As another semester comes to a close, and as we gear up for those last few weeks of 2017 and start to scribble down our 2018 resolutions, I invite you to take a minute to reflect.
How are you seeking opportunities through your formal education to gain a competitive edge? How are you finding a connection to your own professional purpose? Are your answers to these questions the same? They can be.
The reality is that we were not meant to go from classroom to office, from one controlled environment to the next. When we hop from a bubble to an even bigger bubble, we run the risk of robbing ourselves of transformative experiences. After all, 71% of the workforce is currently not engaged in their jobs. What we are finding is that from a more practical, career-driven perspective, we can’t afford not to immerse ourselves. Companies are becoming increasingly global, ethically-driven and entrepreneurial, and there is a call to action for us to train a workforce that is self-sufficient, ambitious, gritty, and dynamic.
Enter experiential learning.
Not convinced yet? Here are my top 5 reasons to get immersed (no matter where you are in your education or career). The best news is that each of these can lead to stronger career competencies and a greater connection to meaningful work:
- Tangible, project-based accomplishments matter.
Did you know that only 11 percent of business leaders and 14 percent of the general public feel strongly that college graduates have the skills needed for success in the workplace? Ultimately, it’s not just about having something to add to a portfolio. Taking on immersive, project-based internships provides an avenue to gain those golden skill sets that are more difficult to get in the traditional 9-5 office internships. Creative control, decision-making capability, knowledge of risk-taking and responsibility delegation are just a small selection of the many soft skills gained through experiential opportunities. Each of us is on the track to leadership. We are going to be called upon to solve problems and think critically. How are you taking charge of your professional development and making sure you get access to these real-life scenarios? Getting thrown in the deep end is the best way to accelerate your learning and move ahead of the curve.
- Forming and joining strong, purpose-driven communities is one of the most important choices you can make.
Zach Mercurio, a friend and author of The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose states,
“The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make when trying to awaken their purpose is that they focus too much on themselves. Ironically, if it weren’t for other people, you’d have no real purpose or reason for existing at all. Constantly thinking about and reminding yourself how what you do every day helps others can transform your life.”
Immersive experiences help us understand our place in the world, where we belong, and ultimately, what we have to give back. We need to step outside of what we have known so that we understand how everything fits together. Why do we always tend to place volunteer work, or efforts towards a cause, in its own little box off to the side? Immersion enables us to merge our big hearts with our sharpest skills to create sustainable impact. This is a powerful tool and will make us adaptable, relatable, and driven towards creating lasting change. Additionally, as business becomes increasingly global, how are you cultivating your collaboration and communication skills? We all need to practice cross-disciplinary partnering. From a strategic, career-growth standpoint, everything is about who you know and who you meet. It follows, then, that reaching beyond your inner circle to increase your impact is what will differentiate you from the person next to you.
- We owe it to ourselves to create the space to explore.
The idea that 18, 22, or 25-year-olds should be committing to a profession is unreasonable. Where have we built in the time to just engage on a personal quest? To reflect on who we are and who we want to be? To, dare I say it, not know where we are going and discover a path by walking it? We are in such a rush to get to where we want to be that we don’t even consider that there are thousands of ways to do it. What about living on a ranch for a summer? Backpacking around Asia? Deciding to work for a coffee roaster in Central America? Where is the unstructured space for self-discovery? The reality is that it isn’t given to us in the U.S., for the most part. We have to claim it back. We have to carve it out. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until retirement to start living. Awe-inspiring experiences have their place, and can lead to creative thought, dynamic perspectives, and ultimately, unique solution-building.
- Cultivating lifelong learning and a strong work ethic will take you far in life.
In a paper published by NACE and written by Matthew T. Hora, which outlines emerging trends in workplace preparedness, there is an approach discussed called “habits of mind.” Viewing career competencies as bundled, rather than as stand-alone skills, job success depends on cultivated patterns of thinking, behaving and problem-solving. We need to seek out unfamiliar experiences that are driven by our own internal motivations and desire to boost our development. In doing so, we are targeting crucial inter- and intra-personal competencies. That’s a far cry from traditional approaches based on gaining “a la carte” skills through internships. Additionally, NACE found that 69 percent of surveyed employers seek evidence of job applicants’ work ethic, making it the most essential career competency. You know that you have grit and determination, but is that expressed on your resume? Knowing more makes us more interesting, exposes us to new industries and ways of being, and creates a more well-rounded approach to life. You owe it to you (and future you) to invest in something fully.
- The space of discomfort finally becomes comfortable, and that’s a secret weapon.
Whether you are getting your hands dirty on a farm for the first time, or trying to navigate through a new city where you don’t speak the language, there’s no way around it: immersion is uncomfortable. Discomfort is the exciting byproduct of betterment. You will fail, more than once, and at more than one thing. In addition to the satisfaction that eventually comes from surviving and thriving in foreign situations, I would argue that we become permanently altered. And it is that shift which creates a strong competitive edge in any industry. We are suddenly able to remain nimble and completely open to new challenges. Most importantly, we can exist in that space of discomfort for longer, confident that our tried and true strengths will carry us the rest of the way. We can be more compassionate when others stumble. We are able to push ourselves harder. We can remain clear-headed in a crisis. We can devise wise solutions based on our robust base of experience. Fair warning, this takes practice and we need to consistently remove the cloak of comfort to get there. I will go on the record for saying that this is the single best part of immersion, and the single most valuable life skill. Enjoy it.