College Student

Benchmarks not Barriers: Learning to Set Goals Without Limiting Yourself

Setting short-term and long-term goals are integral to the college and post degree experience. As students we set benchmarks for ourselves along the journey, such as garnering a coveted academic accolade, obtaining a position in a desirable extracurricular organization, or landing the perfect internship or job after graduation. In all of this, self-evaluation, practicality, and development are chief to meeting these goals.

Yet, unfortunately while we may position ourselves for success within our major or school environment, it is also just as likely that in setting strong and sturdy pathways for our future (according to our own outlook) we may overlook- or worse micro-define our roles and position in the grand scheme of academia, business, and even society.

There are calculated risks or opportunity costs in shaping these pathways: choosing certain classes over others, devoting time to certain entities rather than any other handful, and perhaps most pivotal, choosing that summer internship that could lead to a full-time offer post college. In making these choices, it can either hinder or expand our opportunities, break or develop our resolve, and perhaps even lead us to unforeseen applications of our knowledge and passions.

As you may find on your college campus, us students often have this warped, often textbook understanding of what young people with our interests are supposed to work towards and accomplish. We affix certain value to the efforts of our peers, titles, and career paths, from the technology center of sunny California to the hot topic financial markets in New York, because they are familiar or recognizable to us.

Veering off the traditional finance, marketing, consulting, or accounting tracks set by students before you, and championed by your professors and advisors, translates into a rudimentary knowledge of your chosen field – that is unappreciated and sometimes even scorned. Goodness knows, value exists in such places as Wall Street and Silicon Valley for more than one good reason; and it is ignorant to discredit them.

Yet, aiming focus to gain access to these places and the breadbasket of opportunities afforded by select positions within those circles should be for the right reasons. Not all tech ventures start in the Valley, nor do all finance jobs spur from the Big Apple – it’s important to know and diversify your options.

No doubt, many of us are eternally grateful for the academic innovators and leaders who did navigate these previously uncharted waters. Yet, given the creative-destruction, ever changing global aspect of business, even students with their highly organized and itemized game plans may fall short of actual demand in the job market.

Understandably, students can only manage, prepare, and predict so much during their college years, which is why it is so easy to relinquish your aspirations and talents by settling for “safe” or “secure” jobs. Do not let ratings or forecasts map your future – instead, let them be geographic characteristics of the business landscape you wish to enter.

In preparation for these “secure” jobs we may solely choose niche student organizations or peers from which to gain insight. This common practice actually leads to great success for certain people, yet for others it can be like boxing yourself in, leaving no room to breathe and explore various business opportunities under your nose.

If you, like myself, cannot narrowly define your interests to one field – in other words, they overlap with business practicality and the vivacious liberal arts disciplines – then do not penalize yourself for it. Create opportunities to combine your interests. Do not sit complacent checking off the box of what a business major “should or should not do.”

Business may not be the physical engine that runs the world, but it is the international language of exchange. Not everyone has to learn it the same way. In fact, if they did, everyone would feel they are on a level playing field, and we know that is clearly not true. If you choose a structured path, be prepared for the rigid expectation that comes with it. If you choose a “flexible, off the beaten path” route also expect to find little to no guidance on how to proceed at times.

Not all schools have the resources to meet your unique motivations and skill set – yet trying to be a part of the homogenous mix of finance, accounting, or even general management students across the country will likely leave you dissatisfied personally and professionally. Having an interest in these fields is greatly valued, so by all means explore the one calling you!

However, I urge you to seek help when needed, inform your perspective in and outside the classroom, and let YOU shine through every step of the way. I implore you to keep fresh in your mind the dangers of self-limiting. Think big, bold, and bright because if you are to dedicate your efforts and power of concentration to any dream; try and make it worth every ounce of energy you put into it.

Do not box yourself in, or let others’ expectations and understandings define you in what is supposed to be an exciting and exhilarating college journey.


Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.

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