Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.

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Trust yourself

Q: In honor of recent graduates: When you finished your schooling, did you know what you wanted to do in life? How long did it take to find a job or profession that "fit" you? Are you still in your original field?

In high school I noticed I was good at interacting with and understanding others, so I considered psychology as a subject to study in college.

Before going to the University of Vermont, I spent some time with a favorite aunt and uncle. When I told my uncle that I thought I was going to major in psychology, he said something like "Jeanine, you are so sensitive. I think it would be hard for you to listen to people's troubles all day and then come home and bring all that baggage with you." This moment -- where I allowed someone else's opinion to replace my own -- derailed me for years to come.

When I got to college, I said my major was undeclared. Then I dabbled in everything from German, to English, to Spanish (until I failed my meet-every-day-at-8-am-Spanish-class in the dead of 10 degrees below zero Vermont winters), education, computer science, history, political science, and the list goes on.

The first two years of college were a struggle. After living in a metropolitan city in Germany since 8th grade, rural Vermont was quite a culture shock. Not to mention that every class felt like a chore where I grappled with homework and deadlines, staying up late into the night cramming for a test I could care less about.

Then the first semester of my junior year I took Introduction to Psychology. It was like coming home.

I got straight A's on the quizzes and exams with ease. The content just made sense to me -- like a glove that fit perfectly. Instead of struggling through the textbook, I savored each chapter, writing notes and comments in the margins and even reading ahead. I participated in classes, asked questions, did extra credit, and visited the professors during office hours.

And what a delicious surprise: I discovered a love for learning. During spring break I actually went to the library and checked out a bunch of books on the psychology of sleep positions just for the fun of it (how you sleep reveals alot about you!). There was no assignment to complete, or grade to achieve -- it was simply intrinsically interesting for me.

This was the turning point. I graduated with a 3.8 in my major. After two years off and some work experience under my belt, I went to graduate school and completed a Ph.D. in social psychology.

My love for learning and psychology deepened in graduate school and continues to this day. I never eneded up being a therapist as my uncle was referring to and in fact few of us know that there are so many roles psychologists play beyond individual psychotherapy. We teach, do research, work in organizations giving advice on good leadership and management, we do public policy, work at foundations, for the federal government, are consultants on a range of topics from forensics to advertising. Psychologists can make good corporate trainers and leadership coaches -- which is the path I have most recently taken.

As I write this, I realize that perhaps it is no coincidence that the clients I tend to work with are those who are grappling with a professional issue that reflects my own journey to some extent -- where she is somehow listening to another voice in her head rather than her own. My job is to help her listen to her own wisdom.

So now it is your turn to reflect. What voices are you currently listening to? Whose voices are they? What is a truth about your career that you are not hearing? What would you be doing in your life right now if you listened to that truth?

By Jeanine Cogan  |  June 21, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Careers and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Dr. Cogan:

In the light of this interesting post, and given the unpredictable and serendipitous nature of the careers of so many other posters to this forum, do you have any thoughts about the June 18 report released by your colleagues at the Center on Education and the Workforce calling for higher education be become more like job training? Apart from the age-old philosophical argument (broad education vs. narrow "skills"), is it even possible for a curriculum committee to truly "keep up" with the dizzying changes in the job market?

--Especially since capitalism's creative destruction can create entirely new fields within a few years, and destroy old ones in the same time frame?

Posted by: gdmurray1861 | June 23, 2010 10:31 AM
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