Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reality vs. Opportunity in Careers: Find a Mentor

Recently I was reading a book about TV watching and children and I came across a chapter on the unrealistic portrayal of "real life" by TV shows. Shows like "Friends," "Seinfeld," and so-called reality shows are all guilty of this distortion; who hangs out socializing in a coffeeshop all day (and makes a living)? Who can afford an apartment in NYC and appear unemployed (Kramer), etc.?

TV is often an escapist fantasy for many of us, myself included. I admit to an occasional hit of "Seinfeld" reruns. If I want to be educated, I watch PBS or the Discovery Channel. But for many of us growing up, I do think there was and is a temptation to avoid the reality that in order to make a living, you must exchange your work for money. Let's face it - fun, pleasure seeking and instant gratification win out over the concept of "work."

To offset these distortions, we should hold up as examples work that is fun and rewarding, while recognizing that few if any people love every single task of their career. Even a movie star has to meet with lawyers to go over fine print in a contract. Or be asked the same questions about their new release over and over by reporters. The trick is to minimize those distasteful tasks; choosing a career that matches your personality and career path will help achieve that goal. Your overall enjoyment of the job will outweigh the occasional unpleasant task.

The other reality is that you need to work hard to achieve your career goals, meaning education or training of some kind and an entry level position - whether it's in your own start-up company or someone else's. Even professional athletes need to work out and start over with their fitness level after an injury.

Why do people resist accepting these realities? Shouldn't they see them instead as opportunities? Viewing the path from school to career as a journey of opportunity instead of a march to boredom might help - by showing more links between what is learned in school to actual jobs people might enjoy, and matching their career with their personality. By helping people see themselves fit into a career path that they control and own.

While clamoring for TV producers to create more positive, realistic shows will have little impact, serving as or finding mentors and role models will do much to dispel the negative or unrealistic portrayals of the working world. For me personally, mentors and role models were critical to my overcoming obstacles and unpleasant work in the course of my career. You have to see and identify with successful, happy people in a job to believe it can happen for you.

We have less security and more work hours but more freedom of choice and flexibility in our careers than our parents did. Perhaps if the world of work was framed in this more positive way, instead of a slog to obscurity and staleness, people might be more excited and motivated about their future.

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