The Continuous Journey
Like Alice, most of us think we want to go "somewhere," and it takes some experience to learn that, in life, there is no "somewhere." There is only the road to "somewhere," and we are always on the way.
—David Campbell, If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else
Many of us have a tendency to think about career development in terms of conclusions—what we're going to do once we're finished. We consider our career paths, and our lives, in terms such as these: "Once I've finished my degree . . ." or "Once I've completed my exchange program . . ." or "Once I've accumulated five (or ten or fifteen) years of experience . . ." Yet we rarely reflect on the fact that we're never quite finished with anything. We may complete certain building blocks of our careers (such as a degree, an experience abroad, or a particular job), but, in a way, we never really "make it." Our career journeys are never over. As Larry Bacow, president emeritus of Tufts University, phrased it, "The only time that you can really describe your career is on the day you retire. Up until then, you're just making plans." And even when you retire, the opportunities for a postretirement or encore career are abundant, and sometimes financially necessary.
We are often inclined to view a job search as a series of activities that cease once a job is found. On the contrary, it is just as important to devote time to these strategic job search activities—defining your cause, networking, learning from mentors—once you have a job. If you consider your career a continuous journey of finding new and better ways to serve your cause, it is easier to understand why such activities must continue.
We have emphasized the importance of identifying your cause. But this is not a static activity. Causes do change. For instance, the first cause you identify—easing the adaptation process to a US university for international students as a foreign student adviser, or conducting training on health system management in Uganda as a young development professional—may evolve. Later you may be expanding the international dimension of a community college as its president or promoting best practices in health care as the communications manager at an international development organization. Whatever cause you embrace, and whatever accompanying aspirations are generated, a consistent way to think about your career will serve you well in your immediate job search and on your continuous journey.
In our respective sections in this chapter, we tackle the idea of the continuous journey in similar ways. Simply because a certain career activity has come to a close—because that building block has been laid and prompted you to make your next career choice—does not mean discernment can be suspended. Causes shift. Needs change. Maintaining a consistent way of thinking about your career will help you to deal with these inevitable transitions.
We also address the issue of professionalism. Our opinions about the details of professional behavior and what it means to act professionally often diverge—the issue of a professional dress code is one that we've had fun debating, and consensus still eludes us! Ultimately, we both agree that consciously honing certain professional habits is an inextricable part of your continuous journey.
Sherry: An Evolving Approach
It was in the midst of writing and compiling my first career book in the late 1990s when I realized that I had developed a structured way of thinking about careers in the fields of international education, exchange, and development. Furthermore, it was a constructive approach one could readily apply to a career in most any field. After facilitating many career roundtables, speaking on various career panels at NAFSA: Association of International Educators conferences and at local universities, and interacting with hundreds of job seekers over the years, there were distinct patterns and consistencies in the career advice I shared. When Mark and I met regularly to discuss the book and engage in the stimulating process of collaboration—volleying ideas back and forth—I realized that this deliberate way of thinking about careers had evolved even more in the intervening years as I accumulated more experience as a manager and leader of a nationwide network. Now back in the classroom, interacting with young people as they are starting their continuous journeys, I have become even more aware of my own preferences and predilections. I've given a lot of thought to what constitutes a viable career path and how to make decisions that lead to finding the best ways to embrace your cause.
In this chapter I share with you my approach to the continuous career journey. I do this not because I expect you to adopt it as your own but because I hope it will be catalytic and encourage you to consider your own career in a thoughtful, more philosophical way.