The summer before my sophomore year of college, I sat in my childhood bedroom and prepared myself for what I viewed as a coming-of-age phenomenon. A rite of passage, if you will, falling somewhere between a 16th birthday and buying your first house. Grateful to be away from any wandering curious eyes in the campus library, I took a deep breath and hit the “join now” button on LinkedIn.
Arguably the most important component of college is figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I spent most of my first year of college simply trying to navigate my new environment — getting accustomed to college-level coursework and living on my own for the first time. I assumed my peers were doing the same.
Then I joined LinkedIn.
I can’t believe I used to think the fear of missing out from Instagram was bad. LinkedIn is infinitely worse.
Seeing what feels like everyone I went to high school with announcing their internships at Morgan Stanley flooded me with the distinct feeling of being left behind.
Having worked only service jobs in high school, I felt a massive gap between my prior work experience and what I viewed as the real world. Until then, the future had felt like a distant, fuzzy figure on the horizon, and all of a sudden it seemed that everyone around me was already there.
What had I been doing while my peers crafted seemingly perfect futures? Why was everyone’s profile expertly formulated, yet I hadn’t heard a word about it from a single friend? How, in the middle of a pandemic, would I begin to catch up?
What I didn’t know as I frantically Googled, “What is a cover letter,” is that plenty of people my age felt the same way.
When I settled down enough to actually read one of the emails from Lehigh’s Career Center, I came to the comforting realization that there is no recipe for career satisfaction. In fact, no one I know has it 100 percent figured out.
I believe college is supposed to be about not getting it right the first time. Now I apply that principle to my professional future as well.
Through conversations with friends and mentors, I no longer feel the suffocating pressure of a life plan. Instead, I’m confident enough in my studies and abilities to know what I bring to the table.
I think much of why I hadn’t had these conversations before is due to a culture of secrecy around career advancement. Maybe I’m missing some competitive gene, or maybe I’m just naive, but assuming we all want the same thing,—to live happy and fulfilled lives—wouldn’t it be so much easier to just help each other get there?
Now, I treat every application as practice and every “failed” interview as a learning experience. I find comfort in knowing that my path is my own, and that I may wake up in 50 years and laugh at the life 20-year-old me thought I wanted.
Currently I’m just grateful to be able to have the opportunity to study what I love. For right now, that’s enough for me.
Also, the reality is that access to professional positions is not as equitable as we may wish it to be. Not everyone has the luxury of working an unpaid internship for the sake of experience, and connections continue to play a significant role in the hiring process.
It’s important to acknowledge these factors when we’re stalking classmate’s LinkedIn pages, and to respect each other enough to refrain from judgement.
We’re all doing the best we can.