What Do You Notice?

I went to the Career Center exactly twice while I was an undergrad at university. This is in part because I’m a self-starter, but also because I found their advice to be a tad out-dated. Read: unhelpful.

The first time I went, it was freshman year. I wanted help putting together a resume for internships and summer jobs. The sum total of their advice could be found with a quick Google search for resume tips. Glad we paid them the big bucks!

The second time I wanted help preparing for an interview. Up until I applied for my current job, I’d been lucky enough to avoid the interview stage of job hunting. With part time jobs, it’s not uncommon to be hired on the spot, especially if you have a solid looking resume and a good handshake. But this was a full time gig in a law firm – granted a firm I already worked at – and I had zero interview experience to stand on. So I asked for help from those who advertised themselves as experts. In the end, I spent about two minutes talking about interviews and 45 on the importance of setting up a LinkedIn profile to attract employers. Super helpful, right? Not so much.

But there was one part of that conversation that stuck with me. Around all the head-shot tips and crafty phrases to describe my work experience, the career adviser asked me one important question: “When you look around, what do you see?”

To clarify, she didn’t mean that in a literal sense. What she meant was, when you’re looking around and taking everything in, what is it that stands out to you? What do you notice?

So I thought about it. What did I notice? And what do those things I notice say about me or about my future career?

I went to school in Washington, DC. Four days a week I walked from campus to my second job at a law firm and on those eight walks a week – four there, four back – I noticed things. Specifically I noticed the names on all the buildings, the people coming out of them, and the newspapers they carried. On my way to work I walked passed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and the White House. I noticed people speaking in various different languages, talking with their colleagues, and I noticed how the decisions made by those organizations (and a lot of other organizations in Washington) affected the world. Directly or indirectly, everything they did affected something, somewhere.

I studied political science, public policy, and history at university. And no matter how frustrating my professors or course assignments might be, I always loved the subject. But it took me a while to figure out why. Turns out, what I loved about it was the way that organizations and bureaucracies came together, fell apart, and made waves. I took classes in a lot of different subject areas, but I focused most exclusively on the U.S. and Europe from 1920 – 1980. Those sixty years brought dramatic change as the fall-outs from WWI, WWII and the Great Depression transformed governments and societies across both continents. I loved studying politics because I saw how the formation of different government organizations shaped the history of those years and laid the foundation for our modern society. And when I walked to work, passing all those important buildings, I noticed those same organizations that I’d studied about in class. I felt grateful for them because I understood that without them, nothing would quite be the same as it is.

If President Franklin D. Roosevelt hadn’t been elected to four terms, would we have the welfare programs and social security programs that so many underprivileged and senior members of our society rely on? Without President Eisenhower, would US schools still be segregated? Without the IMF would the Great Recession of 2007 have been another stock market collapse like in 1929? Without the World Bank, who would be there to lend aid to developing countries in need or times of crisis? If a Congress of men hadn’t come together in the summer of 1776, would the US still be a British colony?

This is what I notice about politics and about history: the organizations and groups of people who affect change and brought us to where we are today.

I don’t know if that was the Career Adviser’s intention. I don’t know if she meant for me to consider things on such a systemic level when she asked me what I saw. But I interpreted that for myself and there are things that I’ve come to realize over the last few years because of what she asked me.

I know I want to be a civil servant someday. I know I want to take whatever skills I have and use them, as a member of the governmental bureaucracy, to help my fellow citizens. I want to work for one of those organizations that helps keep my country ticking. It may not be a perfectly smooth functioning country all the time, but if I can do even the tiniest bit of work to help make it so, then I will.

And despite how incompetent the Career Center was in helping me prepare for my interviews or redrafting my resume, I’ll thank them for leading me to this bit of self discovery. It was actually kind of helpful.

So, Dear Readers, what do you notice?

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