Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Now accepting applications: Class of 2012

Opinion by Leslie Brian
Oct. 13, 2011, 12:29 a.m.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Now accepting applications: Class of 2012During the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to take time to smell the roses. After all, it’s the little things in life that matter, right? That fresh, crisp bite to the morning air just after last week’s thunderstorm, the sizzle of onions and garlic as it hits a hot cast-iron pan (gotta love Columbae), watching a string of YouTube videos and laughing until you cry (if you take anything away from this column, search “Ducks blown by wind”…you’ll thank me later.) Ahhh, life was good.

Then, wham! Caught up in all these little moments, I was blindsided by a certain “big” thing. A really big one. A giant dose of reality that came stomping through my rose garden and squashing all the flowers.

Exactly one week ago, the class of 2012 traded jeans for pencil skirts or slacks and flip-flops for high heels or loafers in preparation for the first milestone of the Cardinal Recruiting Calendar: the Fall Career Fair. Hundreds of potential employers swarmed White Plaza, each booth carefully packaged in plastic wrap to ward off unexpected showers. It’s a cruel twist of fate, really: one minute, you’re a happy-go-lucky undergraduate who’s guaranteed an outlet for anything you want to do on campus (Stanford clubs plead with you to join at the Activities Fair). The next thing, the tables have turned: suddenly, all the people behind the booths hold your future in their hands. Tell us why we need you, they ask.

I somehow missed the career fair memo. Getting a job was something seniors did much later in the year, not during week two, right?! I didn’t pay much attention to the CDC emails. I put the career fair in my iCal, but then promptly forgot in the face of more short-term deadlines. So, when my friends asked me whether I was going, I responded with “What career fair?”

I guess I figured it was optional? Or maybe the reality didn’t hit me until I saw everybody looking like they had raided their parents’ closets and emerged outfitted in shoes two sizes too big with lipstick smeared across their teeth. This wasn’t me! These weren’t my peers. The fact that we are poised to launch into the real world was too surreal to process.

When I realized I had fallen behind, I immediately slipped into panic mode. True to Stanford form, when confronted with a problem, I wanted an immediate solution. In a desperate attempt to play catch-up on everything I had missed, I booked myself solid with career advising appointments, meetings with professors and company information sessions.

A mere three days into my job-search binge, I found myself strung out, dazed and exhausted. But if I couldn’t handle more than 72 hours of this, how would I end up doing anything other than flipping burgers post-graduation?

I had to take a step back and breathe. And when I looked at the whole picture again, I had a new perspective.

So many of us are people of extremes. And it applies to everything in our lives, not just job searches. Sometimes, I feel that if I don’t do something 150 percent, it’s not worth doing at all. Why apply for jobs unless you can devote 12 straight hours to research, emails, applications and resume-building? Work is only “work” if you’re staying up all night, jacked on coffee, with a minimum of four different papers or assignments due the next day. At the same time, relaxation only comes packed in super-sized doses: sleeping in past 2 p.m., watching full seasons of TV for hours on end or taking an entire day to procrastinate.

Whatever happened to balance? True, it’s easier to stick your head in the sand or attack in full battle array, but neither of these will ultimately lead to a real solution in the long run. In fact, they’re both two sides of the same coin: fight or flight. Either way, we don’t take time to tune into ourselves and really engage with the issues and what they mean for us. While it’s easier to see things in black and white, isn’t there room for gray? But what would that even look like? Could I work steadily on an application for a few days while still taking a break for lunch or going for a walk with a friend?

Yes, it’s possible. It’s just much harder to engage with the process and actually digest all the emotions it brings up than to launch into a “get it done” mentality that lets me power through 16 applications without thinking about what I’m writing in the first place.

So yes, the next time there’s a career fair, I’ll be there. My future is one of those big things in life I need to face. But I can face it one little step at a time. When we break it down into little pieces, it’s a more manageable and enjoyable process.

And trust me, no one is going to wind up flipping burgers.

Think Leslie seems like the perfect candidate for your job opening? Contact her at labrian “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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