Editor’s note: One of my favorite volunteer activities for the past decade has been to occasionally meet with women who are studying (or preparing to study) business in college. Last night I attended a Women in Business dinner where I had the privilege of interacting at a table with bright, talented students who had great questions. I wish we could have had more time to discuss them. In this post, I share some of my post-dinner decompress thoughts — some things I wish I could have said had we had more time. I hope perhaps the thoughts might be helpful to other college students as well.
Dear Women in Business students,
It was a delight to visit with you. I do wish we’d had more time to talk. You asked such honest and valuable questions. I hope you’ll keep asking those kinds of questions every chance you get. Talking with many different people can help you find helpful patterns of advice that can help you in this short-range time while you are students, and as you prepare for your lives after college. Not all advice you will get will be right for you, so trust that you’ll figure out what is right for you! (More on that below.)
Here are a few more thoughts on some of the topics we discussed.
In addition to the thought to open as many doors as you can (to look for opportunities with big-name organizations as well as other smaller firms), I wanted to add that there are more things you can do to get exposure to different jobs and experience in different professional settings. I’m an advocate of being creative.
– Ask to shadow someone in their job, or to interview them about what they do.
– Volunteer for an hour or two a week to help a company with something they might need help with. Even just being inside an organization can help you gain insights into what you like, how different companies work, what kinds of business cultures and missions gel with your personality and interests.
– Look outside your college’s resources. Network. Talk to everyone you know to find out if there is an internship opportunity of which they might be aware.
– If there is a company that is really capturing your interest, consider taking the initiative to ask them if they would be willing to consider an internship. If they don’t have the funds, talk to the internship office to see about the possibility of getting credit.
– Think beyond just summer internships. There are companies who need help during other times of the year, AND there is less competition at other times of the year. It’s sometimes possible to do a sabbatical from studies for a semester while you work. Or you could consider doing something on the side while you are in school. I know school is incredibly stressful, but be careful about letting it take all of your energy and focus.
– Network to give, not just to receive. We often think about networking as finding people to add to our network who can help us. But networking is really about building relationships. Yes, you are going to have those times when you get a business card or connect with someone on LinkedIn or Facebook just because they have a title after their name. But the connections that will make a difference are those where you take a little time to get to know them, AND be willing to take some time to think of ways you might be able to help them. The bigger your network, the more potential good you can do for others, connecting them with people you might know who would be able to help them in their world.
– Connect with the student chapter of the Management Society, and then stay connected after you graduate. Take advantage of networking organizations and opportunities along the way in your field of interest in a way that works for you.
– Be smart about your use of social media. It’s so easy to get pulled into silly games or mindless commenting. If you have a Facebook account, remember that what you say and how you use these tools reflect on who you are. Before you text or Tweet or post or Instagram, practice the rule of never posting anything you wouldn’t want the world (or a future employer) to see. Privacy settings notwithstanding, once we put something out there, it’s out there and we don’t have control over it.
– Be courageous. Open your mouth. Start conversations. It takes practice, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Again, don’t just wait for the opportunities created for you at school. Create them yourself in everyday conversations and in creative, proactive ways.
– Find a mentor. Go beyond whatever you may have to do for school. It’s wise to seek mentors throughout every stage of your life. If you are going on a mission, find a returned missionary who can help you prepare. If you are preparing for an internship, find someone in that field who can help you learn some of the ropes. If you aren’t sure what you want to focus on in your studies and practical experience, find someone who can be a good general mentor.
– For more tips on networking, see this Women in Business Conference follow-up post.
Work/Personal Life Balance
There is already so much written about this topic, and I already shared what to me is most important — keeping priorities in place (don’t let the highest priority things always get the dregs of your day and your life), and seeking God’s guidance each day each situation (because sometimes one thing will take priority one day and it could be completely different another day). I wanted to add a couple more thoughts:
– There are times and seasons in life. You’ll face daily decisions, but you’ll likely face seasons in your life, too. Don’t be afraid to embrace those seasons. For example, right now [many of] you are single. Embrace the opportunities (and learning experiences and challenges) that come with that. When and if you marry and have children, the mix of opportunities and challenges will change. Lean into each season and learn to love it. Learn what it has to teach you about you, others, life and God.
– Don’t. Compare. Even within general “categories” we sometimes use in our women-and-work dialogue (“stay-at-home mom” or “working mom,” for example), there is SO much variety in how women’s lives unfold and function. When making decisions, look inward and upward, not sideways. Yes, talk and learn from others, but please don’t compare. A quote from Elder Scott comes to mind:
Throughout the ages, many have obtained guidance helpful to resolve challenges in their lives by following the example of respected individuals who resolved similar problems. Today, world conditions change so rapidly that such a course of action is often not available to us.
