Do you daydream about future adventures, vacations, and expeditions?
Have you amassed such a gigantic pile of inspiring trip reports, guidebooks, maps, and itineraries that you realistically won’t be able to get to them all in this lifetime? Yeah. Me too.
When you plan an expedition, you typically have a destination and a goal. Say you’re going sport climbing on limestone cliffs over the sparkling, turquoise ocean in Thailand. Identifying this goal allows you to pack appropriate gear, bring the right climbing partners, and make sure that you have the climbing and international travel skills to pull off an enjoyable adventure. Researching climbing routes and Thai culture can also help get you excited about the trip.
A 2010 study in the UK suggested that “many people spend more time planning their next holiday than they do planning their careers.” The average full-time employee in the USA spends approximately 3.8% of their work year on vacation (not counting weekends). Many of us are lucky to have more than two weeks off per year, but it typically isn’t paid vacation.
If you daydream about your adventures, why don’t you daydream about your career?
One of the problems with professional daydreaming (unless you are an adventure photographer) is that Nat Geo doesn’t feature amazing photographs of our careers and Climbing Magazine doesn’t write job reports for epic careers. It is hard to amass a gigantic pile of inspiring job descriptions, study plans, and career paths. Information about individual jobs, specific employers, and people’s job satisfaction just isn’t that easy to come by, so many people skip the planning process and fly to Thailand with ALL of their climbing gear and hope for the best.
As this crazy year rolls to a close, I’d like to offer parts of the Career Mapping workshop* that I’ve been facilitating with my students and clients that jump starts the career brainstorming process. Here is a short list of questions that I use in the workshop to get people thinking about their career aspirations:
* “I would definitely emphasize how thought-provoking, influential (life and career wise) and deeply moving this workshop is.” – 2016 AEE Workshop Participant
I asked people at the Association for Experiential Education conference a question: how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold?
(Full disclosure: as an incentive to answer the question, I held a drawing and gave away prizes. If you keep reading, you will see that I am giving away more prizes at the end of this post.)
Nearly everyone answered my question with a question: how do I find meaningful work or how should I find it?
How do you prefer to find it? I replied.
Seventy percent of the people I surveyed said that they would prefer to let their careers magically unfold. Seventy percent!
The message that we get from society is that successful people have a plan. Successful people know from a very young age what they want to do when they grow up. They use the knowledge of their perfect-match dream career to motivate them to get good grades in high school, use those grades to get into a good college, and land a satisfying, high-paying job as soon as they graduate. I think society is perpetuating a myth AND I think it is freaking people out.
I recently interviewed more than a dozen successful professionals in the fields of experiential education and conservation science to learn about their career paths. Not a single one of the people I interviewed said that they were aiming for this career from a young age. Several of them mentioned an aha moment when they knew what they wanted to do, but that moment was typically sometime in their twenties and more of a vague idea than a concrete plan. A few of the people I talked to had several different aha moments on several different career paths.
So, should you make a thoughtful plan or let your career magically unfold? You should probably do a little bit of both. Regardless of your path, you should take the time to study the profession once you have your “a ha” moment and you know what you want to do with your life. You owe it to yourself to do some research for two reasons. First, you’ll know what you are getting yourself into. Second, you will gain a leg up on the competition for your dream job because you’ll probably know more than they do. Do your homework by asking: who is working in jobs that appeal to you and how did they get there? What do they like and dislike about their job? Could you follow their path to a similar career? My previous post has suggestions for personal professional development (specifically see ideas see #4, #5, and #6).
What if you haven’t had your aha moment yet? I have a few ideas for that too. I developed a career mapping workshop that facilitates the career brainstorming, visioning, and professional research process. You can see an overview video here and the handout here. You will also be able to sign up for the online version of the workshop in December at www.educatewild.com.
Now I ask you, engaged reader, how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold? And when has that worked or not worked for you?
As a thank you for commenting on this post, I will send an Educate Wild! Outdoor Educator’s Tiny Bag of Tricks to one randomly selected person who comments on this post by noon PST on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (Micah, this is your chance!).
The case for personal professional development
Teaching in the field can be so time-consuming (and energy consuming) that practitioners forget to take time for themselves. You might have a daily yoga practice and get out regularly to run, but what are you doing for your professional self? How are you paving the path to your next career move? How have you made yourself indispensable in your current position – or how are you building your skills to shift your career path?
These questions can feel overwhelming if you are already working 12-hour days, looking at an email inbox with 136 unanswered emails, and feeling guilty about not revising your incident response plan. How could you possibly take on one more thing? I argue: how could you not?
Professional development sometimes feels like something that you do for your employer – attending the state-mandated food handler training, keeping your Wilderness First Responder certification current, clicking through the slides for the online driver training – but I’m talking about enriching your professional skills, taking time to connect with people who are passionate about outdoor programs, and dreaming about your future.
Here are seven ideas to keep your skills fresh, your professional network growing, and your next move on the horizon:
Dr. Angie Moline is the founder of Educate Wild! and an adjunct faculty member in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University.
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