Every time I walk into the humorless, dry, corporate settings that are career networking events on campus, a poison is mainlined directly into my soul, further transforming the unique, colorful qualities of my creative identity into the gray, bland qualifications of a future “adult who sits behind an expensive desk.”
Despite the dread associated with these numerous networking events, I, like nearly every other student on this campus, have willingly submitted myself to this pre-professional, LinkedIn-required, handshaking environment that dominates campus — an environment that permeates nearly every major and school here at the University of Michigan.
On this campus, we are offered an overwhelming number of workshops, résumé-building exercises, company immersions and career fairs that we, as one of the most competitive and successful student bodies in the country, utilize aggressively.
But in the process, a smothering competitive culture is created that has a profound effect of distorting the judgments and true motivations of students. Individuals on campus are forced to sacrifice passionate talents and interests during the seemingly endless competition of career planning, campus involvement, networking and studying.
Arriving at the University, students are advised in a rational manner to choose a major that both captures their interests while also being career conscious. Essentially, do what you love, but make sure there are jobs on the other end. Choosing to study political science, I made a mature concession from my previous desires to study writing and history. I believed the major would still offer courses and assignments that would capture my creativity and curiosity, while simultaneously being one of the undergraduate degrees that demonstrated intellectual maturity and competence and a future career path in law, public policy or business. As opposed to pursuing a major more suited for writing or studying history, I would be the conscious adult planning his responsible future — a modest sacrifice that was sure to pay academic and professional dividends.
Yet this sacrifice grew in size and nature due to the environment here on campus. I was suddenly acquainted with the ever-present campus social pressure and anxiety that forces students to join every goddamn professional club associated with law, health and business. In addition, I felt pressure to begin to utilize the seemingly endless opportunities offered through the campus career center.
As I took on these opportunities, the creative elements and unique talents I once believed to have needed to be stamped, pressed and molded through a series of deathly corporate résumé workshops and internship preparation seminars in order to present myself, with a plastic smile and customized name tag, to an interviewer waiting to see how well my professional qualities matched up against my fellow peers in a desperate attempt to be an intern for their multinational risk management corporation.
And all of this was due to the level of aggressive competitiveness that dominates nearly every field of study on campus. The amount of dialogue dedicated to the stories of secured internships in New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco must fill the halls of every building on campus. Students openly brag about how busy their color-coded schedules are as they work toward their double major and minor while also serving in leadership roles within multiple clubs and still finding time to tour companies, attend career prep courses, handle phone interviews and refine their résumés.
The competition is seemingly endless with students securing undergraduate spots only to apply for new more prestigious and well-connected schools within the University, such as the Ford School of Public Policy or the minor in business through the Ross School of Business. And even more anxiety-inducing, students from other fields of study often come charging into new double majors to “diversify” their academic background, because why wouldn’t you take 18 credits a semester? You want a job, don’t you?
I personally know a double major in neuroscience and English pursuing a business minor from the Business School with the intention of applying for a joint JD-MD program at Duke University. Yes, a brain surgeon lawyer who also owns a small business while simultaneously writing for The Atlantic.
This induces anxiety and professional panic that reverberates throughout campus, distracting and distancing students from their original academic intentions and goals. I wrote a piece previously about the incredible nature and necessity of substantive learning. Essential to that was the curiosity and interest found within the student. Creativity and uniqueness can easily die within the hyperconnectivity of competition for careers. The LinkedIn profiles, text of résumés and leadership experience can often permanently steal a talented student away from a piece of work or an assignment that had the potential to create something infinitely greater.
And as I stumbled around career fairs pretending that I would secure a position within the Business School later in my academic career, I put on hold talents and specific interests that made me unique. I did not utilize my curiosity and passion in a manner that exponentially increases my performance and quality of work. Writing and studying history were central to my sense of intelligence, and the eventual embracement of both increased the success I’ve had academically, professionally and socially.
This is not a piece against hard work, networking and professionalism — instead, this is a simple observation that students on this campus often over-exhaust their unique potentials in a desperate competition among themselves pursuing fleeting internships, professional experiences and future careers. There are other methods and routes to the career and professional goals that may seem unorthodox or daunting, but often prove to be far more beneficial in the end.
Michael Mordarski can be reached at email@example.com.