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Facing your career crossroads: where dreams and reality meet.

Whenever I meet young people, my professional background as a career counselor drives me to inquire about their plans for the future. I am always impressed by their dreams, but I am also struck by how much distance there often is between their dreams and reality.

From the most successful to the most downtrodden, everyone has, or at one time in their life, had dreams. But some people are more likely to fulfill their dreams than others. An adage that I heard growing up--The road to hell is paved with good intentions--points to the fact that it requires more than intending or dreaming to become successful. Tevin Campbell in his hit song, "Tomorrow," reminds us that nothing comes from dreaming, but dreams, ... and the world just keeps going 'round and 'round."

Getting beyond dreams is essential when planning your career

I speak to a lot of students during freshman orientation. When I ask them about their major and their career aspirations, I hear so many impressive titles: I want to be a Systems Analyst; a Surgeon; a Marine Biologist; a Psychiatric Social Worker, "I want to work with Virtual Reality." One student wrote his career objective: I want to be an architeck!

By sophomore year, some of these students are already confronting the virtual reality" that they do not have the necessary academic foundation or drive to pursue the field that they have dreamed about. "Wannabe's" are in great abundance on college campuses. They are distinguishable by their false claims and their tendency to try to catch on to success by riding on someone else's coattails. They are operating under the illusion that to just dream about or to "wannabe" successful in a career is all that is required. The truth is, turning career dreams into reality begins with a dream, but ends with a deadline date for accomplishment.

If you dream about being a surgeon, you must get very, very concrete with your career plans. You must decide whether it will be to your advantage to be in a pre-med program or simply to take a strong liberal arts program with an emphasis in science. You must find out what the undergraduate academic requirements are; you must carefully map out your course of study. You may wish to do an internship in a hospital or clinic to learn more about your field. You will want to join a pre-med club or society to associate with peers who have similar dreams and aspirations. You will need to understand that your four years of undergraduate study are only the beginning of your academic program. And you must set a date to complete undergraduate work, so that you can proceed with the next steps to fulfilling your dream--in this case, applying to and gaining admission to medical school. These are only a few of the steps needed to realize the dream of becoming a surgeon. For nothing comes from dreaming, but dreams.

But Martin Luther King had dreams. So did Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and many other shining examples of African-American leadership and accomplishment. Dreaming or envisioning is a very effective first step in achieving your goals or in getting what you want out of life. Successful athletes will tell you that they dream and actually envision themselves winning at whatever game they are playing. For example, Michael Jordan, in his motivational sport's video "Michael Jordan's Playground," confides: "You must trust that your hard work and practice have paid off. When I go for a dunk, I can see myself dunking the ball. I take it right to them. If they cut me off, I improvise. If I see an opening, I don't hesitate. I just attack the basket, because when I take off, I feel that no one can stop me." And Michael is right. That kind of vision, that kind of focus, that kin of drive is unbeatable in a career or in life.

So it is important to have dreams and to fantasize about how you will feel when you realize them. My daughter wanted a convertible Miata, but she had an existing car note, and some major bills and could not initially see her way clear to getting that car. But her dreams propelled her forward. She could see herself in that car. She could describe it vividly. She said she could actually feel the wind in her hair. She reminded me that she had a goal and that Nikki Giovanni says, "Never surround yourself with people who don't have dreams." So she made me see her dream, too. Having positive people around you who believe in you helps you to self-actualize. They begin to picture you in your dream. They help you to visualize it. They challenge you to be true to it. They are the wind at your back to help you realize your goals.

But just as with any other kind of goal or dream, there is a check point or crossroads where dreams and reality converge. Wishing and dreaming alone will not make them converge. To achieve life goals, you must eliminate the distance between dreams and reality. To do this you have to know how wide is that distance, how long is that distance, and what concrete steps must be taken to cause dreams to convert to reality.

Let's look at my daughter wanting to buy that fully equipped black convertible Miata and see what she had to do and how that relates to your career planning.

1. She did her homework. She had to fully research the car in order to get the best package price for her dollars.

2. She had to develop a concrete plan of action for paying off her bills and for saving for her down payment.

3. She had to be patient and flexible. There was considerable distance between her dream and her reality. Often she had to modify her strategy to deal with temporary challenges.

4. She had to remain focused, to avoid distractions and incentives to spend money that she knew she had to save.

5. She had to be extremely disciplined for a number of months.

6. She had to delay short-term gratification for a more long-term result.

7. She had to function with absolute certainty that she could fulfill her goals.

8. She sought to get positive reinforcement from friends and family. She did not allow anyone to be around her who would dissuade her from her goal.

9. She had to be willing to take the risk. She had to understand that she was accumulating more debt and more responsibility in buying a sports car. She had to analyze the positive and negative consequences of her actions and forge ahead.

10. And finally, at a certain point she had to seize the moment and act decisively. The best deal on her car came suddenly, two months before she had planned to get it. But she had worked considerable overtime hours and when she assessed her situation she had the necessary resources to achieve her goal. She got that Miata!

