Why Planning Is Overrated

Quick post today – there was a great article in the Washington Post about Candy Crowley, veteran CNN reporter and fellow R-MWC alumna, which I highly recommend reading and which featured a great piece of advice for young people:

But she should’ve known not to over-think it. That’s the one piece of advice she always offers young people: ‘Don’t plan too hard, because something much better might be out there.’ Crowley didn’t plot out any of what her career has become. Which is not to say that she didn’t have a plan. She did: As she graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 1970, ‘I was wildly in love with this guy,’ she says. ‘I thought I would marry him, move to California, have five kids, iron his shirts and write the Great American Novel.’

This, of course, is not what happened.  Crowley ends up talking about a string of freelance jobs and opportunities she pursues – including taking off six years to be a stay at home mom – before rocking it at CNN.

The entire article is good but I definitely draw comfort knowing that smart, funny, and ambitious people like Candy Crowley end up in incredible jobs simply by ambling about for a decade or two!

A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy Of Success

I’m a big fan of TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talks.  The concept of disseminating ideas worth spreading seems tailor-made for my liberal college-educated self.  In July 2009, author and modern philosopher Alain de Botton gave a talk on redefining success, something that seems to be a continual theme on this blog.

De Botton is an interesting creature.  His career took a turn when he wrote his first self-help essay in 1997, entitled How Proust Can Change Your Life, and began exploring some of the key questions of modern life – Am I happy?  Where do I stand in?  What kind of life am I choosing to lead and why?  His most recent book, The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work, explores ten different careers and is an extremely interesting and well-written analysis of the modern workplace.  He also founded the School of Life in London, which has the mission of making learning and therapy relevant to today’s culture.  In general, he wants people to live wisely and well.

In his TED talk, De Botton opens with an exploration something that seems to be key to most of us – career anxiety and crisis.  He keenly acknoweledges that for many of us, it’s a first world problem:  we have the ability to make a good living, but doing what? Is it fulfilling?  Is it financially rewarding – but not too rewarding so as to make us feel guilty?  What will others think of my job?  As he says,

But I think that we live in an age when our lives are regularly punctuated by career crises, by moments when what we thought we knew, about our lives, about our careers, comes into contact with a threatening sort of reality.

He goes on to discuss job snobbery, something I am incredibly familiar with.  That all-encompassing sense of dread when someone asks “what do you do” and then you have to watch the inevitable look of disappointment when you tell them you’re between jobs or temping or working part-time in retail or stuck in a dead-end job.  De Botton ties this not to an implicit interest in jobs as a way to obtain material wealth but instead posits that we want high-paying jobs (and want to associate with people who have high-paying jobs) because:

…we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It’s not the material goods we want. It’s the rewards we want.

De Botton touches on another theme that’s relevant in the life of 20-somethings, as evidenced in the New York Times article posted last week, and that’s the pressure of trying to have it all and do it all.  He talks about the dangers of a living in a meritocracy, where we believe that anyone with enough pluck and personality can rise to the top and the people who are at the bottom deserve to be there.  As he points out, this is a lot of pressure to put on people, especially emerging adults:

There is a real correlationship, a real correlation between a society that tells people that they can do anything, and the existence of low self-esteem.

He goes on to discuss the word success and makes an observation that I find brilliant – success is easy to define on the surface.  Describe someone or something as successful and a picture will enter your mind – possibly a different picture for every person you act.  That’s the part that’s less easy – if success can be all things, then it’s impossible to be successful because you cannot have it all. We should stop trying to.  As he concludes,

So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas. And make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want. But it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.

You can watch the entire TED talk here with an interactive transcript.

