When I was in college, we had a 90-year-old nun who’d never had a job advising us on what we should do. There was no such thing as a career counselor. When I graduated, I was asked two questions: “How fast do you type?” and “Do you take dictation?” I resented it — how narrowly it defined me to what I can and can’t do. I had a very difficult time finding a job and had to kind of work around the margins of higher education, because I knew that’s where I wanted to be: in a place where you are always learning. I got my master’s in 1973, when “What Color Is YourParachute?” came out. Oh, my goodness — it opened my eyes to the fact that I wanted to be a career counselor. I knew if I were this confused about where to go next, other people had to be, too.
We ask the wrong questions. We ask, “What do you want to do?” That’s so narrow. But narrow is easier. If someone asks you who you are, it’s much easier to say, “I’m a lawyer” than to say what you’re curious about, what excites you. And usually that person, especially in status-conscious Washington, just wants to put you in a box and move on. The right question is, “What do you want to learn about?” If you find something that lights your fire, then you’re going to keep finding ways to apply your skills to it. Jobs we had 10 years ago don’t exist. Training people for jobs of the future is tough when you don’t know what those jobs are going to be, so why not concentrate on those skills and passions that are transferable?