Three Best Practices for GenDIY to Build Successful Career Pathways

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By Jodi Glickman
In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered his now famous commencement address to Stanford University graduates. In it, he told three stories from his life–“connecting the dots,” love and loss and finally, death. Through these stories, he traces much of the arc of his celebrated life.
What has always struck me about Job’s speech and story is the value he placed on connecting the dots–a concept that rings true for me as an entrepreneur–and is one of life’s key lessons for you, the GenDIY generation. Connecting the dots is a process of discovery, and few of us end up in the careers we originally envisioned.  I spoke with a room full of successful Northwestern Alumni recently, and when I asked, “How many of you are in the same job you were in when you graduated?” exactly 3 of 100 raised their hands.
Yet the discovery process isn’t about spending years drifting–it’s about hard work, finding opportunities you find interesting and trusting “the dots will connect.” I started my career as a Peace Corps Volunteer, then landed a job as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs’, and today find myself doling out career advice for a living. Would I have ever guessed in a million years this is what I would be doing? Hardly.
Moreover, if someone had told my 21 year-old self to “follow my passion” I would  have stared back in the mirror and thought wow, that’s a heady piece of advice. What in the world do I do with that? Sure, we should all do what we love. But it’s not that easy. Finding your passion is a process of discovery. It’s filled with ups and downs, successes and failures, missed turns and wrong steps. Ultimately, the goal in my mind, is to focus on three key things and trust that, in the end, they will lead you to be able to connect the dots and find a career you love and a life you are inspired and challenged by.
So instead of following your passion out of the gate, focus on doing three things over the next 2-3 years: Learn, Earn and Contribute.

1. Learn

When I graduated from college, I headed off to the Peace Corps in Latin America to travel and change the world. Travel I did. I’m not so sure about changing the world. And I didn’t end up in the international aid field either.
But what I did do is learn a whole lot about myself, about relating to others, about adjusting expectations and managing difficult workplace environments. The Peace Corps demanded I think outside the box, overcome challenges, problem solve in non-traditional environments and push myself beyond my comfort zone (and then some). Beyond using those skills in my day-to-day work, I often use examples from that time period when I need to highlight my abilities.
Whatever first job you land, there is learning to be had. Find the aspects of the job that interest you most. Become a student of observing others and the environment you work in.  Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” So trust your intuition and have confidence what you learn today will pay dividends tomorrow.

2. Earn

Doing what you love and making money don’t always coincide. But making money often helps you ultimately do what you love. There is no shame in honest work. Get a job waiting tables, working at a call center or freelancing for a small business. Moonlight as an artist and build out your social media profile, personal portfolio and alternate credentials. Just do something to make some cash, be able to support yourself and know earning money creates options. Today’s economy is all about building your personal brand–it’s never been easier to start a blog, create a side hustle or take advantage of the the gig economy. I did everything I could to make ends meet between jobs while searching for my next “real” thing: I temped, I worked as a barista, a cocktail waitress and a store clerk.
That focus on earnings gave me flexibility and created choices. I was able to fly to Washington, D.C. (on my own nickel) for a long-shot interview (I got the job). I was able to take a GMAT class when, out of the blue, I decided to go to B-school. And years later, I was able to launch my own business as an entrepreneur after socking away my Wall Street salary post MBA. I’ve never had to forego a twist or turn in the road because I couldn’t support myself doing something new. Continually being able to pay my bills (no matter how humble the job) has provided me with a sense of pride and a sense of empowerment.

3. Contribute

What Gen-Y’s (and in truth, everyone) most want is fulfillment and a sense of purpose. If you’re not utilizing your “highest and best” value in the marketplace, take that energy and enthusiasm and apply it elsewhere as a force for positive good. Do charity work on the side or join a non-profit board. Get involved with a cause or an organization you care about. Take the skills you’re hoping to build a career on and apply them to a local organization that needs your help. You’ll demonstrate your passion and conviction to future employers, and you might just make important connections that will lead to your next big thing. Steve Jobs said of the calligraphy courses he took at Reed College, “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.” That was, of course, until the Macintosh became the first computer designed with “beautiful typography.”
Whatever you’re doing today or trying to do, keep your focus on the learn, earn, contribute trifecta. For me, this approach has led to my most exciting professional endeavor to date: a collaboration with Pearson to bring my business online by building out the “Great on the Job” Online Learning Experience.  This learning environment we’ve created together is state of the art–it meets the needs of today’s learners in a fun, visually stunning and social environment. I’m proud of the products we are building and it rounds out my personal DIY philosophy. What’s yours? How are you going to learn, earn and contribute to one day find your passion and be your best self?

eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)–how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love–on The Huffington Post and This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:

Jodi Glickman is CEO of Great on the Job. Follow them on Twitter: @greatonthejob

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