One step at a time: Reframing future planning in your first and second year

Emma Cutrufello

As a career advisor, it may be surprising that I’m about to tell you that you shouldn’t be thinking about choosing a career.

It’s easy to get in the mindset that choosing a career when you are picking a major is the most efficient way forward. We’re surrounded by success stories that gloss over the jagged road along the way. In reality, most journeys in career and in life have twists and turns that both challenge and enrich us. Someone once described a career journey to me as a frog crossing a pond full of lily pads. I like this analogy because it reiterates that we can’t jump straight to the other side but rather need to make small, intentional leaps to reach our goal by giving ourselves the opportunity to reflect on our decisions and change course if we need to.

The College moving to a remote semester and summer experiences evolving is certainly not how you imagined the completion of your first or second year at Williams. For students who are planners and have big goals, this shift of experiences and expectations can feel like a wave sweeping through the lily pond, so high that you can no longer see the other side. When external forces shift our plans, it’s important to give ourselves the space to feel that shift and loss, and then refocus on tangible goals.

I suggest three steps to re-center your journey thus far and focus on leaping to the next lily pad: Reflection, gap analysis and exploration. An academic analogy may be helpful for context: conduct a literature review, develop a research question and experiment.

When you prepare to do research, you first need to understand what you already know, so you review the existing literature. Self-reflection is hard work. It requires us to sit with our thoughts and experiences, which is often more difficult than forging ahead to something new. I suggest a free writing exercise with these questions to guide you. What excites me enough to keep me awake at night or get me out of bed in the morning? What do I have to offer others? What comes naturally to me? How do I like to spend my time? What did I learn about myself this past year? What am I learning about myself now? Spend 20 minutes free writing and then start to look for trends in what you like to do and what you care about.

Where are the gaps? When we read scientific literature, we’re asked to find the “gaps in research.” What do we still not fully understand? Find one gap in your understanding of your own skills, interests and values. For example, you see a trend that you are happiest when helping others, but you don’t know how you want to help.  

What experiments can you conduct to gain that knowledge? Consider ways to learn more about this skill that you can accomplish this summer. Ideas include: informational conversations with alumni, online courses, mini-projects, remote research and internships, virtual community engagement and more. The advisors at the ’68 Center composed a list of resources that is broken up by each career community and called the “Summer Alternatives Menu.” Peruse this list and make an appointment with an advisor to discuss ideas to make experimentation work for you in this unique environment. Before you know it, you’ll have learned more about how you want to engage with the world and moved on to that next lily pad.

Finally, for some, the most important step you can take this spring and summer is prioritizing safety, health, relationships and family. Doing this is movement toward your goals and is not a loss of “productivity.” Everyone’s journey looks different, especially right now, and we’re ready to support you as you move across the pond, whether that’s a small hop this summer or multiple jumps next year.

Emma Cutrufello is the Associate Director and Director of Career Discovery at the ’68 Center for Career Exploration