The careers of many successful individuals are represented in some regard by the following paradigm: Go to high school. Work hard in high school to get into a most respectable college. Work hard in college to land esteemed internships. Using well-built resume, land esteemed job or entrance into esteemed graduate school. If job, work. If graduate school, graduate, then work. This pattern succeeds in that with the proper inputs of ambition, work ethic, and luck, it outputs a well-rounded engineer with a respectable salary and a bright future.
This paradigm is deeply flawed. Students in this system waste their time always pushing towards future, socially mainstream goals rather than pursuing their own dreams. Striving for distant plans often requires us to meet others’ expectations rather than our own. Though often the path of least resistance, appeasing others produces unsatisfied individuals who make tangible sacrifices for little gain in areas they find meaningful.
I can’t criticize others without first acknowledging my own guilt. My high school branch of National Honor Society could have been named “Volunteer or your resume won’t look good enough to get into college”. I volunteered, and here I am, but the resume-building didn’t stop there.
Last summer, I was offered an internship position at an esteemed company. The only caveats were that I’d have to program computer graphics in a language nobody uses, and I’d have to turn down a position at a summer camp that I was excited about.
At the time, the decision was obvious: I worked for Westinghouse Electric, the largest technical employer in the United States.
Nobody would care if I worked at a summer camp for two years in a row, but if I had a manager that could say I was a respectable worker, I’d be worth something. I valued my resume and recommendations over my own interests, passions, and desires. This is fundamentally wrong. This flawed reasoning, and the realization that I never wanted to repeat it, is the most valuable bit of knowledge I’ve taken from my experience as an intern.
Searching for jobs this summer, I took an entirely different approach. I first pointed myself in a direction that excited me, then picked a subset that I thought had worth to society: the sustainable agriculture movement.
Next came the hard part, finding a job. Internships are most often sought through supply side economics, which play out as follows in students’ heads. “It’s time to find a job. Let me see what is available and apply to the most interesting options. I’ll accept the offer that excites me most.” At times, interests align and happy employees result. Alternatively, applicants will take an undesired position “because it is a job”, setting the stage for minimal satisfaction.
Finding work on a farm was fundamentally different. Because no farms came to me actively seeking help, and because there were no social expectations in this field of work, I had the freedom to find my ideal position.
It was far simpler to let someone come to me offering employment. However, working harder to find a job that excited me has been well worth the effort.
I will be working as a farmer in the mountains of Colorado this summer. I couldn’t be more thrilled, and I’d love to tell you about it.
And what’s more, I’d love to tell future employers of how my experiences give me insight that sets me apart from all other applicants.
Aligning my work with my passions seems to be the ultimate resume-builder for employment down the road after all. And even if I’m wrong, even if it doesn’t land me a dream job later on, I will have spent three months passionately working towards admirable goals in an exciting field.