After I graduated from college, I came down with a case of “Sunday night illness.” It was that sick-to-the-stomach kind of feeling you get when the fear of Monday morning makes you sick the night before, because you are not at the right place in your career. You feel it when are not living within your strengths, passionate interests, and values – you are doing something unnatural to you. You are on a path moving in the wrong direction, or you are on somebody else’s career path when you really want to be creating your own unique path in life. We want to prevent that “Sunday night illness,” or treat it if we already have it. It was after feeling this that I decided to create my own path in life. I developed my own vaccine for the “illness,” and now Sunday evenings and Monday mornings are my favorite time of the week. After all, we spend most our time in life working, so that work should feel good and be meaningful to us, others, and society. We should feel like we are in a state of flow and be happy doing it. This is possible if we can be innovative, thoughtful, strategic and approach life much like Apple would approach developing their next amazing product.
Along our path toward personal and professional growth, we find ourselves needing different things at different times to help us move forward happily, successfully, and in a meaningful way. When I asked students at Dartmouth College what they needed in their life now to create their own path, I heard three themes: Discover, Integrate, and Focus. Depending on the state we are at in preparing for our future, some of us want to discover, some want to integrate, others want to focus. I have found that it is best to do all three. A career is so important that we should devote a great deal of thought, strategy, and action to it. Discover, Integrate, and Focus is a good way to approach preparing for our future.
Discover. Many of us have not yet discovered precise things about ourselves (like our strengths, passionate interests, and values), or where we would like our paths to take us. For these people, we must discover that direction and create our path. Based on the insight we unearth about ourselves, it could be discovering a major, choosing a school, figuring out if grad school is the right choice, deciding to build a business, or picking meaningful challenges to tackle.
Integrate. People have a lot of versatility, and it can be exceedingly difficult to make a choice between two of our skills or passionate interests. For these people, it may be important to find clever ways to integrate their skills and passionate interests to create a path that is the unique intersection of the two. These are the opportunities to innovate in our own life by combining things together – mashing them up.
Focus. Lastly, we need to learn to focus in on the areas in which we have already worked toward creating a path. How can you hone your skills and find the best niche for your unique set of skills? We all have the potential to be experts in an area if we focus our path of learning and experience accordingly.
Regardless of where you are in the quest to create your own path, it is important to build upon the key meaningful experiences and resources you already have under your belt. To do this, we will focus on integrating the academic, the professional, and the personal to make the most of what those worlds have to offer. If you are a student, think about the ways in which you can take advantage of campus resources, programs, courses, student organizations, professors, and fellow students. In your career, think about the ways in which you can learn from leaders in the field, projects, online communities, assessments, professional development programs, associations, and co-workers. In your personal life, think about the ways you can network with mentors, friends, family, and people whose skills fill a gap in your knowledge. Utilize free tools like Google, YouTube, and social media to connect to new forms of learning and experience.
One of the first people to go through the Create Your Path experience was a young woman named Sarah-Marie. After the program, she came to me to ask if I knew anyone who could help her enact some of her ideas for experiences that would help her realize an intersection of her academic, professional, and personal vision. I connected her with some people, and within weeks, she had arranged an internship in Nepal. This goes to show that creating your own path by finding the cross section of your unique strengths, passionate interests, and values can bring rapid results if you take action on your vision. You don’t have to see the end of the path, but you do have to take a first step. The journey is more fun than the destination anyway.
This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample of the video here, see details on the full program at InnovateYourself.com, and see other programs, speeches, and more at DarinEich.com.