Now how does this relate to you and your career plans? Well, the same strategies apply, What are your career aspirations? What are your life goals? To achieve them, you must begin now to get beyond talk and dreams. You, too, must follow this 10-step process.

1. You must do your career homework: analyze your interests, skills, abilities, and achievements. Relate them to career areas where such interests, abilities, and achievements are valued. Get concrete, indepth information about a range of career fields that you have heard about that are of interest to you. But don't stop there. Look around in your community and see if you can identify three or four successful people who are in career fields that you know absolutely nothing about. Your main task is to find out about the numerous career fields where there are increasing--not decreasing--opportunities for the future. If you are still undecided, you must begin doing even more career homework. The career placement office at your college or university is a excellent resource to help you with personal self-assessment and career exploration.

2. You must become career-directed early. According to Alan Farnam in an article in the July '93 Issue of Fortune magazine, you need to begin searching for your career even as early as your freshman year. "This year's happiest grids started looking for work early, in many cases, years ago," he observes. Being career-directed means starting to plan your academic program to support your career aspirations. It means finding work related to your major when seeking summer or part-time work. It means pursuing extra-curricular and leadership opportunities that compliment your career portfolio.

3. And, you must develop 21st century skills to be truly career complete. Remember that you will be seeking professional employment as a college graduate in an increasingly complex, highly technological workforce, where computer and analytical, problem-solving skills are essential. So do not shy away from these areas of study, even if you do not major in them.

One very talented English/journalism major was very dismayed to find that she lost out on an excellent journalism position because she had no practical skills working with Windows or Microsoft Word. She didn't even know the meaning of these words and could not fake it in the interview. However, her competitor did know, and won the prized position.

4. You must get direct experience in your chosen field. This should be done while still in college, either through cooperative education programs, internships, or volunteerism. Remember, in order to reduce the distance between dreams and reality, you must have concrete experiences and specific steps that will insure that you reach your goal. Do not approach this casually. If you do your career homework casually, your career will be a casualty. Actual work experience in your chosen field prepares you for a highly competitive job market.

5. You must know the realities of the work environment and develop appropriate strategies to rise above any obstacles. For example, a student who co-oped in a sales position found that she had real difficulty working her sales territory effectively because she didn't manage her time well. She discussed the problem with her manager and the company arranged for her to attend a time management workshop. The skills she learned were not only useful in helping her to better manage her time at work, but they helped her to better manage her academic time demands also. When she returned to her co-op sales position in her junior year, she had mastered time management, and she had also made the Dean's List. Shortly after obtaining a salesperson of the month award in her co-op assignment she was offered a permanent position with the company, some 10 months before completing her college degree, while her peers were still engaged in on-campus interviewing.

6. Make career connections: Attend career fairs, employer information sessions, and shadow days or company tours for students. Network with faculty, especially those who have received research grants or funded study from corporations. They are frequently sought out to recommend talented students or outstanding employment opportunities. This is especially true of African-American faculty and staff, and you should make certain that your name is in their grapevine.

7. Don't wait to be chosen. Make a priority list of employers that you most want to work for--both large and small firms or organizations. Seek them out. Send them your credentials. Let them know that out of the hundreds of employers you might have considered, you chose them, and tell them why. Be convincing about your desire to work for that company and what you have to offer. Sell not only your capabilities, but the extensive work you have done in matching your skills and interests to this particular company. Emphasize relevant work especially in the organization or in a closely related one.

8. Strengthen your weaker assets. A wider repertoire of skills is always attractive to prospective employers. Learn a second language. Write articles for publication. Learn more about computers. Travel or study abroad. Join a debate club.

9. Learn to say no. Use self-discipline. Delay short-term gains for long-term accomplishments, and be unrelenting in pursuing your dreams.

10. Be prepared to act decisively. When offered a position, you will be expected to respond decisively in a relatively short period of time. So be prepared. Know what you want. Read about how to negotiate salary and benefits. Again, do your homework by comparing salary offers and any signing bonuses or relocation reimbursements that may have been offered. This kind of information is readily available in your college placement office. Set some personal expectations regarding the most desirable job for you and the most desirable job offer. Knowing what you want is the first step to obtaining it.

There is a saying frequently used by career-planning professionals, "If you don't know where you are going, any place you end up will do." So you really must have a strategic career plan, and get first-hand knowledge of your chosen field to be sure that there is an excellent match between your expectations and the actual work experience. Once you have done this, you have moved well beyond your career crossroads and are on the road to career fulfillment.

Remember the most successful people are those who know where dreams and reality converge. They have done the necessary advance work to prepare themselves and to eliminate any distance between their dreams and reality. They have been bold in following and actualizing their dreams. The happiest of people at work are those who are doing what they like to do, doing what they planned to do, and doing it well.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Parker, Linda Bates
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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