Want to get 50% less out of your summer job? Skip this step

Lison Zhao on Unsplash

I hosted a barbecue last week for a group I’m a part of. I was lucky to have lots of help from my family, my husband on the grill and the girls walking around offering appetizers and filling drinks. My daughters enjoy all the accolades and get to hear some of the adult conversation – which they pretty quickly decide isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

After the last guest left, I went upstairs to say good night to my daughters. The guests, all women exceedingly accomplished in their careers, had imparted on my girls some of the career advice they no doubt would have liked to hear at their age. One of my daughters was all abuzz with the career ideas about what she could do with her love of cooking and sports and the positive reinforcement that she can be whatever she wants to be. And to be sure to set her sights high. It was clear her mind was popping with ideas; so much for getting her to calm down before bed. The other sighed when I walked in her room, and when I asked her why, she said ‘I’m tired of all the questions. I just want to read.’

They’re twins – so as is often the case, they were in exactly the same environment. But they’re hardly identical, so what one found energizing, the other found exhausting. Outwardly, they were both polite, smiling and helpful but their internal experiences were oh so different. And therein lies the power of reflecting.

Connecting the dots in the rearview mirror

I learned this lesson as I’ve learned many others – by getting it wrong first. Countless times I’ve made the mistake of not pausing to consider whether an experience, a job or an interaction lit me up or left me depleted. If I’d done so, I might have connected the dots between enjoying my high school catering job and eventual interest in sales and business development. Both involved meeting with an array of personalities, convincing them of a particular course of action and quick thinking. If I’d done so, I might have recognized that my interest in learning languages has at its root an interest in what makes people tick and is what has drawn me to leadership experiences throughout my career. If I’d done so, I might have realized that my dreaded summer spent working in a bankruptcy department was tied to how easily bored I am and that I’d be doomed in any job dominated by repetitive tasks. And so on.

As I said goodbye to a friend’s daughter headed back to college, her two letter response of ‘OK” to my question about how her internship was reminded me that as parents, managers and all of us rooting for the success of future leaders, a great back to school gift can be reminding young adults to reflect on their summer jobs and experiences and help them put their learnings into some context. Plus it’s super easy to wrap. It’s helpful to know if a job or other opportunity was a good fit or not – in fact there’s often more to learn from what’s in the ‘not’ category. It’s even more useful to understand why your experience was what it was and ideally connect the dots to when else that may have been true. For me, I’ve often found that the perspective of someone else is invaluable in helping me make sense of the why.

As I closed my daughter’s door and noticed her nose happily stuck in her book, I was glad that at ten, she’s not caught up in feeling like she ‘should’ want to be in the midst of it all. As we enter the work world though there are all sorts of subtle messages about the preferences and styles that are deemed to be best. But forging a career path that works for each of us is all about tuning into all of the clues along the way. There’s no time like the present to start.

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