Over the past two months, we’ve pushed this idea of knowing yourself—a lot. We wrote blogs, sent emails, made mentions in multiple newsletters to your faculty. Frankly, we were kind of relentless about it. And for good reason, we know it matters. But, without years of work under your belt, it might be hard to understand exactly how knowing yourself affects your career. In an effort to illustrate the importance, we’ll give you a case study (ahem, my own career path).

Choose a major: Creative career and financial independence

When I chose a major, I drew on two key areas: my interests and my values. Since my interests involved storytelling and visual arts, this narrowed my search to a few options. From there, I considered the one value I was aware of, independence. For me, this meant being financially independent when I graduated.  I wanted an assurance that even if I studied in a creative field, I could step into an established industry with a clear career path. Eventually, my choice came down to film or design, and a slight preference for storytelling sent me toward film.

First job: All the skills and strengths I didn’t know about

After four years of scriptwriting, film analysis courses, and student film productions I relocated to Los Angeles and landed a job with Participant Media, a media company in Beverly Hills. Not a bad start for a young 

professional and I had many opportunities—from providing coverage on scripts and pitches for the feature and TV teams to researching for the publishing department to writing for Participant’s online startup, Takepart.com. And, I dove in. 

But, then in the day-in and day-out of that job, I gained a new insight—I don’t actually like reading and writing all day! And, I looked around at the work our producers and executive producers were doing all day—it was basically reading and writing. Gulp. So, now what? Thankfully, around the same time, my boss threw me the responsibility to recruit and hire 15 interns for the coming semester. I’ll skip the gory recruiting details, and tell you about the skills it involved—researching (but, just a little), advertising, selling the company, and relationship building (with universities, faculty, and potential candidates). I loved it! Not only did I enjoy using those skills, I realized I was good at them—they were innate strengths. Once that new team of interns came into the office, I naturally stepped into a management and mentor role for them, and another strength was discovered. Also, because of that experience, a new interest was fostered in me—career development.

A change: Mongolia, a difficult reflection

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As these insights began to set in, I took my time exploring options and reflecting on the change I might want. During this time, I talked with and shadowed people in different career paths—educators, counselors, human resources and recruiting professionals—building my understanding of the diverse world of work. I also decided to take a leap and pursue my longtime goal to join the Peace Corps. I applied, interviewed and was assigned to Mongolia. I saw this experience as a way to broaden my cross-cultural experiences and deepen my self-awareness (or knowledge of myself). It did all those things—though primarily in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Mongolia and my period of Peace Corps service didn’t answer a lot of career questions, but they pushed me to the edge of my resilience through ongoing stress, discomfort, failure, and isolation. These experiences forced me to be brutally honest about my own strengths (and weaknesses), skills, motivations, and values.

Grad school: A career that integrates what I know about me

So, by this point, I’m in my late-20s and I’m back in the States wondering how I’m going to synthesize years of analyzing myself and my career options into next steps. Having spent years asking career questions, contemplating options, pursuing various routes I began to recognize an interest in the career development process—and to wonder about career paths that included that subject. Additionally, I knew from my time at Participant Media, that I had innate strengths and skills in mentorship and guidance. Synthesizing these, and other, pieces of information I began researching again and found career counseling. The next steps flowed easily—grad school research, GRE, applications, interviews, acceptance letters. I studied counseling and career development at Colorado State University for two years. In 2014, I made the transition from grad school back into the world of work, taking a position in the Career and Leadership Development Center at Ohio University. Seven years after completing my bachelor’s I was finally settling into a long-term career—or, so I thought.

Seriously, you’re questioning this again?

Hard to believe, right? I thought the years of work, reflection, research and graduate study led to me to a solid career that I would want to do for decades. Turns out, this job, which included career coaching and marketing/communications for the CLDC introduced me to a new (/old) interest—design. Somewhere along the way, I dropped a key aspect of my career puzzle—and that was creativity. After a year in my position with the CLDC, I noticed my enthusiasm for the creative aspects of my role and I couldn’t ignore it. I began another process of self-reflection and developed three conclusions:

  1. I love career development, but I prefer developing (and counseling) people I manage—and especially young creatives
  2. I need to be creating too and on a regular basis
  3. My career will always be changing

Maybe as I go along, the changes won’t be as drastic—I’m currently pursuing a degree in information graphics and interactive design to eventually gain employment as a user experiences designer (what?!). But, the more I work, the more I gain insight into the nuances of who I am and how that relates to my career. For me (and really, for most), deeper knowledge of self means greater satisfaction in a career and life.

By Erika Peyton, CLDC Assistant Director for Employer Relations and Marketing 

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