Timsecales of your thinking

One important aspect to pay attention to in achieving the working mindset are the timescales of your thinking.

Student life is lived in future tense on several timescales. There is the immediate future (what assignments and readings are due this week?) and then there is a slightly larger scale (what classes will I take next semester? Will I get a summer job?), and thoughts about work (if students are thinking about work) are often cast into an even more distant future. Also, up to graduate school, there was always a somewhat clear understanding of what the next step would be, which to a large extent shaped the experiencing of the present: in high school, you are thinking about college; after college, will you work, go on to grad school. To a large extent the present that you were experiencing was shaped by a knowledge of how that fit into a future trajectory: “work isn’t great, but I don’t have to deal with it because I am getting ready to leave for grad school.”

However, moving from graduate school into working full time, involves an accompanying shift into thinking focused more on the present, and how this will create a future. Jobs are about the day-to-day and are largely experienced in the form of tasks and meetings. Also, because there is not such a clear sense of what might come next, those who commit to a working life tend to develop a new way of thinking about the future (and its relationship to the present). One example of this can be around taking ownership of our work.

Grad school forces us to focus on the expectations of our teachers: what is my professor looking for on this assignment? When does she expect me to be doing what?

In our working lives, when we are working as part of a good team, we can have a great deal more agency in shaping our work and how this will open future paths, but many of us forget to take that agency (or get caught up in routines and business of day-to-day). But, this for many of us is still in the future….

Sp, what can you do now as a student searching for a job? I have a few concrete suggestions:

Pay attention to the timescales of your thinking. Try to focus on the present by paying attention to the day-to-day tasks that you do as a student. These are informative and contain helpful information about what tasks you are best suited to and which cause you stress (also how you cope with that stress for better or for worse).

Where does work fit in when you think about work? One way to shift thoughts about work from future to present is to think about school as a job. Think about ways to treat your classmates more as your as colleagues, and find appropriate ways to strike more collegial relationships with your professors. How does it shape your thinking about papers and assignments if you think of them more in terms of what you want to get out of them than what your professor expects you to put into them?

Finally, in thinking about future job possibilities, when you read a job description, try to cast yourself into that present by focusing on the day-to-day tasks and working environment. Read the company’s website for evidence of the lived day-to-day experience of employees. Use your informational and job interviews, to experience the environment and ask about the day-to-day tasks.

Here’s to happier futures, by living for the present!

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