I worry a lot that I am bad at my job. I really, really want to be good at my job, but it's hard to tell. I work with smart kids, and they get fascinating jobs and internships and get admitted to fabulous graduate programs, but I can't take credit for that -- they probably would do all those things without me. And of course they also get rejected from fantastic jobs and programs, and it doesn't occur to them or to me to blame me, but maybe it should. Maybe if I were better they would all succeed all the time.
(Just kidding. That would be a terrible fate, anyway, because one thing that's hard for these young people is that they haven't had much experience with failure yet and are paralyzed by fear of it. I know what that feels like, and wish I could take it away from them.)
Anyway, usually I feel like I'm reasonably good at my job, and trying to get better at it is really fun and motivating and hard. I have a bulletin board full of thank you cards from students who seem to think I helped, and I get more secrets confessed to me than my colleagues, which seems like a good sign. Students tell me I've helped. But still, I'm not sure. So I read a lot of the other advice out there in the world -- all the other "experts" giving career advice to young people -- to see what I can learn. Some of it makes me so mad. I don't know why inane career advice uttered confidently by slick self-promoters makes me furious. Glib smugness is pretty widespread in the world and it doesn't usually bother me. Maybe this kind gets at me because I worry I don't have so much to offer; I fear being glibly smug and imagining myself indispensable. Maybe it gets under my skin because I'm afraid my students will fall for it and feel bad about themselves when they are pushed by these experts into narrow boxes.
But what kind of advice is really good? This article says information is the best kind of advice -- better than recommendations for or against a decision, which I tend to avoid, and better even than advice about how to go about making a decision. I've been thinking about that. The truth is I think the best kind of help I offer students isn't any of those four. I help them articulate the decisions they've already made, but they aren't yet sure they've decided. I listen pretty well, and maybe I'm good at asking useful questions, and I imagine that I'm good at noticing when they are really engaged with something and when they are talking themselves into it.
The best advice I get is thoughtful and provocative questions from smart friends that shines a light on my assumptions, and the feeling that they will accept any answer I give, as long as it is truthful. That's the way I try to advise. But I have no idea if I'm any good, or if it's the right way.