Finding your focus

For the past several weeks we’ve been meeting with various Duke alumni from lots of innovative companies in the Bay area to hear about their professional and personal experiences. Last Friday we got to have one of these sessions with our Program Director, Kimberly Jenkins, who in addition to founding and planning the Duke in Silicon Valley program has an incredible professional background of her own. After sharing some of her personal stories and experiences working with both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Kimberly led us in a session titled “Finding your focus” that helped us to frame our life and career goals as well as networking skills.

After studying business and visiting companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Apple the past couple of weeks, many of us have been reflecting on what type of companies we’d like to work at in the future. We were all pretty excited for this brainstorming session and to talk about what an entrepreneurial or atypical career trajectory could look like. Instead of jumping right in to job options, we took a few steps back and each made lists of things we love to do, people who inspire us, environments we enjoy being in, and some of our strengths and weaknesses. Then we used one student as an example and helped to collectively brainstorm jobs that fit his personality and interests. We started off by all talking about things he’s good at, like being persuasive and socializing, then tried to think of jobs that combined that with his interests in electronic dance music, squash, craft beer, and purpose-driven business. We came up with some surprising options based on his skill set and personality (varying from lobbyist to club promoter to entertainment industry entrepreneur), and I think a lot of us felt more open-minded and focused on finding what we truly want to do with our lives after going through the exercise.

It can be really tempting in a competitive college environment to judge yourself based on other people’s definitions of success. A lot of students on the trip have expressed this sentiment with feeling pressured to go into consulting, investment banking, or medical school. One of the really powerful things about this experience is that it’s helped us to see what some atypical jobs and careers look like and inspired us to think about what it truly is that we want to do. Entrepreneurship is all about recognizing opportunities and doing things in new and better ways, and the exciting culture of Silicon Valley and this program have inspired us all to do just that with our own lives and careers. Whether we want to found companies, make millions, or tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, we’re all excited to see where this entrepreneurial career path will take us next. As Kimberly put it, we’re still trying to “connect the dots”, but right now I think we’re comfortable knowing we’ve got time to figure out what the final picture will look like.

Courtney Sanford, UNC 2014

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