For Your Benefit: Finding Your Professional Passion

February 9, 2014 | CUNY Matters, The University

For Queens College junior Isioma Ononye there’s little question about the goal — working in a job you love. The challenge is how to get there. And Gloriana Waters, CUNY’s vice chancellor for Human Resources, is providing some help.

Waters led a panel last fall on “Finding Your Professional Passion,” discussing ways to discover a place where you can become the most successful and productive employee.

Sometimes, though, it takes a while to find the right fit.

Isioma Ononye, a Queens College junior and a courtesy desk attendant at Summit Apartments, chats with Anastasia Shakalis, another Queens College junior.

Isioma Ononye, a Queens College junior and a courtesy desk attendant at Summit Apartments, chats with Anastasia Shakalis, another Queens College junior.

“When I first entered the workforce, I changed jobs every two years to find out more about what interested me,” Waters says. This included using her degree in educational psychology and training in English as a Second Language to direct a Bronx Community College literacy program for adults, some of whom were studying to get high school equivalency diplomas.

“You, too, may wind up changing your job several times before you find your career,” Waters says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know till I found it out.”

Ononye, who like many students is also a University employee, agrees. “I know I shouldn’t map out things with the expectation that there is only one way.”

An English major minoring in journalism — and an aspiring journalist—Ononye had a paid internship last winter as a marketing intern for NewsBeam, a video-distribution service and is now working at another internship where she has been learning and using different, albeit related, skills. For CUNY, she is a courtesy desk attendant at the Summit Apartments, her college’s dormitory, where working with the public may someday inspire her to continue to pursue her professional dream or follow another path.

The panel led by Waters was part of CUNY’s 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference, an event for students held at Hunter and co-sponsored by Chase, The New York Times in College and the New York City Commission on Women’s Issues. Waters knows how important it is for female students to network and learn from one another and from those more advanced in their fields.

But when it comes to finding passion in work, she says that the same advice applies to those who are already on career paths, and to men as well as women.

Waters recommends “cross-pillar
initiatives” — opportunities that allow individuals to combine two or more of their professional interests. “For example,” she says. “If you work with data and would also like to work with students, you might get involved with a project that involves gathering data about students, learning more about who they are.”

And what else can employees do to find work they love? Waters offers some suggestions:

•    “You might have to take a cut in salary or a lesser position to find work you really enjoy. Sometimes you have to take a step backward so you can later take two steps forward. Sometimes, you have to take risks.”

•     Find either a mentor or someone who can help you on a less intensive basis: “It doesn’t always require a lot of time on their part. I’ve had people come into my office to just sit and talk for a few minutes. Sometimes they give me their resume and ask me to keep my eye out. I tell them I will try; that I can’t promise anything. Nevertheless, it’s good for employees to be on someone’s radar.”

•     Networking. “I know that many employees have family responsibilities and second jobs. But when you can go to a university event, do so. Sometimes you can go on your lunch hour, or ask to take that hour later in the day so that you can attend. And when you do go, make sure to let people know who you are and what you can bring to the table.”

•     Identifying Abilities. Waters notes that some of the college career centers will administer tests to help employees find their strengths, and she recommends the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.

Waters also says that if there is some aspect missing from your job — some other endeavor that makes you happy — there might be a voluntary way to make that part of your workday. For example, when she was a vice president for administration at City College she realized that she missed working with students. Drawing on her earlier experience teaching English as a Second Language she offered to lead a conversation circle for students who were also new immigrants and wanted to practice their English. “So at lunchtime we would sit and just talk,” she says. “It all came out of the ESL department. I had introduced myself to the chair and said, ‘This is what I did in a previous life.’ ”

As for Ononye, she, too, is volunteering as part of her own exploratory process. The internship she has this spring is unpaid, but she gets to work with social media for a website that teaches women about car mechanics. It’s called: Women Auto Know.