What I Learned From Stalking On LinkedIn

Navy football game
A cold night for an Irish win.

It’s 3 o’clock on a Sunday and my throat hurts. I swallow once and everything is fine. Last night I was at FedEx Field watching Notre Dame scrape by with a win against Navy, and though it was a frustrating, curse-worthy game, I didn’t do much yelling. I swallow again. It doesn’t hurt to swallow but the glands are sore and I know in the back of my throat it’s coming.

I look outside my window. The leaves, all red, yellow and brown, are shaking in the branches and peeling off in a spiral down toward the ground as the wind speeds up fall. It is the start of November and an unseasonably warm September and October delayed the color changing of the trees, but now the wind is threatening to make their branches bare. Instead of cursing my beloved football team I curse the secretive cult of farmers who decided on their calendar that we would have another wrathful winter. They summoned this wind, I tell myself. I remember my throat hurting two days ago when I was out running in the wind.

The belated fall colors outside my home.
The belated fall colors outside my home.

I let my mouse hover over a new browser tab, tempted to Google home remedies because there is nothing I dislike more than gargling with warm salt water (my mom will vouch for this). But I am certain I will get distracted by articles explaining why it is or is not possible that I have Ebola and decide against making an internet query.

Instead I Google a few names of people whose current jobs I find interesting. I do this because I am curious how they got there. What did they do to prepare themselves for the job they have now? I try to answer this question by looking at their LinkedIn profiles and, for the famous, Wikipedia pages. I want to answer this question to try to make sense of my own path.

And the funny thing about this exercise is that there is no template. Between my Google stalking hobby, interviewing people for articles and networking with people at conferences, I have learned that the possibilities are nearly infinite for how people get from point A to point B in their careers.

I recently shared a bit of job advice with a friend who is getting ready to graduate from college. I’ve just barely begun my own life in the workforce, but I told her not to put too much pressure on her decision about where to begin her career. At our age–and as an entry level employee–it is so easy to make a switch once you know what works for you, I told her. But also it is clear to me that the model of “I sign my acceptance of a position at Company A before graduating college, I work my way up for the next four decades to an executive-level position, by which point I retire with a healthy 401K” is not only not true for the current graduating classes–it is not true for 95 percent of the working professionals I’ve encountered (in person and online).

My friend’s name is Nicole Sganga, and she wrote a fantastic piece for Notre Dame Magazine about her trip to Myanmar which you should go read after you finish up here. In it, she asks the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to girls who have never been taught to think about their personal futures. They couldn’t answer. But that problem in their society is worse than it seems on the surface. We ask that question of children expecting a simple answer: lawyer, doctor, teacher. Just take a look at your friends’ LinkedIn profiles and you’ll see how truly insufficient the question is, when you see the infinite possibilities of things that we can be.

Nicole Sganga in Myanmar.

Your first job is just that, the beginning of your career, the start of YOU. There will be many chances to achieve your dreams, evolve them a bit, and then achieve the new ones. You may take a risk and do something you thought might be cool that will lead you to something else you may never have even known existed. (I seriously doubt any kid said “I want to be a weather cynic for the Farmer’s Almanac” but those jobs do exist.)

For the creative types–the people like me and my friends in ND’s Film, Television and Theatre program whose success hinges on putting their work out for the public to consume and toss aside–having a career takes time and emotional stamina. You have to constantly be putting your work out there and getting feedback so that you can learn and grow, and so that your work can find an audience and take off. That’s not an easy order to fill. When I graduated, I said I didn’t want to spend my life as an actor because I didn’t want to constantly be putting myself out there and… well, my life outside acting isn’t too different.

I can’t read from a LinkedIn profile what made things click along the way for people. But I like to think that varying positions and companies that pepper the modern resume means it doesn’t matter so much what you do, it matters who you’re doing it with. Your colleagues, the people who challenge you, shape your craft, influence who you are and in turn develop and strengthen your art, those are the people who matter most.

Life is too short to not develop connections with people. And that’s what I learned from stalking on LinkedIn.

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