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Jamie Durham

Calling courageous post-collegiates! Our interview series has been so popular, it’s going to be a regular blog feature!  Want to nominate a courageous post-collegiate to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]

As I’ve continued to write for this blog and talk to people about where my concept of post-collegiate life comes from, I keep coming around to the people in my own life who have shaped me.  One such person is Miss Jamie Durham.  Jamie is the cool big sister I never had – whether it’s deciding the best way to enjoy the weekend or trying to figure out how to juggle multiple jobs, I often find myself thinking WWJD – What Would Jamie Do?  Being just slightly older than me has given me a great opportunity to see what life in your 20s can be life if you’re smart, fabulous, resourceful, and good-humored.  Jamie, being infinitely cool, agreed to share a little bit about getting through her 20s and her career in Texas politics.


Miss Jamie Durham, friend of the blog

Now that I’ve gone all fan girl about you, tell the readers a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small-ish town of Lufkin, Texas. I say -ish because I graduated in a class of over 500, but it’s the type of community where you feel like you know everyone. Ended up attending Stephen F. Austin State University for college (my parents used my brand new car to keep me close to home for the first year)… and LOVED it! I grew up active in the Children of the American Revolution, so history and politics is kind of ingrained in me. SFA has a very small political science department, most of my classes had a cap of 25 students, so I got to know all of my professors well. After deciding during my Constitutional Law class that there was no way I was going to law school (I loathe briefing court cases), and my mother (a retired teacher) had made it quite clear that I was NOT going to be a teacher, I decided politics was the way to go… though I had no idea how I’d actually get there. I’ve been in Austin for five years now and love it. I stay busy with work at the Capitol, part-time work at Bath and Body Works (I celebrate my 10 year anniversary next month), as well my involvement in organizations like Daughters of the American Revolution, Children of the American Revolution, Junior League of Austin, and Austin Chi Omega Alumni Chapter. Oh, and I go to a lot of weddings and events leading up to weddings (I’m averaging 13 a year).

What was your initial career plan after you graduated from SFA?

Actually, I was already in the working world pre-graduation. I fell into a temporary job (5 months) at the Texas Capitol for the 2005 Session (which I’ll elaborate on more later), and received internship credit while working. Session came to a close at the end of May and the office liked me so much that they offered me a permanent position.

In the last four years or so, what have you done that you didn’t expect or plan to do?

I spent 5 months (two different times) out of the last year unemployed. I left a position in a Legislative office in December and wasn’t sure where I wanted to work in the political arena. I interviewed with other Legislative offices plus a few Associations and companies for various positions in the lobby field as well as a job or two outside of politics.  None seemed to be the right fit. Legislative committee assignments came down at the end of February and I was offered a position working for a House Committee. I loved the job, and the people. However, it was just a Session-only position, so come July, I was unemployed again. Once Session wraps up, open positions are few and far between. I actually started the interview process with my current job working for another House Committee in late July, but didn’t start working for them until October 1st.

I don’t think anyone ever plans to be unemployed, especially for an extended amount of time, but I really think it was good for me. I had never really been through the job interview process. In all of my previous jobs (both post-graduate and pre-graduate), I had always been hired without much of an interview. For the first time I got to take a look around at what all is out there and try a little bit of everything to decide what was going to be the best fit for me, and I’ve been so much happier since doing so. It was nerve-wracking and frustrating to not have the cash flow, but I was fortunate to have a part-time job and temporary work come up, as well as supportive and loving parents, to help me along the way.

Anyone who knows you (or reads your blog) knows that you are always on the go!  How do you juggle all of your commitments?  Any tips for people (like myself) who feel overwhelmed with trying to do it all?

You’re right, I am always on the go. I like to keep my life busy, otherwise I’d be quite the couch potato. My biggest tip for keeping it all straight? Get a calendar! I’m a very visual person, so I have my calendar hanging right by my front door. I make sure to write down all of my meetings and deadlines and that way I can get a glimpse at the month ahead every morning when I walk out the door. My other tip? Do what you want to do! Yes, I keep my social calendar full with meetings, events, and parties, but that’s clearly not the choice for everyone. I’ve always been a busy person. Growing up I was involved in dance, piano, multiple choirs, C.A.R., and church. Rarely did I go straight home after school, starting from kindergarten through graduation. The same was true in college. So it’s always been very natural for me to have something to do every day of the week. A former boss once gave me a card that said “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember, you choose how you spend your life. Don’t take on too much and don’t do anything that you don’t love.

