Networking: Getting started (Part negative-1)

Hold up, wait a minute.  Let me put some (context?) in it.

I need to back things up a little bit.  Before you do an informational interview, even before you reach out to to your network to ask for contacts, it helps to spend some time really thinking about what is it that you really want.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a teacher. I loved learning, I loved the way knowing stuff made me feel, and I wanted to help others feel that way, too.  In kindergarten, I decided I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.  In the first grade, I wanted to be a first grade teacher.  And so it went.  Until one of my teachers found out I wanted to grow up to be a teacher just like her, and she told me “That’s a waste of your brain.”

I think I went home and cried that day.  But she was my teacher, someone I idolized and trusted, and being a child at the time, I listened to her.  So, I tried thinking about what else I could be.  I was pretty good at math and science, and my science teacher always had engineering posters up in her classroom, so I decided I’d do that.

I did end up studying engineering in college, although a part of me still longed to do something in education. Senior year, I seriously considered applying to get my master’s degree in Education, but everyone else in my major was going through recruiting, and management consulting seemed to be the primo gig.  I eventually chose to apply for the types of jobs my classmates were applying for, and landed a position at a niche consulting firm.

Within a year at my first job, I knew I wanted to leave.  I was so unhappy, I left without another job prospect in hand.  Luckily, after a short period of time, I found a job in the marketing division of a packaged foods company.  Things were good for a while.  I was good at my job, and it was interesting work.  But the industry I worked in pretty much required an MBA for management level positions, so all of my colleagues suggested I apply to business school.

Applying to business school requires a ton of introspection, as you’re asked to recount your life story (past, present, and future) and explain how their particular school fits into your plan.  You also have to be able to answer incredibly open-ended questions, like “What matters to you most, and why?” I spent months looking back at my past and trying to decipher my recent choices in life.  I asked friends for help, had numerous conversations with people, and filled an entire notebook with my thoughts and hypotheses.  It was during that process that I realized that at the core of me, I wanted to do work that helped enable people to succeed.  And so, I told business schools that I wanted to pursue a career in public education.

Looking back, I spent a whole lot of time doing things that other people thought would be good for me.  Now, for the first time in my life, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. The reason I was able to get here is because I have a clear idea of what I want, and I am not afraid to go after it.

I promise I’ll eventually return to the networking series, and tell you how to start networking and conduct informational interviews and hold a wine glass, plate of hors d’oeuvres, and napkin in one hand while keeping the other free for shaking hands.  I just wanted to pause and bring it back to the key idea at the center of this blog.

What do I do with my life?

Do something that nurtures your passions, lets you do what you’re good at, and keeps you true to your values.  But first, take some time to figure out what those things are.

Yet, I also know that I may not want to do this forever.  My skills and life-stage will evolve, at which point I may need to serve my core passions and values in a different way, with a different job.  I currently work for a network of public charter schools, helping them figure out how to run their operations in the most efficient way possible, so that we can dedicate more of every dollar we receive to our kids and their classrooms.  I recently told my supervisor that five-years from now, I hope to be a part-time mom with her own full-service children’s party planning business.  In ten years, I would love to be a full-time life coach.  All of these things integrate elements of what I am passionate about, what I am good at, and what I value.
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