The Importance of Community and Culture

As social beings who are part of complex societal structures, we are not alone in our decision of finding a career that we love. Although we may identify the type of work that we’re suited to do and that inspires us, it’s important to consider our social needs as well. For example, if you love to write and craft stories, but can become stir crazy or feel isolated when you don’t interact with others, then being a freelance writer or independent author might not be the right fit. In other words, the environment where you do your work is important as well. Some people work better when they have clear guidelines and a direct manager. Others like to work independently with little management and more flexibility.

In addition to completing certain tests or exercises (you can find examples in the Helpful Resources section) that might help narrow down your optimal working environment, it’s important to talk to others. If you think you might want to get into nursing, great. But have you had a conversation with a nurse to find out what being a nurse actually looks like? Can you shadow a nurse for a day? You may be drawn to the notion of helping people but not realize that being a nurse also requires a fair amount of heavy lifting, short (if existent at all) lunch breaks, and emotionally taxing situations. Of course, for some, this is exactly what makes being a nurse so fulfilling, but the point is that this type of work environment isn’t for everyone. The same is true for a business consultant or high school teacher.

“I tell my students to interview someone who’s in that career, take them to coffee or lunch, sit down with them for 30 minutes, and get all the information they can about what they do, where they work, what the culture is like,” Rios explained. “Sometimes we have things that come across our way and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that’d be really cool!’ But then we talk to people and find out more about the nitty gritty, day to day stuff of the role, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, maybe that’s not great for me.’”

Nick Wolf is the director of the Offices of Strengths and Vocation at PLNU. He always emphasizes to his students the need to find mentors and get as close as possible to the desired career to see if it’s a good fit before committing. He gave an example related to nursing students.

“There are two types of students who want to be nurses,” Wolf said. “Students who’ve always known they’ve wanted to be a nurse, and those who are just like, ‘It’s a good and high-paying job, or my parents want me to do it.’ And so, some get into it and realize that they’ve never spent a day in a hospital. So I tell them, ‘Go sit in an emergency room for two hours and see what that’s like, and by just being in a hospital you may understand right then and there that this isn’t the place you want to be.’ I always say, particularly the two career fields we don’t need more bad workers in is nursing and education. We don’t need more bad teachers and we don’t need more bad nurses. And so it’s really important that they figure that out earlier rather than later, in my opinion.”

I tell my students to interview someone who’s in that career, take them to coffee or lunch, sit down with them for 30 minutes, and get all the information they can about what they do, where they work, what the culture is like.

This leads to another important aspect of finding a career you love, which is the help of others, especially a career counselor or professional mentor. These individuals can ensure you’re pursuing a career for the right reasons.

“What I try and get them to think about is, what was the primary motivator to choose this major? Are you really passionate about the work you’re going to be doing, or will it just be a job that you think will be secure? And so I try to peel back those underlying motivators that drive them. Was it their parent’s decision, or was it really their decision?” Wolf said. “And then, at the end of a session, if we still haven’t come to a resolution or they’re still conflicted, then I tell them it’s time to have conversations with other people.”

Not only is it important to talk to people who are already doing what you want to be doing, but also to talk to people you trust to open up your eyes to what you might not see. You may think you’re only a so-so craftsman, but if those in your life continue to affirm and compliment you for your woodworking, maybe you need to take it more seriously. The same is also true in the opposite direction. You may be drawn to a well-paying remote job that allows you to live anywhere in the world, but the people close to you may have reservations, pointing out that as an extremely sociable person you might struggle working long days without non-digital human contact.

“We do offer one-on-one coaching, and we help with LinkedIn, personal branding, networking strategies, job search strategies, so it’s a lot of personal one-on-one contact with students that we’re able to do,” Rios continued. “I think that with my students knowing they have someone as a mentor and for support, and realizing that they can change paths and don’t have to be stuck in something just because it’s expected of them or they started it and are already in it, is important.”

Robinson notes the importance of finding a “tribe.” He writes, “seeing what others achieve who share your passion can drive you to push the boundaries of your own work and to raise the bar of your own aspirations.” This is another important piece related to your environment and community. It’s important to find others who share your passions and interests because they can encourage you and provide comfort. If you’re an IT specialist or adult education teacher, it is certainly valuable to have friends and family who can support you, but it’s also important to have other IT specialists or adult education teachers in your life who are going to understand the nuances of your work and inspire you in ways that others can’t. This is true of every profession, whether you’re a graphic designer, foreman, locksmith, professor, or CEO.

Related Article: Austin Donovan (16) on pursuing a career with intentionality.

It’s valuable to have a host of relationships because each type can provide something different in helping you not only find a career you love, but thrive when you do. It’s also important to realize the limits of each relationship. Someone who values salary over everything else might not be the most dependable person to talk to if other factors are more important to you. No one knows you better than you, and you’re the one who ultimately has to wake up every morning and fill your day with a certain type of work. So, while it’s important — even necessary — to acquire and weigh the advice of others in your life, you are still ultimately the one who has to live with your choices when it comes to choosing a career.

Questions to Consider:

  • What type of work or school environments have you enjoyed being a part of most?
  • Do you prefer to work alone, with others, or both? What is it about this environment that you enjoy?
  • Do you have friends, family members, or mentors in your life who can help you think through your career path with your best interest at heart?
  • Do you know people who are already working in the career you’re interesting in? If not, are there ways you can meet some and learn more about their work?
  • If you’re already working, do you have a group of confidantes in your profession who you can draw inspiration and encouragement from? If not, how can you find some?

Download the “The Importance of Community and Culture” worksheet.

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