Best way to have a clear career path? Be willing to change your mind.
Lessons on adventure from interview with Jeff Selingo, Vice President and Editorial Director of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
There are two extremes on the spectrum of trying to figure out what you want to do with your life in college. I know people on both extremes, and you probably do too.
On one side, you have someone who has no idea what they are going to do with their life and doesn't really care. They take random classes without much purpose or interest, and figure whatever college degree they end up with will be good enough.
On the other side, you have the person who has defined the next 10 years of their life down to what they will eat for breakfast in 2018. Their dreams are so big, and there is no room for error. They will be president and there is nothing in the world that will stop them.
You might think I am a fan of the latter, but that is not true. These are both extremes and neither is ideal. The former is ineffective because without some direction or interest guiding you you’ll get bored very easily and not be as successful as you could be.
And planning out your life, your future, and your career exactly, with no room for error, will leave you stressed when things don’t go your way. It is too rigid, and keeps out any other incredible opportunities or surprise pathways.
The answer is somewhere in the middle. You must choose a direction while maintaining a healthy adventurous spirit for whatever unexpected interests or opportunities evolve in your life.
This is the lesson I learned from my recent interview with Jeff Selingo, Vice President and Editorial Director of the renowned Chronicle of Higher Education.
Jeff is an incredibly successful journalist, and he credits his success to his willingness to explore his options, change his mind, and be open to whatever people and opportunities came his way. He was never afraid to explore new territory.
Below are great insights you can learn from Jeff that will help you create your adventure path.
1.Tell me a little bit about your college experience.
While not everyone from Jeff’s high school went to college, it was generally expected that college was his next step. Jeff grew up in a household that consumed news, and he became fascinated by the world around him through journalism and stories. He originally wanted to go into broadcast journalism, but once in college he realized that broadcast journalism wasn’t really what he wanted to do, and he changed his focus to print journalism.
2. What helped you be successful in college?
Jeff is so thankful to grow up in a household that encouraged learning. Though his mother did not go to college, she placed a huge value on learning. His father was a schoolteacher and also instilled within him the value of education. Jeff realizes that not everyone gets to live in a household like that. He believes however that having any kind of strong adult mentor or influencer in your life who values learning is incredibly important and powerful (I recommend starting with a professor – see Section II of the book Community College Success for help on how to do that).
Jeff still places a high value on mentorship in his life. He constantly seeks people out in his life who have been through a lot of ups and downs in life and have great experience in areas of interest; he asks them for their advice (see Section III of the book Community College Success to learn how to create these valuable mentorship relationships with professionals).
3.What was your first job out of college?
Jeff’s first job out of college was a fellowship where he worked for reporter for Arizona Republic for the summer (as glorified internship). Because of that network he ended up being helped to his next job as a news reporter in North Carolina. While this seems simple enough, not everyone is willing to move around, and not every aspiring journalist is willing to take jobs outside of the major markets.
Jeff is not a big believer in a strict career path or plan, and I think that is what has made him so successful. He says that you have to of course have ideas and interests in what you want to do with your life, but you have to be open to the people and opportunities you meet along the way. Jeff worked in places he never would have thought he’d end up; he did things he says he never would have done if he had set a strict path without any room to diverge. Instead, he jumped at opportunities and enjoyed the adventure. You too should ensure that your career path has room for surprise adventures, opportunities, and people; those seem to be the best kind.
4. What motivates you?
Jeff has always had a healthy fear of failure and disappointing people. Not the kind of fear that makes you worry about what other people think – but the kind of fear that respects others around you and realize others have stake and investment in your life. (Not wanting to disappoint someone you respect who believes in you and has invested in you is a wonderful motivator.)
5. What are the most important skills and characteristics someone needs to have to be successful in journalism?
“You have to be open to change. Journalism is going through a period of tremendous innovation and change. You can’t say ‘I only want to do this one thing in this one place’ – that’s setting yourself up for failure. You have to be flexible. The Chronicle of Higher Education is in DC, and we get a lot of interns and college students who say they just want to work in DC. I always tell them not to necessarily start in DC. The time I spent in other states was very informative, as I learned about different people, local cultures, and places. DC can be very isolated, and while it’s great to end up there, it’s important for young journalists to be open to other potential pathways. Don’t be afraid to be broad and take a wide range of classes that interest you.”
6. What is one piece of advice you can give my readers that you wish someone would have given you in college?
“Create a network of people that can help you. Most people want to help others. Especially people who are established in their careers. People are not asked enough! Especially now with social and professional networks it is so much easier. You have to work at that and create networks. Sometimes younger people are shy about asking for help, but one day you will return the favor.”
Ask for help every day. Ask for advice every day. Be willing to adjust your path as you learn more about yourself and the world. And enjoy the adventure.
I highly recommend reading The Chronicle of Higher Education to stay up to date with what is going on in your world – the college world. Some of my favorite articles by Jeff is How Much Student-Loan Debt is Too Much? And Pay Attention in Class.
You can follow Jeff on Twitter and JeffSelingo.com.