Since I have graduated from my master’s program, I’ve been asked “What is your dream job?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” which is, I think, very close to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question we all get as kids. I still don’t know the answer to these questions and I actually think they’re the wrong kind of question to ask people these days.
I’m a planner, a goal maker, and a milestone achiever. I have a pretty clear direction of the kinds of contributions I want to make in the world (why) and even techniques for doing it (how) but just what position I will be in as I achieve these things (what) is a very dynamic, squishy thing. We know there’s a skills gap between the job market and traditional education, we know that technology is quickening the pace of skill identification, development and depreciation.
I’ve been honest when I get these questions–the answer is “I don’t know, but I want to be work toward making sure people have access to and the ability to use, interact with, remix, and contribute to, information and resources that help them achieve their goals.” It’s a broad statement, but one I’ve used since I graduated from college in 2005. In order to do this I’ve had a few different jobs, almost all in the information and/or education domains: Assistant Youth Librarian, Reference Clerical Assistant, Senior Projects Assistant, English Language Instructor. While this overall goal has remained the same, I never would have predicted I would move to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Fayetteville, Arkansas to begin a degree in Information Science when I graduated in 2005. I also would not have predicted that I would stay on after the degree, working for the University of Michigan and at an academic library. In fact, several of the positions I’ve held over the years, beginning when I was in college, have been brand new positions–ones that I helped define and shape.
I think the perspective, skills, attitude and questions I apply in every position I’ve ever had are applicable across several positions and domains, across information and libraries, education, nonprofits, foundations and grant-giving organizations. This broad applicability is one of the main reasons I chose the School of Information. I don’t know if I want to go into management, go back to working in a small team, or move across the country. I just know I want to make a positive difference in any position I’m in and be a catalyst for positive change.
i think a better question might be to ask: “What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years in your work?” or “What are your goals for your work?” I think this will yield a much more insightful conversation than what the standard question allows. In fact, I think Vincent Nguyen has a great set of questions for us all to consider, in his post about this very same topic. These questions get at the type of organization or work culture you want to surround yourself with which can help you achieve those personal goals of yours.
This idea of whole living fulfillment rather than work-based is much more appealing and motivating for me. I’ll let Mitch Joel describe the “squiggle approach,” but balancing family, community, and work for a holistic perspective on your contributions to society sounds like it will answer the right question–the why question.