Grads: Oh the places you'll go
It's the season of the graduating class. College students who never thought their undergraduate educations would end are getting ready to pour into the work force. I don't mean to portray this as necessarily cheerful. It is more often accompanied...
It's the season of the graduating class. College students who never thought their undergraduate educations would end are getting ready to pour into the work force. I don't mean to portray this as necessarily cheerful. It is more often accompanied by uncertainty and anxiety in the face of enormous change. Students I talk with often display a combination of fear and anticipation. Some years, perhaps depending on the economic climate or the grapevine regarding available jobs, there is more fear than anticipation.
This might be one of those years.
But here's some advice for college grads. You are only you and not a streaming horde. You only need one job, not thousands or millions. And what are the tools that you will need to acquire that one job? Self-tools. Speaking from a long life and, hopefully, some wisdom as a psychology professor, I can say that every job I ever had I acquired using self-tools.
Psychological research shows there are two important personality characteristics that employers seek: responsibility and agreeableness. Employees are in demand who complete their projects on time and take responsibility for their employment. Employees who have social skills and can relate reasonably well to others also are valued. Of course, educational skills always are required, but as part of a package.
How, after all, do you teach someone to become responsible or agreeable?
I earned a degree in English literature from the University of Illinois. There had been a recruiter from the telephone company on campus and I was urged to apply for a job as a customer service representative. Was this what I anticipated? Not exactly, but I found it to be a very good opportunity with the chance to move into a supervisory role.
The rest of my educational and employment adventures involved a master's degree in counseling, working as a counselor in a federal jobs program, supervising counselors, directing an office, being self-employed, managing a business, earning a doctorate in psychology, practicing as a clinical psychologist and teaching at three institutions of higher learning. The point is that the work you do is a reflection of who you are. Our "selves" are wrapped up in our work. Looking back on my schooling and employment, the threads I see all make sense -- even if they didn't when I first left college.
So graduates can get ready to toss their caps and whoop it up after a long and difficult journey. A college education is a precious jewel, and that piece of paper received, certifying the struggle, is worthwhile.
A diploma says you've demonstrated responsibility and were at least agreeable enough to make it through an undergraduate education. It also says you know a few things and can solve problems. It shows you have persisted and not given up in the face of adversity.
A diploma is an important document, symbolizing an important experience that will reap benefits for a lifetime.
Anyone who needs further persuasion can consult Dr. Seuss for a dash of euphoria mixed with the practicality of seeking a job:
"Oh, the places you'll go," Seuss wrote. "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself. Any direction you choose."
Karen Marsh is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth.