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Getting Clear on Your Career

February 11, 2021
by Angel Valdes

You’ve heard of clarifying career goals, but what if you have yet to clarify your career?

When I decided to apply for a global internship through CEA, my goal was just that – to clarify my career path. During the CEA interview process I became comfortable with saying, “I’m in the exploration process of my career development.” 

Unfortunately, this vague, if true, statement didn’t help myself or my placement advisor.

Seeking some internet community advice on what to do about this existential crisis, I came across The Shaky Bridge of Transition:


What does the Old Normal look like for you?
My normal was the years spent pursuing my bachelor's in Creative and PR writing while working as a general manager, a familiar position with clear responsibilities. For the most part, I always knew what to expect when it came to a paycheck, a grade, or a deadline.

The inciting event: November came and I quit my job. I had no concrete idea of what I wanted to do other than write, but the greater fear at the time was falling back on my position after graduation. I feared stagnation and complacency. Leaving what I knew I no longer wanted was simple. I had concrete reasons derived from personal experience.

What was lacking or not working for you in the old normal? What would have been more ideal? The new normal isn’t a place we build from scratch, but from an understanding of our past and desires in the present.

“In the Liminal Space (transitional/uncomfortable) lies an unexpected gift: a chance to step back and look at our life, to examine if the patterns, practices, and relationships that were present in our previous life still serve us well.”

Consider the Road Metaphor. 

The one we use to compare the dizzying amount of roads on a map to the array of choices available in our lives.

(Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash


The road metaphor is a mental trap. If we think of life like a road map, we become understandably overwhelmed and indecisive. To say “the sky's the limit” is to chuck your life’s experiences to the wayside. To say that there is one destination is to believe that no major decision making will be left after you make this one choice, and that’s a lot of pressure.

Set not limitations, but helpful parameters.

  • Passion, or, What topics of conversation are energy producing?

  • Ideal Work Environment, or, What structure sets you up for success?

  • Current Skill Set, or, What value do you add personally/professionally?

  • Personal Needs, or, Under what conditions do you function best?

Choose your career path on its connection to just one of these parameters and you fall into another trap: The trap of believing we want something we actually don’t, which can bleed dangerously into believing we want to be someone we’re not, endeavoring to fix ourselves to fit that ideal.


A story: About a year ago I went looking for my Passion (the capital P enigma), sifting through my memory for that special glimmer of excitement. I ultimately decided to get my leasing license. Why? Because I just signed a lease on a new apartment and was sad my Zillow browsing had come to an end. Discovering that a certification was simple enough to attain made the move easy to entertain and actively pursue.

I’d pinpointed an energy-producing topic, a passion though perhaps not the capital P, but the idea matched none of my other parameters. The reason I chugged forward with this ill-fitting prospect was honestly just that I didn’t yet know the answers to all the questions that would shape my parameters. I didn’t know what my ideal work environment was until I’d taken the position as Director. I didn’t fully understand how I operated best until I started down the salesman road.

Do we learn better by doing or by being told what to do?

There’s an obvious answer here. Sometimes, moving forward with the answers you do have is the only way to discover the answers you don’t have. Sitting down and thinking hard about your next move is a solid strategy for crossing the bridge you’re on now with confidence, but the takeaway here is to let go of the belief that this choice is the last choice, and this career path is your Career forever, capital C. When one of your parameters changes, be it due to a lifestyle change, burnout, or growth, expect to find yourself having to cross another bridge.

I’m excited to be an intern with CEA, clarifying my values and offerings, building my portfolio, and testing a new structure under conditions I’ve found I work best in. 

Internships are great in that they can help you pivot sooner rather than later, a low-risk exploration for whichever parameter you’re struggling to define under the “professional development” umbrella.

Best of luck to all of you out there digging deep to take your next big step!

Learn more about virtual study abroad with CEA.

Angel Valdes is the Spring 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in Virtual, and is currently studying at DePaul University.
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