This blog was the basis for my presentation today at Welcome to the majors. Thanks to all of you who attended!
I was supposed to be an Engineer. Like so many college-bound students most of my career advice came from a parent. Given my generally good grades in high school and father’s career in the oil patch working alongside lots and lots of engineers, he figured his kid could be a good engineer. Unfortunately poor study skills, an attraction to distractions, and the fact that nothing bored me more than math meant I would never be an engineer.
I could write a whole book on why parents are the world’s worst career advisors. Blinded by love and their own missed life opportunities, parents generally tell their kids what THEY would do if they could do it over, not what the kid should do given their own interests, skills and limitations. My whole gig is to help students with career choices and I suck at helping my kid make a well-informed career choice. He wants to design video games and I want to help him achieve that dream. Despite the fact that ALL 18 year old boys want to design video games. Doesn’t matter, mine will make it! He’ll also be a rock star because he plays guitar and sings. Oh, and he’s really cute…and funny! But that’s not what I’m here to talk about…
I want to talk about math. Yes, I suck at math. But I also appreciate it. Why? There’s always a right answer. In the liberal arts you can always interpret what Hester Prynne’s big red “A” actually stood for. Even in my old stomping grounds of Human Resources you can operate in various shades of gray. But math is finite. So if you are an Engineer, there’s no partial credit. The building either stands or it falls. If it falls you get an F. If it stands you get an A. Accountants are the closest thing we have in the College of Business to Engineers. Debits and credits can be black or white. Start getting creative and you end up in a small cell with a greaseball who cheated old people out of their retirements. Answers are either right or wrong.
It’s with this idea in mind that I issue this warning to students who will begin taking the Career Professionalism classes this Fall. We’ll have books to read and lectures to attend. You’ll do research and assignments and watch videos. You’ll even take quizzes and exams. However, you can bust your butt focusing on getting answers right, and completely miss out on getting the right answer.
The classes are designed to help you figure out a career path and do what needs to be done to either secure an entry-level job or grow the job you’re already in. I’m going to push you to do a lot of stuff that flies in the face of what you’ve experienced the last 14 years. The last time most of you just got to explore, to think, to do stuff that just made you experience was Kindergarten. After that came more structured curricula designed to ensure your performance on a standardized test. You learned that you were supposed to get the answers right.
In my mind, this kind of learning can go bad in two ways. First is the over-achiever. You’ve always made A’s. You want to make A’s in this class. You’ll read the books and take notes when we have lectures. Awesome! You’ll ask questions about concepts and argue relentlessly when you thought the answer was A, but it was actually B. Here’s a piece of information that will rock your world. Just because you get an A in this class doesn’t mean you will succeed in this class. You can recite Kirkpatrick’s Four-Level Training Model from rote memory (or the cards you bought from Study Cube) but can’t apply that model to a question asking how to train Bevis to use the fryer at Burger World. You will fail because you’ll just chase information without giving it context. Your context!
The other failure will be the slugs. You just want to be told an answer so you can barf it up on a test. You don’t care, you’re too cool to care, you think you already know this stuff, this class is beneath you, this class isn’t “in your major,” you’re a pompous ass, you don’t understand, you don’t work well on your own, whatever. You watch all the lectures at once in the day(s) leading up to an exam and get mad when the professor doesn’t give you a study guide that tells you exactly what will be on the test. You don’t care about context because these classes are just tasks you have to check off on the way to graduation.
Despite the fact that one type of student sounds “smart” and the other not so much, both of them can get the answers right, but get the wrong answer. In other words, both can take all four classes and graduate without a job offer.
These classes will provide you with an opportunity to work as hard as you want exploring what you’ll do after leaving UCF. To get the answer right, you’ll have to read, go to lecture, and study. But to get the right answer you’ll have to let go of the pursuit of right and wrong answers. To be curious and invest time chasing information. To step out of what you’ve been doing for the last 14 grades and go back to Kindergarten. To read without highlighting, listen without evaluating, and ponder without memorizing. To lay in Mary Oliver’s meadow watching the grasshopper and ask, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?