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Appreciate the uniqueness of your path

By Rick Maas, OCDA Past-President, Academic Advisor, PCC Sylvania

Disclaimer: The population of clients that I work with are primarily non-traditional students in higher ed., exploring their first professional path, their encore careers, or looking for a change of scenery.  For the sake of this article, the word “student” should be used interchangeably with your own clientele.

At some point, many of our students have started the career exploration process based off the recommendations of somebody that they know.  Somebody they look up to, somebody who possesses an ideal lifestyle that they may be seeking for themselves, or perhaps somebody whose advice arrived simply when the time was right.  In many cases, these conversations happen in the early stages of career exploration and often before any doors have begun to open. For many of us, this is right around the time we meet with these folks and begin the counseling process.

When I began brainstorming the obstacles that most of my students face, I decided to choose one of the more common hurdles that I have encountered when working alongside someone in these early stages, though I recognize that there are plenty more.  If there was one piece of advice that I could relay to every student (or anyone embarking on a new project), it would be to enjoy the process from beginning to end and take your time.  Understand that your path will have a uniqueness that will be unlike anything that anyone has ever experienced before. 

"Comparison is the thief of joy.”  - Theodore Roosevelt

In my work, I often hear the following statements, "my mother was a nurse and thought I should go into this field," or "my friend is a dental hygienist, makes a great salary and creates his own schedule."   I have worked with countless students who (by the time we spoke) have already made the assumption that they must follow the exact path as their peer.  My goal in these conversations is to help the student understand that aiming to recreate someone else’s exact path is only doing themselves a disservice.  Most likely, they will not encounter the same people along the way, achieve the same outcomes and/or experience the same obstacles, but when they do accomplish their goal, my hope is that they will be able to reflect on their journey and ideally find an intimate appreciation for how they got there.  Things take time to develop and most professional career tracks are not completed overnight (this is a marathon, not a sprint).   

When we are able to shift our student’s focus to be centered on personalizing their own path, they may become more accepting of each stage they need to pass through in order to accomplish their goals.  For instance, by shifting the focus to “I want to learn how to be a great nurse,” or “I want to learn the skills to become a dental hygienist,” they are then starting off in a more inclusive manner that invites all of the supplementary opportunities that lead to a more fulfilling journey.  Informational interviewing, job shadowing or volunteering in the field often opens up opportunities for networking and offers first-hand knowledge of the challenges and nuances of the job.  Obtaining mentorship and professional advice becomes possible with intentional participation in the process. 

In the same way that mine was different from yours, everybody’s trajectory is unique and everybody’s path will take a different route.  On a regular basis, I explain to my students that some days will feel sluggish and some days will certainly feel more productive than others, but as long as you’re doing something, you can maintain that momentum and continue to propel yourself forward.  Whether it’s speaking to a new professional in the field, researching the technical skills and abilities of the job, or offering your time and energy to the industry, all of these provide and maintain momentum and contribute to the personalization of your path.

I will now ask you, as the reader, to reflect and pay attention to the uniqueness of your own experiences and recognize the fact that you have very likely experienced something that nobody else has been through.  Celebrate those experiences!  Reinvigorate yourself with the momentum we found within ourselves while thriving in the journey!   We are living in times of great immediacy, where patience is becoming increasingly virtuous and even more desolate each and every day.  For all of us, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but be okay if it takes time and you encounter a few hiccups along the way.  Prioritize self-care and be proud of even your smallest accomplishments!  And above all else, inspire others to do the same.

For the webinar, I will discuss the pathways of three colleagues of mine who each share the same job title, and I plan to showcase the uniqueness of their pathway and the decisions that they made which lead them to where they are today.  I would like this segment to be interactive and invite the community for a discussion that will give us all the opportunity to showcase our unique paths.  My goal in participating in this conversation would be to give us all something to reflect on and remember how exciting it was to take on this unique journey that we can proudly call our own!


The Oregon Career Development Association is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable and educational entity.

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