about your future.
With that in mind, here are eight steps you can take at the beginning of the college year to lay the groundwork for your career. Follow them and you may just do justice to the amount of time you spend sitting in a classroom.
1. Don’t stress about your major.
College teaches you how to think. If you’re good at thinking and learning in any given subject, you’ll be prepared to do the same in the workforce. You won’t be an expert at anything after college — that’s what grad school is for. So just pick a major and get decent grades.
Also realize that you’re going to change careers at least three times in your life anyway, so having a major that’s relevant to all your future careers is virtually impossible.
2. Recognize that law school can be a crutch.
It’s scary to be a good writer and good thinker and have no idea what you’re going to do with your life. But that isn’t necessarily a sign that you need to go to law school.
A huge number of people go to law school for misguided reasons, so be sure you know precisely what you want to do with your career before pursuing that JD. Otherwise, the loans you’ll have taken to get it will make your second thoughts about being a lawyer a first-class financial disaster.
3. Help your parents organize their network.
Sure, everyone tells you to network in order to get a great job, but who are you going to network with? Your fraternity brothers? Of course not.
Their parents, however, are a different story. Everyone’s parents have friends, and the charm of the baby boomers is that they want to be involved in every little aspect of their kids’ lives. So get your parents to put all their contacts into a tool like LinkedIn. That way, you can go through the list and systematically network for your own benefit.
4. Join the cheerleading squad. Really.
Cheerleaders are great salespeople. It’s probably self-selecting — after all, introverts don’t run onto the football field at halftime and jump around.
But when companies recruit at colleges, they often cater to cheerleaders in the same way that they cater to athletes. Both types are high-performers in the workplace, so join a team to do well in your career — and, yes, the cheerleading squad counts as a team.
5. Make time to read “Getting Things Done.”
True, you won’t get graded on this assignment in school. But you will in life.
The way to reach your goals is to keep yourself working productively toward them. Productivity is a skill, and in the adult world you’ll be competing with the samurais of productivity, so get started on building your skills by reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.”
6. Learn your strengths.
One of the best ways to find meaningful, fulfilling work is to understand what your strengths are. There’s no single job that’s right for you, but there is a single type of job — the type that allows you to be your best self by leveraging your best traits.
So use college to discover your strengths and practice applying them consciously. That way, when it’s time, matching them to a job will be second nature to you.
7. Take a class in positive psychology.
The best way to make a happy career for yourself is to know what really makes you happy. And here’s a newsflash — it probably isn’t your career itself, but the general level of optimism you have.
This is what you’ll learn in a positive psychology class. If one is available at your college, it’ll provide you with the basis for defending your decisions to your parents about things like taking time off to travel, getting bad grades so you can start a business in your dorm room, and following your girlfriend to Idaho instead of going to grad school.
8. Learn to be vulnerable.
When your career demands that you lead, or inspire, or even just connect with the people around you, the best way to do so is to show your vulnerabilities. Not all of them, and certainly not the most pathetic ones. But some.
Because the only way to connect with people for real is to open yourself up a bit. Don’t be the big man or woman on campus — be someone who’s approachable and authentic.
It’s not easy. First you have to know something about who you truly are, and then you have to project that true self to others. This is the hardest thing to learn in life, so start in college and you won’t be lost later in life.