By Dr. William Overton
Faculty Director, School of Arts and Humanities at American Public University
Graduating with a degree is a major goal for many, but the reality is that a degree is just a starting point for advancement in a career and in life. A degree is just one step of a personal and professional development program that involves lifelong learning.
Your development can begin with an examination of life goals, but it should involve contingency planning as well as pursuit of those determined goals. It is a common observation that far too many middle-class families are simply living from paycheck to paycheck and job loss can be a prelude to financial disaster. Maintaining marketable knowledge, skills, and abilities is essential.
The somewhat aged warning that, “When the going gets tough, the tough take accounting,” is a reflection of the belief that the purpose of higher education is simply to promote the study of marketable skills. Degrees in business, as well as in science, technology, engineering, and math, have been touted as the best career paths to pursue. While the reasoning here may be logical, flexibility derived from a basic skill set involving the ability to think critically, communicate complex concepts in a clear and logical manner, and to reason effectively may well come from pursuing education and training in the humanities and liberal arts.
Exploring employment opportunities while still in a degree program is a good first step. Consider the immediate and future opportunities–is the chosen field likely to expand, contract, or even disappear in the foreseeable future? What contingencies are possible? Are there other career opportunities that are promising? What skills offer possibilities for advancement as well as contingencies?
Create a Program for Improvement
Consider the following as you develop your program of personal and professional development:
- How can I build on the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that I already have?
- What other KSAs can I add to my basic skillset to offer an employer?
- What other fields, including hobbies and personal interests, hold promise?
- What directions should I pursue in a lifelong learning project?
This list is certainly not all-encompassing and is subject to one’s own personal development, but it is a starting point. Develop a written plan that you can revisit and revise on a regular basis. Be sure to make frequent assessments of your personal and professional progress.
Make a Plan
Having a written plan with goals that have been chosen for both personal and professional development provides a record for step-by-step advancement. The essence of success lies in the link between thought and action. If Thomas Edison had given up early, it would have been left to someone else to develop the electric light. Another good starting point is to assess your current situation and think about the potential for change. Any Friday could be termination day for a current position because any business or industry is subject to changing needs. If next Friday is your last day at your current job, where would you turn? Think about your choices and opportunities now.
The modern world is ever-changing. The career opportunities available today may well not exist in five or 10 years. New career areas develop all the time. It is likely that a future job or even an entire career field has not been invented yet. For this reason alone, keep an open mind and be on the alert for changes in your chosen career field.
About the Author
Dr. William Overton is a professor of English and the Faculty Director for English/Literature in the School of Arts and Humanities at APUS. He is a former U.S. Army Sgt. and a former Public Affairs Officer in a state law enforcement agency. He currently lives and works in Idaho with a patient wife and two energetic toy poodles.