I am currently accepting submissions for The Young Professional Project, a collective dive into different perspectives on the transition from college to life after college. The following is a submission from Eric Guroff, a rising college senior at Belmont University, a music and entrepreneurship major, and only one year away from release from academia and into the “real” world. You can follow Eric on his blog or on twitter @eguroff. To submit your own guest blog, and a have a chance at getting published in an upcoming book from The Young Professional, email John@theyoungprofessional.com.
Some people have this “what the hell am I going to be when I grow up?” question easy. The answer is provided for them based on a technical skill set they have that slaps a one- or two-word “label” on their professional identity. A graphic designer. An audio engineer. A coder. These people certainly have more to offer than their label indicates, but the specific value (and price tag) associated with their skill is directly linked to a future job title. Hence, a label provides people with a jump on establishing their professional and personal identify for the next several decades.
My name is Eric Guroff, and I am not one of those people. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been searching for that one-word label for a long time now. I’ve bounced around from musician to audio engineer to journalist and entertained a host of options in between. But if you’re really like me, none of the hats you’ve tried on have fit quite right.
There are a lot of reasons for this. (Here’s my chance to blame “The Man”–yay!) First, the human instinct to immediately categorize everyone and everything we interact with leads to a self-perpetuating system. In other words, it is easier for people to understand compartmentalized units, so we have begun to not only view the outside world this way, but also use categories to perceive and communicate our own value.
Second, the new economy has dramatically reduced the need for traditional one-word label positions as compared to our parents’ generation. In his text, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink writes, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.” The economy has radically different human resource needs than ever before, but the education system, our parents, and society as a whole have continued to prepare us for a “real world” that left us generations ago.
So what do I make of this ambiguity? Well, last night it was with one of those classic 11-months-till-I-graduate panic attacks that every college student will eventually endure. But after I had successfully implemented the “Gooooosfraaabaaaa” approach I learned from the scholarly work of Jack Nicholson, a piece of wisdom hit me. Earlier last night, I had attended a lecture by Mark Montgomery, serial entrepreneur and digital music industry veteran, who said something that resonated through the anxiety of uncertainty. To paraphrase, he said that I am not worth my weight in salt (much less his time), if I can’t rattle off the 5 abstract things I am best at.
I don’t need a one- or two-word label to forge my career. In fact, I would challenge even the people that do have the fortune of a technical skill set and obvious job title that they do not need that label to make their way in this world. Instead, I need to know my own strengths like I know the lyrics to all too many Taylor Swift songs.
Knowing my strengths accomplishes two things. First, it provides information on what jobs I can perform without pigeon-holing me into something I may or may not want to do for the next half-century. Second, it at least temporarily eases the anxiety that comes with ambiguity. It creates enough of a constraint to curate the wide world into several potential directions, but it does not lock me into something that limits my potential.
– Eric Guroff, A Young Professional
To submit your own guest blog, and a have a chance at getting published in the upcoming book from The Young Professional, email John@theyoungprofessional.com.