The beginning of a new academic year brings with it many emotions. Excitement for new experiences and opportunities. Anxiety about difficult classes and balancing priorities. Hope for the growth of our minds, bodies, and spirits.

A lot of these emotions bubble up when we think about our careers. I say “we” because I feel the same way! We all do. Careers evolve and change. We are never done learning, growing, and considering what life has for us next. Maybe that statement alone is comforting or maybe it is anxiety-inducing. Either way, it’s true.

The key to finding meaningful work at whatever point you seek it is to be open to opportunities. Your liberal arts education at Puget Sound is forming you into a malleable citizen ready for the world to present options. The world needs thinkers and doers to make it the best possible. Thinkers and doers like you.

This academic year is an opportunity to take some steps toward that meaningful work I mentioned. Whether it’s a part-time job, classroom projects, research with a professor, or volunteer work with a Tacoma non-profit, these experiences are steps in the right direction. Any direction!

These extra-curricular experiences add more than just money in your pocket or an item on your resume, including the opportunity to:

Try something new.
Any time you try something new, you learn about yourself. Did you like doing it? Did it feel rewarding? Would you like to do it again?

I’ve always thought about coaching basketball, but had never formally done it until this past winter when a friend at the YMCA asked if I wanted to coach a 5th and 6th grade team. It was different than I expected. Assessing skills and planning practices accordingly was more complicated than I thought. Working with a wide range of skill levels was very challenging. Winning that first game was WAY more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. I never would have learned these things without trying something new. 

Meet new people.
You never know who will help you get your next job. Because this is true, it’s important to meet people and make quality impressions on them. The person you volunteer with, the customer you help to find the right product at work, or the classmate you help better understand how to use Illustrator might be the connection to a friend or boss who’s looking for their next employee.

My cousin helped me get my first job. A friend of a graduate student I met at a conference helped me learn about my first job at Puget Sound. I never thought that those people would be the ones to help me, but they certainly did. They helped because they met me and knew I’d be a good person to introduce to a potential employer. Keep your eyes open and make sure people know you’re looking for an opportunity.

Learn about yourself.
What are you good at? What are you not good at? Do you like working in an office? Or would you rather do work that is more physically engaging? Are you partial to 8-5, or working nights and weekends?

I worked in restaurants during graduate school. I really enjoyed the working environment at my last restaurant, the people I worked with, and the teamwork to help each other do our jobs well. To make good money, though, I had to work nights and weekends while my friends were enjoying their time off from day jobs. Ever since then, I’ve sought out opportunities with more day-time, regular schedules because it’s important for me to have time for friends and family. Some jobs allow for this while others don’t. I learned that this is a priority of mine by experiencing the options firsthand.

This academic year, say “yes” to hands-on experiences. You may be surprised by how valuable they can be.

© 2018 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Author: Jake Nelko
Artwork: Kris Hay