My 900th Post is For My Students, CLEAR Advice for Future Success

With it being the last day of the semester and this being my 900th post on dynamicsubspace.net, I thought that I would offer my writing students some real-world advice that I believe will help them succeed in their endeavors regardless of their future trajectories.

Let’s be clear about something important: The job situation is very bad right now. It might even be worse for upcoming BA and BS students, because there is a substantial rise in the number of undergraduate degree holders. The supply exceeds the demand for degree holders in many fields. Furthermore, many businesses are retaining senior staff while letting go new-hires. This is a new trend, which is certainly good for those persons with experience and seniority, but it is certainly a new hurdle for young folks beginning their careers.

It is with a clear idea in mind of my own experience that I devised this interconnected set of strategies to help you achieve your professional and personal goals: CLEAR, or challenge, learnendeavor, and reinvent.

Challenge: You have to challenge yourself if you want to learn, grow, and develop as an individual. This means that you have to purposefully put yourself into new situations, try new things, and change the way you might normally do things. If you always follow the easy path, you will lack new experiences, which science has shown will add new connections to the pathways in your brain. Pushing the boundaries of what you thought you were capable of will result occasionally in frustration and failure. However, those frustrations and failures will eventually lead to contentment and success. How will it do that? Even when you are frustrated or you don’t succeed at something you thought would work out, you are gaining from the experience of doing those things. Additionally, if you reflect on those experiences in a critically productive way, you will learn new approaches for the next time that you try any given task. Finally, you might consider yourself one of the lucky few who finds education or work easy. What is stopping you from challenging yourself–getting outside of your comfort zone–and becoming even greater than you already are? This is the power of challenging yourself. You can control your own growth if you choose to do so.

Learn: In all the ways that you challenge yourself, you have an opportunity to learn. You can learn from your mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. You can learn from the advice that your teachers, family, and friends offer to you. However, you must assume a critical stance to any learning that you do. Never take things at face value. When you encounter something that offers a lesson or knowledge, why not question its validity? Why not test it in some way? Why not compare it to what other folks are saying? As Kent State students, I also want to stress how you can challenge yourself to learn through the resources that we have available here. First, no great business person, lawyer, nurse, doctor, or other professional achieved their success solely in a classroom. The classroom builds a framework for your professionalization and future work, but it only introduces you to the major themes and ideas in a given discourse. It is up to you to get into the library and read books, magazines, and journals that relate to your interests. It is up to you to use the Internet as a resource for finding out what cutting edge things are taking place right now in your field of study. Combined with your own reading and your classroom experiences, why not also talk to your professors? Ask for extra help on your assignments or exams, but also ask if you can talk with your professors about the things that you read outside of class. Drop a professor an email to make an appointment to talk about an idea or new research that you found challenging. Professors have office hours to help students, and I can think of no greater way to help a student than by discussing concepts that can’t be covered during lecture. Also, these kinds of meetings can help you with your future work by building relationships with other professionals in your field. You will need to ask for recommendation letters one day, and you really want your recommendations to come from professors who actually know who you are rather than just knowing what score you received on a paper or exam.

Endeavor: It is clear that in order to challenge yourself and to learn new things you have to endeavor, or “try hard to do or achieve something.” You more than likely will not achieve the level of success that you might want in life if you are not actively endeavoring to achieve that success. To get a great payback, you have to be willing to put in what may seem initially like a greater amount of time and effort than you expect to get back. This is one problem that we all must overcome in an increasingly technologized and convenient world: We find many goods at the store amazingly cheap. There are places on every corner to get high calorie foods for very little money. Even the university has streamlined itself to make taking courses and planning courses easier for students and their busy lives split between family, friends, work, and extracurricular activities. It is important that you do not become complacent as a result of what might be considered the easy parts of life. In order to challenge yourself to grow and develop, you have to endeavor to do that. You have to push yourself to do more than you want to do or more than you think that you can do. In order to learn, you have to try hard to learn. Merely reading a book won’t automatically give you the knowledge contained within it. You have to endeavor to understand that knowledge. You have to endeavor to find connections between what you are reading and what you already know. And most importantly, you have to endeavor to figure out questions about what you have read so that you will know what to learn more about in the future. On top of this endeavoring to learn, you must also work hard to establish yourself in your field. You need to build relationships (as opposed to merely ‘networking’) with your professors and your friends who share your interests. Go to conferences even if you are not yet ready to present a paper or your research. Find out how your profession operates beyond the job-sphere by joining message forums and email lists. Regularly read the journals of your profession, and perhaps more importantly, join a professional organization as soon as possible. Connected to this kind of professionalism is the importance of getting involved. If you want to make a name for yourself, it will take time and energy before you see a return on that investment. It may take a considerable amount of time and energy, but you mustn’t get discouraged. Hang in there, and others will begin to notice your drive and ambition. Initially, you will have to volunteer to help with research or special projects, but once you are known to be a competent and invested professional, you will be sought out to contribute your expertise. One caveat to this last point: Maintain a commitment to yourself as you endeavor to build your career. You do not have to take on everything or do it all for others. Manage your time and projects that you believe will make a contribution to your field as well as develop your professional standing. It is okay to say ‘no’ when you already have many commitments or when you do not believe that something will benefit your own goals.

