Written by Kimberly Young, Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Mary Washington.
When I was a child, my mom practically forced me to have a collection. I remember riding in the car with her one day when out of the blue, she asked me what kind of collection I wanted. In my 7 year old brain, I couldn’t figure out why she thought having a collection was so important, let alone what a collection actually was. When I asked her what she meant, she said, “A collection, you know, a grouping of things that go together but you find in different places. It could be stamps, coins, or anything.” She was so excited that I didn’t have the heart to tell her what I really thought about this idea, so I asked, “mom, why?” What she told me has stuck with me from then until now. She said that collecting things would help me to connect to the places that I go and see in a different way. It would help me to find commonalities in seemingly different experiences. It would draw me into places as I searched to see if they had one more of the things that I collect, or the missing piece in a series that I’d started. And if that wasn’t enough, when I’m older she said, I’ll have these mementos to reflect on. It would be a reminder of the fun things I did and the places I got to see. I have never been (and still am not) into “stuff” especially the kind of stuff that collects dust on shelves, but this idea of finding things that go together in different places was intriguing.
As an adult and after completing graduate school, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. While I didn’t have a specific name for my dream job, I had a few ideas about what the role would include. I knew that I wanted to work with creative people, I wanted to practice my new-found marketing skillset, and I wanted to continue to travel. Knowing these attributes helped me to be really clear in my interviews and ultimately helped me to land my next job as a marketing director. As I moved into the next two jobs in my career, each was quite different from the previous but there was a pattern. Each time I began to look for a new opportunity, I thought about my collection. In this case, it wasn’t miniature cookie sheets or furniture, but it was a collection of experiences. By knowing the collection of experiences I wanted in my next career move, I was better able to identify what that role might be and where I might find it.
At one point, I knew that I wanted to work with smart people, own a budget, start something new, and I wanted to be in a position to make an impact in the community. That collection of experiences took me out of corporate marketing and into a university setting building a corporate training division within a business school. I had the opportunity to work with lots of companies across the city and throughout the region. I worked with faculty (check the box on smart people), and I built something that the community didn’t have prior to me joining the university. Talk about gratifying!
Now, whenever I coach or mentor others, my first question is, “what collection of experiences are you looking for in your next opportunity?” I’ve found that it’s a great place to start the conversation because it helps them to look at all of the different places they’ve been be it different functional positions or industries, and find the commonalities that connect them to their passions and skills.
If we do it right, this collection will become a career that we can look back on and remember all the places we went and the things we learned with fond memories and the satisfaction of knowing that we were able to grow and learn while collecting experiences that served our organizations, our community, and our desire to connect across the many different places we were fortunate enough to go.