Following My Own Advice: A Career Counseling Reflection

Alexa Lindahl

September 18, 2017

Journeys are non-linear. Careers and life itself are non-linear; advice I’ve received and given countless times. A plan is never as simple as getting from Point A to Point B. Yet why is it so hard to embrace this and put it into personal practice?

During the second year of my Counseling & Guidance in Higher Education/Student Affairs Master’s program I had the privilege of working as a graduate assistant with my campus’s Career Services department. As many of us have, I had originally entered Student Affairs with a clear career goal and idea of my “Point B”, but quickly found along the way that the true essence of what energized me in this work was in authentic 1:1 interactions with students and the application of counseling theories.

I studied under the mentorship and training of incredibly talented members of the Career Services staff- all of whom had a wide breadth of both a varied personal career path and an educational foundation in student development and career counseling theory. I fell in love with the tenets of Planned Happenstance and Career Construction theory, sharing with students those exciting (and potentially never-before heard) possibilities of non-linear, continually developing career paths and the importance of action, creativity, perseverance, and intrapersonal understanding for self-conceptualized measures of career success. Through drop-in hours and gradual 1:1 appointments I learned to provide career education to students as well as guide them through their own unique journeys and connect them to valuable resources.

However, having continued directly from my undergraduate degree to my graduate degree, I soon, and perhaps predictably, found that I was lacking the wider perspective and personal experience that might make me a more effective and fulfilled counselor. This is not to say that student affairs professionals and career practitioners cannot effectively counsel and guide others without a certain level of personal experience, but I came to the sense that I myself was not living- and had not lived- by the same principles in which I was now passionately sharing. It felt insincere to encourage students to live courageously and take risks in the pursuit of their goals and values while I had not allowed myself to do so.

As I write this article, I am in my last day of a month-long ESL (English as a Second Language) course in Compostela, Mexico. Leading up to my graduation I had considered several possibilities for more traditional, full-time employment. However, following my own advice, I made the decision to hit pause on my linear concept of “success”- and the assumptions that guided many of my life decisions up until that moment- to leave my future somewhat uncomfortably open-ended. I chose instead to take the opportunity return to my wonderful part-time faculty academic coaching position in the Fall, which left my summer open to more possibility.

I want to take a moment here also to recognize that I have been incredibly privileged to have the option navigate these alternative possibilities, given the support of my local family and the current structure of my life and obligations.

The opportunity itself to teach English came to me in true Planned Happenstance-style - I had mentioned off-hand to a recent connection that I was hoping to utilize my summer post-graduation to improve my Spanish: revisiting a lifelong goal of mine of achieving fluency. Immediately an opportunity blossomed for me to join her and two other students on a Rotary Club-sponsored language and cultural exchange pilot program. A season of significant personal growth, challenge, exploration, and moments of clarity awaited me, and upon my return I hope continue to cultivate those experiences. 

What are my plans now? I intend to continue my work in university and career counseling, but I cannot say with the same certainty as before what form or path that will take- which is perhaps a success in and of itself. This Winter I hope to apply to an array of graduate programs to further my pursuit and exploration of the core of the work I am drawn to. Spanish and cultural learning will continue to take a front seat with me as I navigate the dual unfolding of self-discovery and career fit. As for a specific roadmap, I will continue to utilize the same valuable principles that I once imparted onto students for myself and follow my own advice.

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Alexa Lindahl is a Student Success Instructor and Academic Coach at Allan Hancock College in Athletics. She loves learning Spanish, reading, and chai tea. She can be reached at [email protected]

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