“I stumbled into my career by doing the things that I loved to do. This was at age 38!” said Top Pot Doughnuts co-founder Mark Klebeck. “As you transition out of school and into the workforce, please keep in mind that nothing is set in stone. Choose self-fulfillment over what others define as success.”
This is timely advice for the thousands of area students who graduated this past weekend at schools like Seattle Central College and Seattle University. It is also a reminder that roads less traveled do sometimes work out just fine personally and professionally.
During the first full week out of school, many new graduates are no doubt balancing uncertain futures, big dreams, and increasing financial responsibilities. Nationally, the average college graduate owes $29,400 in student loans at the time of graduation.
From aspirational to practical advice, Klebeck and other local entrepreneurs The Capitol Hill Times spoke to agree on one thing: doing what you love professionally yields the highest returns. The cost of not pursuing the life you want may be harder to quantify, but it will be no less felt in your life.
“Be ‘you’ – not the person your parents or loan funders want you to be. Don’t take the job that pays really well, just so you can pay off your loans, if it compromises your values along the way,” said Hill-based financial planner Dana Twight. “Small steps are better for you, than large, splashy big efforts.”
Starting small, with a clear interest and passion in mind, paid huge dividends for chef and entrepreneur Ethan Stowell. Early in his career, he was encouraged to become a doctor, lawyer, or a Dotcom guru like many of his fellow Seattle Preparatory School classmates. He says, “Instead of choosing a career path expected of me, I took a unique path among my peers.”
Stowell’s career started with a simple mission to create delicious food. Over the years, he has deepened his knowledge in areas he originally didn’t know much about like building and running a business and the restaurant industry as a whole. While he admits the learning curve was steep, he now oversees 13 restaurants, including Rionne XIII, Bar Cotto, and Anchovies & Olives.
“Even if it’s bumpy at times, that doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice,” said Stowell. “It’s about understanding what you want to do and knowing there will be many, different phases.”
When it comes to hiring decisions, skills still matter, of course. A more underrated quality though is simply being a nice person. Stowell looks for employees who bring humility and compassion to the table. These are the kinds of people, he believes “build the engine that makes people happy, gives back to the community, and helps everyone make a living.”
One way new employees can demonstrate their interest and passion in their new job is to give back as much as they can. “I always tell my students to ‘Go above and beyond’ and ‘Dig deeper’ in everything they do,” says Seattle University professor and Social Entrepreneur Whitney Keyes. “This means do more than what your boss asked you to do. Show up to meetings early. If you have to create a five to 10 page report, give them 10 or 11 pages. Raise your hand and offer to take on the extra project no one else volunteers for.”
New graduates may not be landing the job of their dreams right out of college, but they are finding opportunities.
“Many of my former students are now in minimum wage internships – not their full-time, dream jobs – yet,” said Keyes. “But the students are happy and working hard, hoping it will lead to a permanent position. The good news is that some of them have now been hired on full-time!”
As compared with national trends, Seattle and the larger Puget Sound region have weathered the recession remarkably well. For those staying in the Seattle area, job prospects are holding steady. A Seattle Times jobs report released earlier this year showed that 7,100 of 7,700 new jobs created in Washington State were in King and Snohomish counties.
“When I think about graduating and starting my career, I’m reminded of how little my plans and my life have synched up in the past, and how grateful I am that they didn’t,” said new Seattle University graduate Donna Weber. A Philosophy and English double major, Weber is weighing options and considering next steps. She may pursue an academic track in women’s studies or find a job at a nonprofit or on a political campaign. “I’m not too scared about the future, but I don’t pretend to know what it looks like.”
It would seem Ms. Weber is well on her way and in really good company.