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​Finding yourself in your career

Operating within a busy schedule of information sessions, coffee chats and events like the Career Fair and TechConnect, students have been sweating under the pressure of the lingering summer heat and the turn of a new semester, formalwear aside. The shared anxiety of planning for the future and striving toward success can invite comparison and unrealistic expectations for yourself, especially when many are seeking well-paying and prestigious jobs and internships. In what often feels like a rat race among Duke students and other applicants, it is tempting to impose value judgments on another's choices. However, rather than attend to what positions others are applying for or guessing why they are doing so, we encourage students to make their own career decisions for themselves, focusing consciously on developing themselves and introspecting on their motivations.

As students, we are not driven by a singular motivation, and pretending that anybody can successfully disentangle all the driving reasons behind an application or career choice is foolish. When considering jobs, we weigh a variety of factors including location, salary, prestige and experience that stem from our passions, family pressures and outstanding debt. While the importance of reflection and extensive conversations about the path of your career are important, it is important not to be reductive in your assumptions about others and their ambitions for life after graduation. Our experiences and backgrounds shape our values and perceptions, and without a complete narrative, it is not possible to assign accurate value judgments to another person’s motivations.

Instead, we face the responsibility to focus on ourselves to identify and question the values and long-term implications of our chosen pursuits. Beginning to view a job as part of five, ten and twenty year plans, not as part of rehearsal for an interview but as part of a frank internal monologue about possible paths, from the well-trodden to the pipe dream, your career could take.

At a stressful and confusing time in students’ lives, it may be difficult to see value in reflection. Assigning surface-level intentions to jobs may be simple, but truly understanding genuine motivations requires time. Analyzing the motivations behind any pursuit, however, can help students apply and commit to jobs with sincerity and confidence. We understand many of the factors outside of student control can determine when an offer's bottom-line can be an overriding consideration, but we still hope students will utilize their reflections to seek meaningful mentorship opportunities to guide them on their pursuits of perhaps more uncommon paths.

An honest labeling of one’s intentions may help one resist the temptation of pursuing what others around them find success pursuing. Examining the intentions that do not underscore their values challenges students to set standards for themselves. Setting these standards may lead students to make thoughtful and mature decisions as well as question the path they create for themselves. We encourage students to set a foundation of values as they begin building a future just as President Brodhead noted during his convocation speech to the Class of 2019 when he compared construction on Duke’s campus to the construction of its students. He encouraged students to use their education to construct the person they hope to be. Once we embark on our future journey and leave the safety net of our campus, the construction of ourselves is all we have to show.

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