“Where do you see yourself in five years?” I remember hearing that question repeatedly from friends, family, and potential employers alike. Always responding with the same formulaic answer, I would say “Well, I plan to work for three years in a policy job focusing on international development, attend law school, and then pursue a career in diplomacy.” Was this what I actually wanted to do with my life? Perhaps, but I never took the time to step back and recognize that every decision doesn’t need to adhere to a preordained path.
During my senior year, I spent countless hours applying to jobs that would fit my expected trajectory. I only looked at positions that adhered to my esoteric criteria for professional development. Unfortunately, the jobs I sought were nearly impossible to obtain without previous work experience. Although I spent summers and quarters completing internships, I still remained under-qualified to work on international policy in the capacity I had hoped. At this point, I realized that the “perfect job” might not be a possibility for my first year after graduation. In turn, I finally began to expand the parameters of my job search. It was then, and only then, that I started receiving invitations for second and third round interviews.
In March of my senior year, I accepted a job as an international arbitration assistant at a well-respected law firm in Washington, D.C. Although it may not have been exactly what I had in mind, the position allowed me to better analyze my interests while improving basic research and administrative skills. Working in a fast-paced law firm also forced me to recognize that I did not, in fact, want to become a lawyer. Coming to terms with this not- so- small detail forced me to derail my five-year plan yet again, and re-evaluate.
I started the job search again- this time learning what I’d used from my past successes and failures. I reached out to personal networks, utilized LinkedIn, and refrained from sending out applications without forging a link to the organization in question. Using a Northwestern alumni connection, I landed a job at an organization that focuses on ending genocide and crimes against humanity, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. I never would have predicted this off -the -beaten career path, but I’ve found that it’s more in line with my world views and general interests than what I initially envisioned for myself.
Through these experiences, I now understand that career mapping is a valuable tool, but you should never let it limit your perceived thinking and potential. Who knows what I will do next? I certainly don’t. Fortunately, I have learned to appreciate and value the journey more than the destination. With Robert Frost’s words in mind, I’m grateful that “I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”
Lexi Britton graduated from Northwestern University in 2011 with a triple major in African studies, international studies, and political science. She currently works as the assistant to John Prendergast at the Enough Project, a subsidiary of Center for American Progress.
About Where The Wildcats Are
University Career Services’ alumni blog series “Where The Wildcats Are” features the career experiences and advice from Northwestern University alumni of all ages and stages. Learn where your fellow Wildcats are post-graduation and how they reached their career goals. Are you a Northwestern alumni interested in sharing your career development process with current students? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Alum blogger” in the subject line.