Personally, I rejoice in that reality because it creates a condition where we, of necessity, are more dependent upon the Spirit to guide us through the vicissitudes of life. Therefore, we are led to seek personal inspiration in life’s important decisions.
That leads me to the last thing I’ll write about here.
I had forgotten about this article until late last night. I really like how Professor Hurley addresses the particular tensions Mormon women can face as they make career decisions.
In addition, years ago when I did a presentation for a Women’s Services career night, I used a quote from John H. Groberg, and it’s always been one I like sharing with youth and young adults as they face major decisions in their lives. I share that below. But first, a couple of short thoughts on this topic.
– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. No, I’m not suggesting go out and commit sin. Those aren’t the kinds of mistakes I’m talking about (although the Atonement, of course, is there when we make sinful mistakes). But I remember during my young adult years sometimes being paralyzed with fear. I was afraid that as I was wrestling with things like what to major in, where to live, what classes to take, what emphasis to have, etc. I would sometimes feel the weight of the world, as though somehow if I made even the slightest mistake, I would eternally Mess Up My Life. The quote from Elder Groberg expresses many of my thoughts, but as I drove home from the dinner last night, I was reminded again through the Spirit how much God had been there every step along the way, and how even as I wrestled and wondered (and changed my mind — I didn’t tell you how it took me two years to declare a major!), as I kept moving my feet, God guided them. And the miracles that I can see looking back? Wow.
Stay close to God, but don’t be afraid of the messiness of the journey that He allows us to take. Sometimes He’ll let you wrestle without necessarily showing you exactly what to do right then. Elder Scott talks about that, too. But as you seek to stay close to Him — keep your relationship with Him as your first priority — you’ll be amazed at how things will end up unfolding over time. Be patient with yourself and the process.
– And again, please don’t compare your life or your situation or your choices to others’!
Here’s the quote. It’s is older than most of you, but to me it’s timeless counsel. After talking about Doctrine and Covenants 9, Elder Groberg talks about the problem that can come when we don’t move our feet while waiting for direction from God.
Many people say, “I am not going to move because I do not have that burning in my bosom. I am not positive about this, that, or the other . . . .” Too often we want to be positive about everything. We feel that we need to have this burning all the time. Often people say, “I am confused. I don’t know what to do”—and so they end up treading water and not doing anything, not making any real progress….
So then he gives a really nice perspective on decision-making that captures what I was trying to share, but he does it with such clarity.
In the past I have tried out whether I should go into business or into teaching or into the arts or whatever. As I have begun to proceed along one path, having more or less gathered what facts I could, I have found that if that decision was wrong or was taking me down the wrong path—not necessarily an evil one, but one that was not right for me—without fail, the Lord has always let me know just this emphatically: “That is wrong; do not go that way. That is not for you!”
On the other hand, there may have been two or three ways that I could have gone, any one of which would have been right and would have been in the general area providing the experience and means whereby I could fulfill the mission that the Lord had in mind for me. Because he knows we need the growth, he generally does not point and say, “Open that door and go twelve yards in that direction; then turn right and go two miles . . . ” But if it is wrong, he will let us know—we will feel it for sure. I am positive of that. So rather than saying, “I will not move until I have this burning in my heart,” let us turn it around and say, “I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.” By eliminating all of these wrong courses, very quickly you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going, and then you can receive the assurance: “Yes, I am going in the right direction. I am doing what my Father in Heaven wants me to do because I am not doing the things he does not want me to do.” And you can know that for sure. That is part of the growth process and part of accomplishing what our Father in Heaven has in mind for us.
This has been my experience. I’ve tried different things along the way. For example, I tried my hand several years ago at a small business. Right as I was getting ready to launch, I realized that it was not the right thing for me. I could feel that were I to launch, my young children would get the dregs of my life. (I had already been too distracted even creating the business idea.) I have made and do make mistakes in smaller decisions, too. But time and time again, God helps me see where I can do better, and He also lets me take steps and learn along the way, sometimes even the hard way.
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I know this can sometimes be a very stressful time of your life. It’s an incredibly important time in your life. But it’s also an exciting time. I hope in the midst of the uncertainty and stress, you can also come to enjoy the journey.
Feel free to email me at mormonwomen a/ gmail d/ com.