Reinvent: The last aspect of a CLEAR approach to success has to do with reinvention. In the past, it was perfectly acceptable and assumed that a person would get specialized training for a singular job or professional career. Unfortunately, job uncertainty and a volatile job market has changed the rules for job preparation significantly. My advice to you is to maintain a concentration of study, but I would avoid professional tunnel vision. You should be mindful of how your field of study relates to other fields. Also, you can maintain an interest in another field of study through your elective courses, a minor, double major, and extra work (either through a job or internship). Widening your experience service two important purposes. First, you make yourself more attractive to a potential employer by demonstrating that you are a job candidate with expertise in more than one area and even more so if you have expertise in complementary disciplines. Second, you can reinvent yourself and your career objectives if you have more than one field of study. This means that if your first choice for a career doesn’t materialize or you get laid off, you will have another potential career path to fall back on. Certainly you can obtain widely divergent degrees or minors, but I would suggest that building strong interdisciplinary connections or complementarity is enormously useful. Let’s say you are a nursing major who gets laid off from your new nursing job. Instead of only doing nursing at Kent State, you also chose to study business or law. With business, you position yourself as a knowledgeable future nurse who may find other employment opportunities in doctor or hospital administration. Also, you could find employment at a medical supplier or other support area in the medical supply chain. Alternatively, with law, you may find work with a law office that handles Social Security, Medicare, or disability claims. Also, you could help your doctor or hospital with similar claims by understanding the medical and legal side of these areas. Furthermore, you could take a completely different path than nursing by pursuing business management or becoming an entrepreneur.  You could go on to pass the bar exam and become a lawyer. Essentially, you have set yourself up for more future potential careers by the choices that you make now. Those choices do not provide an immediate return, but they do give you more options in the not-too-distant future. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself if the need arises. It can be an awfully scary proposition to do something that wasn’t your original career goal, but it is possible and it can be significantly rewarding.

CLEAR Beginnings: First and foremost, you need to get your education done. Your education at Kent State or any other higher education institution is not an entitlement. Showing up for class and performing the very bare minimum requirements will not guarantee you a good grade or future success. Now is the time to seize every opportunity for your personal growth by following my CLEAR advice. It will be difficult, but the rewards might far exceed what your future might be otherwise. Unfortunately, CLEAR cannot guarantee success either, but it will give you a better chance of success than not challenging yourself, not learning more than the minimum, not endeavoring to achieve more, and not giving yourself career latitude by reinventing yourself. I give you this advice, because I do want you all to succeed in your lives and your work. I built these rules for myself a long time ago when I was floundering in my life and educational work. It was only after I picked myself up and brushed off the dust from a rough beginning to my undergraduate career that I realized that I needed to find a better path for myself and that I needed to give that new path all of my personal resources. I had to dig myself out of a hole that I had created for myself through bad grades, but I found it very self-satisfying to begin climbing a mountain after I got myself out of that hole. Many of you are at the very beginning of your life and career paths, so I hope that you are not already in the hole, so to speak. Instead, I want to hear from you in a few years about your experience climbing a mountain to success through your own efforts. Perhaps CLEAR will give you a beginning push on your climb, but you are all very resourceful, so I suspect that you will develop your own methods and tools to help you scale your individual mountain. Be patient and tenacious on your climb, and one day you may reach the summit and breath the clean air of self-satisfying success.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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