A Worthwhile Question to Ponder on your Career Journey

Recently, a well respected leader within my organization said something very, very simple and yet quite impactful:  “Who do we want to BE, versus what do we want to DO?”  I find this so relevant to my work as a career advisor, supporting students and alumni in their development and exploration.  Who we want to be is a much bigger question than what we want to do, and encourages our own self-assessment of our values, aspirations and goals – a 30,000 foot view of our unique place in this world that can have great impact on the level of enjoyment, accomplishment and success we will be able to achieve in our jobs.

Of course, this is a process done best in thoughtful context; if you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, visualized in the colorful triangle I’ve attached, clearly there are parts of the human experience that should be well established and determined before you might have the luxury of pursuing “self-actualization” and becoming your best self through your work.  It’s also analysis to be done with the understanding that for many, “work” or their career is not the (only) way in which they achieve self-actualization, or even begin to approach it.  It’s also why I try to understand where my students are in this life’s journey, so that we can potentially get to the elevated conversations around “becoming.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a scalable vector illustration on white background

It’s very common to struggle with gaining clarity around your values, aspirations and goals – especially as a Penn student or graduate, for if you are anything like me your likely goal for as long as you remember was to get admitted to Penn, and then to graduate from Penn, and finally to “be successful.”  Of course being successful can mean so many different things for different people, and there is no one path to the subjective achievement of that pinnacle.  But, if you find yourself struggling with the first part of the question – Who do you want to BE – consider taking a deep breath, a big step back, and spending just a few minutes leveraging some of the fantastic self-assessment tools Penn Career Services has to offer; CareerExplorer and the Exploring Values sheet are two of my personal favorites.

By investing less than an hour of your time using these two tools, you’ll hopefully be well on your way to learning how to integrate what you (hope to) do into who you want to be and fulfill the promise of that old Mark Twain anecdote, “Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”   For me, I have a job I love….and while it is certainly “work,” it’s truly enjoyable, rewarding and very interesting – and for me, that makes it all worth it.


By Jamie Grant
Jamie Grant Senior Associate Director, Engineering