Innovate a Career You Love

In January 2016, the Caltech Alumni Association sponsored an online webinar titled "Innovate a Career You Love." More than 100 alumni attended online to hear from career counselor Samantha Sutton, who has worked with folks at a wide range of businesses and organizations, including Stanford Medical Center, Google and Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology.

Whether you are considering a new career path, or looking to make your current one even better, here are five key takeaways from her webinar.

1. Boldly Explore

A wide world of opportunity exists. There may be many career paths you have never heard of, but that are nevertheless perfect for you. Put yourself out there. Tiptoe, jump, and leap past your comfort zone. Change is good and healthy. Learn, explore, and take risks.

2. Think Like an Engineer

Caltech graduates are scientists and engineers, but when it comes to planning your career, lean more upon the latter skill set.

Too many job seekers tend to think like observational scientists--examining the career environment. This approach can lead to over-analysis without engagement. For example, someone who is thinking about becoming a professor might form a hypothesis: "becoming a tenured professor is pretty much impossible." She tests that hypothesis by gathering data; she sees that post-doctoral students in her lab are having a hard time finding professor positions, and that Congress is liable to cut funding to the NIH. The hypothesis holds up to a point--so she might draw a conclusion: "it is not a good idea to become a professor."

Engineers, on the other hand, seek to build solutions. Your goal is to build the path to what you want to happen. If you want to become a professor, and that path presents obstacles, then you can engineer solutions to make it happen. Work on reframing your strengths and weaknesses, expand your network of personal and professional contacts, and cut through any defeatist attitudes.

Observe your career environment like a scientist, then construct your career solutions like an engineer.

3. Envision What You Want

Take a moment to write down your career vision. If you could have any career you wanted, what would it be? If you are contemplating several careers, choose one and write down your vision for it. Here's a summary of a vision statement from a client who accepted a professor job:

I would perform my job according to expectations, write a list of short- and long-term goals, and develop a plan to meet them. I would apply for lots of grants and get them. I would create a successful and innovative research program, always appear unruffled and be a wellspring of ideas. My students would respect me, and I would not need to motivate them. I would say 'no' easily to potential distractions and balance my job well with my professional life.

If your vision sounds like this, you might have a problem. This vision is overly cautious and concerned about risk and how to limit it. Instead, think about the impact you want to make. Write in present tense, and go all out. If you want to appear on NPR as part of the career you innovate, put that in your vision.

4. Do You

When you write your vision and begin innovating your career, play to your strengths, not to your best friend's strengths, not to your mother's strengths--your own. Capitalize on your assets, and focus on things you are good at and that you enjoy.

5. Troubleshoot Your Mental Mosquitoes

People grapple with five common mental mosquitoes: pleasing others/selling out, burnout, overanalysis, crushing fear, and breaking promises to themselves. It is important to identify your mental mosquitoes so you can address and overcome them.

Are you ready to hear more? Listen to the full presentation on YouTube!

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