Misti Burmeister
author, speaker, executive coach

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister, author of "From Boomers to Bloggers," founded Inspirion Inc. and specializes in speaking, executive coaching, and generational diversity in the workplace.


Explore, and listen

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?

Six months prior to graduating with my master's degree, I walked into the career counseling center at my university. There was a woman, Jackie, behind the desk next to the door, who greeted me immediately.

"Do you have a meeting?" she asked.

"A meeting? With who?" I asked.

She explained that there were career counselors on staff and I could set up a meeting, though their schedules were fairly full and I'd have to wait a while.

"Can I get in to see a counselor today?" I asked, feeling a sense of hope that maybe someone could actually help me figure this out.

"Let me check on their availability for the day," she said as she flipped around and headed down a short hall to some offices. Jackie came back accompanied by Kris, a career counselor on duty at the time.

"How can I help?" Kris asked.

"Well, I'm set to graduate with my masters in speech communication in May and I'm not entirely sure what I can do with this degree. Can you help me understand what jobs are out there and what companies might be a good fit?"

While I'm not entirely sure what Kris was really thinking. The look on her face was one of utter confusion, which, of course, spawned the following internal monologue about what Kris was thinking, "She is about to complete her master's degree and still doesn't know what she wants to do?"

After a short pause, Kris took me over to the bookshelf, directly to the right of the front desk, pulled a thick binder off the shelf and said, "This is a listing of all the companies in Denver. Go through them to get an idea of the companies located in Denver."

With a massive binder on the table in front of me and Kris now gone, I began flipping through the pages, completely overwhelmed. "Am I the only idiot who doesn't know what she wants to do?" I thought, as I sneaked a peek to see if anyone was watching me.

Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of companies within the binder, my complete lack of focus and terrified someone might see me (the master's level student who should know what she's doing), I quietly shut the binder and quickly made my way to the exit.

"I'm good," I said to Kris before she could say anything more.

That was the beginning of my pretending. Assuming that everyone else clearly knows what they're doing at my age and education level, I began acting as if I knew what I wanted and where I was going.

Terrified no company would hire me, I took the very first opportunity that came my way, as a fellow with the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. "I just need to get a start," I thought as packed my stuff and headed to D.C. to begin my career.

A few months into my fellowship, I learned that research was not what I wanted to do full time, so I requested a mentor. Five mentors and almost a year later, my panic button was fully engaged and I didn't know what to do. My mentors were all scientists with a strong interest in research -- it made sense they thought I should do more of that. They didn't know what to do with all my energy and enthusiasm -- and neither did I.

Eight years later, I've published two books (one a Washington Post best-seller), have a third on the way, have helped dozens of leaders learn to use generation gaps as a competitive strength, rather than a corporate weakness -- and I still don't know what I want to do!

I've learned the only way to find out what I'm really good at and where I add the most value is to explore. Rather than worrying about my title, awards, etc., I focus on gaining new experiences, learning more about myself, and listening for ways to help solve problems. I also deeply enjoy learning about others, how they've overcome life's challenges, and how they continue to develop their careers. Taking an active interest in others, listening to their stories and finding ways to help them has been my greatest source of continued inspiration and knowledge.

You can reach Misti at www.inspirioninc.com.

By Misti Burmeister  |  June 21, 2010; 12:01 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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Your story is relevant, inspiring, and exciting! I love how you portrayed the job search as an eventful journey. This post is uplifting during a somewhat discouraging time for recent graduates.

Though the job search is tedious and it seems that you get little output for your input, I am finding that this job search process is teaching me a lot about networking, the “reality” of finding a job, and also is helping me to learn about job possibilities.

The other day, my Mom lit a fire under my butt by encouraging me to reach out to people in her network. I was initially confused about the purpose of a network conversation, and didn’t really believe in it. But after having a few phone calls, I am finding that people are able to help put me in contact with people in my areas of interest (policy reform in health care and education), and I am learning about other people’s stories and how they are applying their passions in their careers.

I am really interested in your idea of generation gaps as a competitive strength. If I am understanding what you mean by this, I think it is a great idea. I’m sure you have a lot of ideas about this, and I’m interested to hear more.

I really enjoyed reading this!

Posted by: annjfields | June 22, 2010 10:32 PM
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Some people know exactly what career they want from childhood. Is it easier to help those people in life and to help them progress through a productive career? Obviously. Most of us are more like you Misti and need to explore our options. That usually means a bit of mentor and career trial and error along the way.

