Launching your career, pandemic or not

If you feel the pandemic fatigue, you are not alone. The pandemic has taught us a lot of things. We learned to expect the unexpected. We learned to have patience. We learned to live with uncertainty, lots of it. I know I felt more easily discouraged, especially when the pandemic first hit.

I graduated in the summer of 2019 with a research-based master’s degree in public health. After a few years of living and building my world on the Canadian West Coast, I made the decision to move back to the busy life of Toronto. Newly graduated and having zero local professional connection, I needed to figure out a way to start from scratch again.

Timing: don’t wait, start now

It’s never too early to start planning for your career. Start by taking small steps as they build up over time. Reach out to someone whose career and work you are inspired by. Have a good conversation. I used to underestimate the value of information only to find that it is what makes all the difference. Information leads to opportunities. As you gather and filter through information, the right information will lead you to good opportunities.

When you find good opportunities, seize them. Let it be a volunteer, part-time, casual or extra-curricular activity, the best way to learn is by doing the work. “Get your foot in the door” is cliché but true.

All jobs are not created equal, but you learn so much from every job

For one and a half years, I took on a variety of different jobs. I worked a short-term contract in a community health centre, volunteered on a research evaluation project, started a side hustle as an independent consultant, and worked as a receptionist/assistant in a dental clinic during the pandemic. Not to mention doing a research internship on exchange to Germany during my school years.

I learned how to work. It was a critical skill for me coming from a purely academic research background. I needed to see how research is done outside of the academic setting. I needed to explore public health outside of school.

Explore: build your own internship year

All the jobs I took seem unrelated to each other, but I did have a plan. I didn’t pursue an MPH degree because I wanted to learn how to do health research. The downside of a research-based degree is that you often go deeper than wide. I knew very well of everything social determinants of health from my thesis work, but that didn’t translate directly into employment opportunities.

I needed to make up my own internship year. I explored and learned about health promotion, evaluation and planning, public health consulting, and infection prevention and control during the pandemic.

Even if you are limited by the job options available to you, you can still be strategic and build a strong career portfolio.

Prepare: do the groundwork

Just like building a house, a strong foundation makes you stronger and lasts longer.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Practice makes perfect. Think of every job, practicum, internship, conversation as preparing you for the next career step. This way, you automatically become strategic and adopt a growth mindset. Learn what’s missing, then find ways to fill that gap. Take professional development courses. As I worked my way through, I took PD courses in project management, public relations, and event planning to expand my horizon.

Your support network: don’t be afraid to reach out and be even braver to keep in touch!

Networking with strangers can be awkward. It can be even more awkward to follow up. Think of the awkwardness or potential for rejection as a price you pay for building long-lasting connections. Be authentic and brave. Over the years, some of my most supportive mentors are the people I reached out to and with whom I have shared my career struggles and concerns. Most importantly, I shared with them my vision and plans. They resonated with me and gave me invaluable advice to help guide me along the way. In turn, I listened to their stories, experiences and visions. Think win-win situation. If they are committed enough to overcome the initial awkwardness with you, you will both win.

So the next time you feel nervous, unsure or just exhausted from reaching out to people. Take a pause, have a pet talk with yourself. Gather up your courage, then reach out again.

Remember people can’t help you if they don’t know you need help. People can’t support you if you don’t let them know how. You are the leader and champion for your own career.

“All roads lead to Rome”

Literally!

Follow your passion, interests and do things that motivate you. Take time to figure yourself out. You are worth the investment of time and energy.

We hear often the saying of “fake it until you make it”. I would take it one step further and say, “believe it then you will become it”.

Remember, no effort is ever wasted. And there is no perfect or right career path. Failures and setbacks often teach us more valuable lessons than triumphs and successes.

And remember, your school education has prepared you well! It has set the strong foundation that will become more and more helpful over time as you go down the career path.

There are so many times when I look back at some pivotal moments in my own career path so far and felt fortunate that I have put in the long hours to research on difficult class assignments, investing every ounce of my energy into a thesis that may go unread for years.

All those times that I persisted with my effort, they shaped my thinking and taught me the importance of bringing a positive attitude to work and having a positive outlook on life.

So the next time you are revisited by the pandemic fatigue or simply feel restless from the prospect of lessening public health measures, remember that effort and time are still the most essential to achieving your next career goal. You yourself is still the champion that leads and directs your career path.

Launch your career now, pandemic or not!

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