Driving from Brooklyn to New Haven, it seemed that my career transition would be as easy as taking I-95 North on a Tuesday afternoon in August. Somewhere between Norwalk and Fairfield, going a smooth 65mph, I fantasized how business school was going to be a magical black box that would transform my professional identity from a nonprofit professional to a consultant. Just as rush hour hit, I arrived where I-95 and I-91 intersect (or rather, collide), and the traffic becomes the definition of a cluster fuck. Little did I know, that easy-breezy feeling would be deflated from more than my drive to New Haven.
Reality soon revealed that the black box contained, not a clear defined path, but an overabundance of choices all equally interesting. Things don’t go as smoothly as in the fantasy version of school. I was turned down for interviews at dream companies, and discovered that other “dream" companies would be a terrible fit. The growing uncertainty about what the “right” direction felt overwhelming at times, and I went through several waves of doubt: “Oh $h!t, will I be able to pull this transformation off? Can I compete with people who have more relevant experience than me? Am I business material? What am I doing with my life?”
I was going through an identity crisis as I tried to figure out how to bridge the gap between my professional background and who I wanted to become. To assuage my concerns I did the most rationale thing I could think of: I attended every student club meeting I could to search for answers. Club after club gave their spiel, each a little more forgettable than the last. Then I met the Design & Innovation (D&I) club, and approximately 14 seconds into the presentation I knew I found my tribe. D&I was just, well, different. Instead of promising a destination, "we’ll help you get a job in consulting / marketing / technology," they offered a journey, “we’ll learn design thinking together.” An exploration was exactly what I needed - sign me up.
Three illuminating sessions came from the D&I club:
The power of narrative: Two words: game changing. Our discussions on narrative helped me realized that the only thing that could control my professional identity and narrative, was me. My professional identity wasn’t constrained by my past work experience bullets on my resume. I realized I could draw from my non-professional past and personal motivations and interests to craft an authentic identity. Reframing my narrative opened my eyes to careers that I would have never considered before. And it’s a practice I continue today as I think about my professional identity post b-school.
Creativity has value beyond the arts: I always considered myself creative, and assumed this would be a stigma in business. D&I revealed that creativity is an asset in business. In fact, many skills, talents, and inclinations that are not traditionally associated with business are actually quite valuable in business. Finding that true motivation and seizing it was crucial in how I reshaped my professional identity.
See others as collaborators instead of competitors: It was a big life lesson to reframe how to perceive others: classmates weren’t competitors applying for the same internships. They were COLLABORATORS who I could support and who could help me through a journey of discovery, and in preparing for applications, interviews, and first days on the job. To this day, I see those around me as potential collaborators before I think of them as competitors … unless, of course, they are on the opposing team of the hockey rink.
Professional identity is dynamic, and I continue to craft and hone my identity post-graduation, There are two questions I ask myself when I take on new endeavors in pursuit of my ideal professional identity:
How far have I come?
Does this direction still feel authentic?
But I can’t answer these questions in the present, I have to answer them in the future. Let me explain. First, I write down my goals, hopes, dreams, and questions at the start of an endeavor. Second, I Boomerang them to arrive in my inbox at the end of the endeavor. Third, I genuinely freak out when I see an unfamiliar email from myself, then get excited when I remember what I did. Sending my future self my past goals and questions helps me reflect on the experience and consider if I should continue, or potentially redirect.
For any readers out there about to start an endeavor (e.g. job search, first year of business school, starting a company), I encourage you to try the Boomerang technique to ask your future self how it’s going. You might just be inspired by what you dreamed in the past.
Oh, and if you are wondering … no, I do not have any affiliation or kick-backs from Boomerang for the free promotions.
Chelsea Acosta Patel is from the SOM class of 2014. She is a proud, former leader of the Design & Innovation club pursuing a career in innovation.