I love that advice so much.  Can you share some of your challenges since graduating from college?

Finding balance. When you’re in school, you live by a schedule. You go to class, you study for class, you go out, rinse, repeat. Then comes the real world. Suddenly, you get to choose how you spend your time! Sure, you’re working a set schedule (or semi-set schedule, depending on your career choice). But after that, you have so much free time, and you have to decide how to fill it. You also have to make decisions about what direction you take in life. Do you concentrate on your career? Do you concentrate on personal goals? Do you concentrate on doing the grown-up thing? When do you get married? When do you have kids? When do you buy a house? I’ve found that the greatest challenge is figuring all of these things out, and realizing that you may never know for sure. You have to head down a path and hope that it’s right, or that you don’t go the wrong way for so long that you get lost trying to find your way back.

Jamie and her ever-growing fan club!

It seems as though random happenstance has played a role in the progression of your career.  Can you share a little more about that?

I feel like owe where I am today to a complete random happenstance. My best friend from high school got a job at the Capitol when she graduated from college. I was still in school and she suggested that I send her my resume and she’d pass it around when people started hiring for the Legislative Session. She gave my resume to her friend from college. Her friend from college worked across the hall from my first job. It was on a Tuesday about a week before the Legislative Session was set to convene (early January), and I get a call. This office had received my resume and was interested in having me come to Austin and work for them. My resume included some of the leadership roles and awards I’ve earned in the DAR (as well as C.A.R.), and it turned out that the Chief of Staff in this particular office was also a member of DAR, so she knew I’d be a good hire. I drove to Austin on Friday to meet the office to make sure it was a good fit, and moved to Austin on Monday and started work on that Wednesday. It still makes my head spin a little bit just thinking about it!

Finally, if you could go back and give your 22-year old self any advice, what would it be?

Probably the same thing I would say to myself if I could go back to when I graduated from high school. No matter what you think your life has in store for you, or how many plans you have, you’re not going to be anywhere close to where you thought you’d be at any given time, and that’s okay. It’s actually much, much better. While I still have much further to go, I’m so content with the path I’ve taken to get here, and so grateful for the journey.

I considered posting a picture of Jamie and I in our awkward pre-teen phase but figured this was prettier!

Many thanks to Jamie for sharing her experiences with us!  You can check out her blog here.  As always, feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section!

Music Monday: Paramore

Every Monday or so, I’ll share a music suggestion from a reader.  Send us the songs that inspire you, get you motivated, help you get through the day, or put a smile on your face.  You can leave it in the comments, tweet it, or email us at postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]

Another great reader submission, from my dear friend Abernathy (click link and read her hilarious blog).  I could do my usual spiel about why this song should be a permanent addition to your Monday iTunes mix but I think I’ll just leave you with Abernathy’s endorsement:

I know that your Monday songs tend to be really uplifting and poppy. But I want to suggest “Pressure” by Paramore because even though it’s really angsty and totally by and for teenagers, as a twenty-something going daily to a job I don’t like, it still applies.

Preach on, sister friend, preach on.  Happy Monday!

The Curse of the Working Class

I have been woefully unattentive to this blog in the past few days.  I have some great posts coming but want to make sure they’re worthy before posting.  I also have a couple AWESOME profiles in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Until then, how about a little contest?  The person who emails me at postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom] with the best example of sharing this blog with their friends will get an original poem written by me and posted on this blog!  You get to choose the kind of poem and any particularly important personal attributes that I should include.

What kind of entries am I looking for?

  • Blog posts
  • Twitter campaigns
  • Facebook groups
  • Sandwich board
  • Custom made t-shirts

Seriously, spread the word, share your favorite posts with friends, and in exchange, I promise to get back to posting soon!