Change: A Perspective from a Future Leader

At the beginning of March, things were going extremely well for me. After applying to 85 summer internships and going through what seemed like endless rounds of interviews and rejection letters, I landed an internship at a financial non-profit in Durham. I found housing for the summer in Chapel Hill and was preparing to sign a sublease. I was at the beach with friends over spring break when we got the email that we were being kicked out of our on-campus housing and sent home. 

And just like that, everything changed.

Suddenly, I was forced to adapt to doing online classes. As a humanities major, I thrive off of close interactions with my professors and classmates. With everyone stuck behind a screen and trying to do assignments at home with both parents, my brother and my dog constantly around, my focus and attention took a nosedive. Within a week of being home, I got the call that my summer internship had been canceled. I was devastated. I was supposed to use the summers in between college to figure out what to do with my life and what career path I should take. How could I develop professional career skills without an internship? 

I struggled this summer with feeling behind. Many of my friends also had their internships canceled, but many didn’t. They got lucky that theirs were transferable to being remote and while they had no control over that, I still spent much of the summer feeling resentful and bitter. I tried to make the best of my situation. I took a summer class, worked at a smoothie shop, and participated in a product marketing case challenge analysis program. 

Every day I was plagued with worries and concerns for my future. I have always been a future-oriented person planning for success and I was overwhelmed with the possibility of everything I had worked for being thrown down the drain due to external factors. I will graduate in the class of ‘22, most likely still in the middle of a pandemic, economic recession, and budget cuts for the career fields I want to work in. I am already worrying about finding an internship for next summer, and the fear of landing one but it being canceled and this cycle repeating itself again is keeping me up most nights. 

I will end with some pleas to hiring managers and employers: please show kindness and empathy to the classes of ‘20, ‘21 and ‘22. We are doing our best with a rotten situation. We are constantly in crisis mode and watching the world fall apart around us. It is incredibly difficult to stay motivated when you feel like you no longer have a purpose or an ability to make the world better. 

My name is Erin Campagna and I am a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double majoring in English and Communication Studies with a minor in History. This semester I have the opportunity to intern at Adastra Talent Partners and learn from Sarah Katherine Tucker, a Certified Executive Coach. Acknowledging the significant changes in the world currently, we wanted to create space for a conversation around successfully navigating change in the midst of chaos. 

What are some best practices to stop worrying about things you can’t control?

I always tell myself and my clients, control what you can control, let go of what you can’t. We waste so much mental and physical energy on worrying – about near-term problems and long-term issues, when the reality is, sometimes it’s entirely outside of our control. Take your internship search, for instance. I won’t claim to understand the stress you were experiencing or judge that experience for you. However, it became a situation that was outside of your control the minute companies began closing their intern reqs due to the pandemic. When we acknowledge what is within our control and what is not, it can be a freeing mindset shift.

When you find yourself worrying about things you can’t control, that energy, those emotions, need to find a way out. A productive movement of this energy looks different for everyone – for some it may be a run, others cook or bake, and many move through anxiety and worry by journaling. Find those outlets for your feelings so you don’t hold onto them and spiral into unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns.

How do you stop comparing your success to the success of others and let go of bitterness when things aren’t going your way?

The comparison game is a tricky one. We all inevitably fall into comparing ourselves to others, in part because our brains are naturally conditioned to operate “in the negative.” Our brain chemistry is actually wired to look for the bad in life instead of the good. So when we compare ourselves, our experiences, our lives to others, it’s how we’re wired. Acknowledging this is the first step to letting go of the bitterness (or any other feeling you attach to the comparison game).

From there, we must consciously train our minds to focus on the good. In order to rewire our brains, it takes a pattern of focused effort. Practicing gratitude can be transformational and can be as simple as naming three things you’re thankful for each day. Many of my clients keep a gratitude journal and integrate this practice into their morning or evening routine. Engaging your brain in this way brings awareness to your own success and abundance. It’s about shifting perspective to focus on the good in your own life.  

How can college students successfully navigate times of excessive change within the job markets?

We are all in a state of constant change. There is a confluence of external forces in our world right now between the pandemic, social issues, and economic uncertainty. It’s only natural that our mindset changes as our circumstances do as well.

When we navigate change, whether imposed by ourselves or outside forces, we inevitably traverse a change journey. When I say it’s a change journey it’s not fluffy – the journey is filled with highs and lows, celebrations and losses, and where you choose to sit in that journey in the series of moments is important.

The beauty of change is that it holds tremendous opportunity for growth and evolution. Change allows you to build resilience by moving through resistance. Change offers you an opportunity to choose to operate differently. And within change you often discover you are capable of much more than you ever dreamed possible. But looking at change from this vantage point is a mindset shift.

Your generation is navigating an undoubtedly difficult time in our world’s history. As you ponder career opportunities post-graduation, consider this:

  • Be flexible when it comes to obtaining practical real-world experience. Internships have been the primary vehicle by which students learn, grow, and discover their areas of interest. In the absence of internships, get creative in how you gain exposure to business environments. 
  • Network with professional organizations and individuals from alumni groups to gain more insight into career journeys.
  • Be open to unpaid internship opportunities with companies that can help you build tangible skills in your area of interest. 
  • Pursue volunteer opportunities with nonprofits that will allow you to give back to the community while gaining experience. 
  • Engage in virtual workshops and training programs to learn new concepts and get creative in applying your learnings.

How can the process of change facilitation within a company be useful for college students?

Whether it’s an organization or a person, the one constant in life is change. Change facilitation within an organization involves multiple people and perspectives while personal change is singular and involves self-awareness and introspection. Regardless, the first step in change facilitation is awareness. Check-in with yourself and the change(s) you’re experiencing in life. What are the feelings around the change(s)? How would you like to navigate the change in a way that focuses on the good and your strengths? In what ways can you shift perspective in your life to view the change(s) as positive and for your own evolution as a person? This is a crucial piece of the change facilitation process.

From there, look at how you can increase your knowledge around the change itself. Are there particular skills you need to grow or gain in order to embrace the change? For many, the pandemic has forced us to expand our way of viewing personal interactions, learning, and work. What are you doing to move with this tide rather than fighting against it? We waste so much energy fighting change in our lives rather than acknowledging and accepting that change happens. Not only is this exhausting, but we begin to put up barriers for our own protection and this can close us off to new experiences and the opportunity to build new skills. 

A final key step in successfully navigating change is reinforcement. When you tackle a difficult task or take a path that’s unknown, you have to give yourself pats on the back along the way. Notice where you’ve moved through resistance to change and built resilience. Celebrate that for yourself. Perhaps you stepped outside of your comfort zone on a project or assignment. Big or small, instances where you approach the uncertain from a place of a growth mindset are empowering, reinforcing, and cause for celebration. 

A final thought on change and life in general is to meet yourself where you are. If you’re feeling super stressed, tune into your mind and body and give yourself permission to do what you feel is best for your wellbeing. So often we fight what our body and mind is telling us because we feel we always have to be our best selves. Acknowledge and accept that your feelings are not only completely normal, but also offer an opportunity for you to shift perspective and formulate a new way of operating and moving through change!

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