Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Finding the Right Mountain

I blogged recentlythat academics have a responsibility to apply their unique talents and outstanding privileges to bettering the lives of others. But how do we narrow down where we want to take our personal and professional lives? How do we make sure that we’re doing the things that make us special, that we really are making the world a more special place?

Figuring out a “life plan” isn’t easy. Besides that, the things that life will throw at us are pretty hard to predict. Many of us are very good at all sorts of things (and like to improve ourselves when we’re bad at something), but the real issue is having a sense for the right fit. Even the most skilled mountain climbers can still perish on Mt. Everest because they are uniquely suited for a different sort of mountain. Being determined to stay on the wrong mountain (i.e. job) for you isn’t just being stubborn, it’s a recipe for  unhappiness and burn out. You won’t be a fun person any more and you’ll be wasting your unique talents, interests, and privileges.

Here’s a favorite way that I’ve seen for figuring out the things that will best fit you (and how to get there). A piece of paper and a pencil might help.

First, imagine that you die five years from now. It is time for your funeral, and it has come time for your family, friends, and colleagues to come together and say words about you. For each of these groups, which faces would you most want to have there? In their words, which of your accomplishments would you most want to have noted?

Finally, what specific steps do you need to take within the next five years to make those accomplishments happen?

A bonus note for grad students: After you have your list, think about how to boil this down so that you can explain it to others simply. What does any of this have to do with the toil of a doctorate? For the things you research? For the kind of jobs you apply for? Having a sense for your trajectory will not only be useful to hiring committees in assessing fit, but also to your families in supporting you.


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This entry was posted on June 29, 2012 by and tagged .