Ah, the awkward question. What do you do? Or, worse for new grads or those heading off to college, the “what do you plan to do once you graduate?” (or now that you have graduated)?
When you don’t have an adequate answer (or plan), that question pierces. It makes us defensive. Unsure of our footing as if NOT KNOWING is a defect.
What if not knowing was a strength?
I recall an “all hands” hiring meeting when I was a young attorney in Toronto. The firm had interviewed a batch of law students and was vainly attempting to narrow the offers down in one evening. One resume clearly stood out. A young woman who everyone agreed was smart, a high-achiever and loaded with potential. The problem, according to the guy chairing the meeting, was she didn’t know precisely the area of law she intended to pursue after law school graduation. Clearly a HUGE warning sign and character flaw in this guy’s mind.
With her chances of getting an offer dwindling the longer this guy droned on…I spoke up. My argument? She was open about her desire to learn and discover. Her grades and law school activities proved out her statement. And darn it, not everyone knows what they want to pursue in their career at age 10 – so why would we pass on talent for not having a neatly defined career goal?
I may have been speaking up for her, but crap, it is sure how my career unfolded. Law school was a default (expectation of my parents that I pursue a professional degree). Medical school was out. Didn’t entertain the thought of a business degree, so law school it was.
But back to that hiring meeting.
If looks could kill, the guy chairing the meeting was ready to murder me – until a powerful partner (who happened to be a woman) leaned forward and said “I agree with Kelly”. Boom. The young woman was hired and yes, proved out to be a superstar.
My summer intern Nika is off to college shortly. She graduated a year ago and took a gap year between high school and starting the next phase of her studies. Nika and her peers are living the doubt, questioning, probing – having to articulate or defend what it is they are “going to do”.
Why isn’t exploring enough? Why isn’t uncertainty ok? Careers are long – WHICH IS NOT A BAD THING – so why not invest more time in discovering what you want to do with this one wonderful life you have?
Check out Nika’s post on Instagram. She’s created a simple template of ways to answer the dreaded “what do you” question when you’re not exactly sure what it is you want to do.