Many people try to "help" mentees by leading them down the path that made them successful and indoctrinating the mentee into the mentor's world. They assume, this worked for me, it will work for you. While this may be a great process for making cookies, it usually doesn't work for developing people. In reality, it usually results in an ended relationship (this isn't working for me) or the mentee will follow the mentor's advice and pretend to be engaged in the work. As a contrast, the best mentors I have had, asked me questions that helped me find my own path. This is much harder for both parties, but it is more productive in the end.

When I was applying for college, I was picking from majors about which I had no real knowledge. I had been in Junior Achievement for three years so I declared Business as my major. I attended a liberal arts university (Truman State University) so I "had" to take all those other classes.

Those classes opened my eyes to more areas of interest and jobs in the world than I could have ever imagined. Within a few years I became a political science major who was going to change the world (and never ever go to law school). I moved to Washington, DC after receiving my undergraduate degree and worked in a couple of non-profits that I believed really could change the world. I loved the passion with which the people I worked approached the mission of their organization.

However, I soon found out that to advance in DC, I needed another degree. I looked seriously at the Masters in Public Administration, the Masters in Business Administration, and the Juris Doctorate. I went to law school because I thought it seemed challenging. (Note to all recent graduates out there, this is the worst reason in the world to go to law school.)

I was challenged, and I felt like I had accomplished something significant when I graduated. I examined public and private job opportunities and chose to enter the world of public service (still trying to save the world). With more than ten years of practice, I can honestly say, there is no better place to start a legal career if you value the ability to learn and the (sometimes constant) search for what is the "right" answer instead of "how can we win". That being said, I am still learning completely new things and I (like many of my colleagues) pursue various interests that often equate to a second, part-time career.

I still struggle with people who believe that there is an expected career progression in my field and if I am not at a certain place on it, I am not "good enough." Inside, though, I realize that my diverse skills honed by a lifetime of learning are worth more to me than a manager title ever would be. I now direct my career and judge it against my own standards (am I learning something new, am I helping other people, am I challenged) rather than trying to fit into the cookie cutter mold that other people have deemed proper.

I value the mentors I have had along the way who asked those probing questions they never really expected to hear the answer to, they only wanted me to think about for myself. In truth, those are the questions I go to when I have to make a decision. Things like, how do you want this experience to change you? I have learned (by flat out asking) that the mentors who reach out to mentees in this way, actually feel that they develop their own interpersonal skills as well.

StraSerendipity on Twitter

Posted by: strategicserendipity | June 22, 2010 2:25 PM
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Excellent article...

I especially liked the following section...

focus on gaining new experiences, learning more about myself, and listening for ways to help solve problems. I also deeply enjoy learning about others, how they've overcome life's challenges, and how they continue to develop their careers. Taking an active interest in others, listening to their stories and finding ways to help them has been my greatest source of continued inspiration and knowledge.

Posted by: successlegacy | June 21, 2010 11:01 AM
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I had a similar experience Misti. I started out my college education as a theater major, changed schools and majors, and received a degree in Govt. & Politics from GMU. A degree I have never directly used in my career . . . up to this point.

My first full time job out of college in 1984 was with a government contractor. I hated it. I was married at the time and we wanted to buy a house. I needed a paycheck. It wasn't about a career, it was about a job. That is a HUGE distinction we don't often talk about.

I've re-invented myself several times in the last 25 years: human resources, office equipment sales, business operations director, marketing, small business owner, and now consultant. Here is what I think is most important to convey to young people (and older people too): We don't ever stop learning, evolving and becoming who we want to be. And who we want to be changes - as it should - because the world changes and opportunities are created that didn't exist before. We should all have more faith in ourselves to understand we have something to offer at every stage of our professional life and it's a constant journey. We don't really "arrive" - we make station stops. Goals are important to have, but they are not immutable. I look forward to the next iteration of my career even though I'm not entirely sure what it will look like.

This is a very thought provoking column Misti. Keep people thinking!

Posted by: csread | June 21, 2010 9:00 AM
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Looking for a job? With new Health Care Plan, we are going to insure additional 33 Million people. There is going to be huge demand for Medical Assistants, Medical Billing, Medical Coding, Pharmacy Assistant & Pharmacy Technician across the nation. We can help you get a training during weekends and evenings and get a degree in few months. With the degree finding a job will be easy, free consultation available at http://bit.ly/ah5mlu this is your chance

Posted by: jennakirsy | June 21, 2010 1:27 AM
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