Managing a university career blog has taught me that while there is no shortage of inspiring accomplishments and experiences, getting students to share insights about these in a post can be quite a challenge. Writing scares many, and in an academic environment, it’s often viewed as simply one of many tasks to be completed in order to secure a high grade. If you believe that writing is an assignment, not an activity to help you gain valuable knowledge, I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong.
“Having excellent writing skills can make you an indispensable member of your team or company,” writes Greta Solomon, a Forbes contributor. “And it’s one of the best ways to remain consistently employable -- no matter your profession.” In addition, writing thoughts down improves memorization and reinforces learning. No matter what stage of the career development process you are in -- exploration, industry research, networking, applications or interviews -- a journal can help you reflect on your experiences and learn how to move forward. Plus, it’s helpful to have all the above information in one place you can easily access if needed.
Not convinced? Here are five specific ways in which a career journal can benefit you.
One of my earliest memories from fourth grade involves venting into a notebook about what I considered an unfair dodgeball game. As all the frustration from losing the game poured out on the page, I reflected on where the emotions came from and jotted down ideas on how I could approach similar situations differently. Although I no longer play dodgeball, I encounter plenty of other frustrations in my professional life, and using a journal to vent about them is still a great strategy. The best part about processing my emotions in a notebook is that the reflection remains private but ultimately helps me improve my teamwork and social skills. Venting in a written format can help you identify triggers and develop strategies to counteract them, especially when handling issues in a professional context.
Daniel Goleman, an author and science journalist, lists self-awareness as one of the four realms of emotional intelligence, which is an integral aspect of successful leadership. There are two categories of self-awareness: internal and external. One includes an understanding of yourself -- your values, beliefs and behaviors -- and the second refers to an understanding of how others see you. To be successful in both your personal and professional lives, you want a congruity between the two; you want to make sure that what you think of yourself is what others see, and having a career journal can help. Self-awareness translates as maturity in conversations and indicates that you have spent time figuring out who you are, what motivates you to do what you do and how you bring value. To foster self-awareness, chat with trusted mentors and close friends and write down what they appreciate about you.
“I haven’t accomplished anything” is a statement I hear often in coaching sessions. The assertion is grounded in misunderstanding of what constitutes an accomplishment. Every time you take a small step to move forward in a desired direction, you are accomplishing something. And it’s important to keep track of all the steps, small and large, by writing them down. What actions have helped you get to where you are right now? If a classmate, a professor or a mentor compliments you, write it down and reflect on what you did that prompted the positive feedback. Getting in the habit of writing your accomplishments and successes as they happen comes in handy when you need to update your resume or prepare for interviews.
In Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content, Mark Levy speaks about an internal editor, the voice that censors every idea or thought that comes to mind, and more often than not leaves us staring at a blank page. He then introduces freewriting as a way to thwart that editor. Reflecting in a career journal becomes the perfect strategy to fight your internal editor; after all, it’s a personal journal and no one else will see your reflections. That said, a career journal is more than a repository for your thoughts; if you let it, a career journal can be the place to come up with new ideas on whom to reach out to, what opportunities to pursue and how to do things differently. As you go about your life attending events, reading blogs and listening to podcasts, jot down intriguing concepts you come across and freewrite about them. You’d be surprised at the power of this activity to guide you through your next steps.
Managing Your Career Journey
If you are a college student getting ready for your entry into the professional world, you may find it difficult to look beyond the immediate need to secure a job or an internship. Career development, however, is a journey that takes a lifetime, and a career journal can help you both record and monitor that journey. It can help you avoid focusing so much on the minute details of the moment that you forget to see the big picture. Writing on a regular basis helps you connect the dots between all your professional experiences. Identifying common themes can then empower you to design your own career path.
If you want to give career journals a chance, please keep the following three points in mind:
1. Choose A Method
Personally, I am a fan of using a pen and paper, but you could also use relevant apps on your devices if that makes it easier. Some apps come with guiding questions, which may be just the thing you need to develop and strengthen the habit.
2. Use Prompts
Staring at a blank page can be demotivating. The hardest part is getting started, so you may want to consider prompts related to an issue or an experience you are having. I recommend that you use what and how questions, as these allow you to focus inward instead of outward, which is what why questions tend to do. For instance, you could start with this open-ended question: What one action did I take today to move forward in my career goals? You could write even if you think you didn’t do anything to move forward in your career; in that case, you’d reflect on what kept you from taking an action and how you can do better the next day.
3. Take Baby Steps
BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist and founder of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, posits that taking small steps is the best strategy to creating a new habit. Starting with what he refers to as a tiny habit, you can expand the behavior one additional step at a time. So with a career journal, perhaps starting with five minutes of writing before you go to bed could be your baby step. Another approach is to write a certain number of pages (one page each day). Pick the baby step that works for you.