By Anna Fitzgibbon

Are we doing it backward? It’s interesting- we expect our students to choose majors, professional pathways and career fields before they take a full inventory of what exists, what they love and how they could find their place within an existing model. If we want our students to potentially change industries, create impact, lead innovation and live fulfilling lives, don’t we first need to expose them to a more diverse set of professional options?

This is a huge disconnect, and it’s not anyone’s fault; it’s just how our educational system is structured. Gap years are the closest thing we have to hitting that “pause” button between classroom and office, and giving students the space to discover what initiatives, movements, causes (and what I like to call the “wonderful blurry things”) that they could translate into a real career trajectory.

Immersive learning provides that pause button, and it has the potential to connect students to purpose-driven careers at an earlier stage, before they get too far into their careers. With only 34% of the U.S. workforce being engaged in the work they do, we have an obligation to re-route and re-direct. We must begin to overhaul our pathways, and in the process, give students all of the available information.

Here are the top five most important shifts that occur when we engage our students in meaningful immersive learning, before they need to make concrete life decisions:

The space of discomfort finally becomes comfortable, and that’s a secret weapon.

Whether you are getting your hands dirty on a farm for the first time or trying to navigate through a new city where you don’t speak the language, there’s no way around it- immersion is uncomfortable. Discomfort is the exciting byproduct of betterment. You will fail, more than once, and at more than one thing. In addition to the satisfaction that eventually comes from surviving and thriving in foreign situations, I would argue that we become permanently altered. And it is that shift which creates a very strong competitive edge in any industry. We are suddenly able to remain nimble and completely open to new challenges. Most importantly, we can exist in that space of discomfort for longer, confident that our tried and true strengths will carry us the rest of the way. Eradicating fear, we open ourselves up to paths less traveled.

We become all-star problem solvers.

In a paper published by NACE and written by Matthew T. Hora, which outlines emerging trends in workplace preparedness, there is an approach discussed called “habits of mind.” Viewing career competencies as bundled, rather than as stand-alone skills, job success depends on cultivated patterns of thinking, behaving and problem-solving. We need to seek out unfamiliar experiences that are driven by our own internal motivations and desire to boost our development. In doing so, we are targeting crucial inter- and intra-personal competencies. This imperative competency-building prepares us to tackle new challenges, ventures and industries, armed with the tools we need to be successful.

We become tied to the results of our work and thus experience engagement in its purest form.

How are we to hone in on our true purpose if we don’t throw ourselves into new experiences? Immersion becomes a mirror for us to take stock of what we enjoy, where our knowledge gaps are and how we respond to new (and often ambiguous) situations. Because we are intimately involved in the experience, we become more closely engaged and invested in the outcomes. Suddenly, we get the opportunity to engage in an informal but very real testing ground, getting us one step closer to doing what we love, while we continue to iterate a meaningful life by building our way forward.

Bio:

Anna Fitzgibbon is the Founder and Owner of OutGrowth, a company that partners students with socially-conscious farm businesses for immersive, out-of-the-office experiences. With a strong focus on experiential learning, social impact and purpose-driven professional development, OutGrowth strengthens businesses while growing the next generation of leaders and environmental stewards. Outside of OutGrowth, Anna is a corporate wellness and fitness coach, a graduate of the JHU Carey Business School MBA program, a recent Tedx speaker, a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and an avid traveler. Wholeheartedly believing in the value of adventure, she spent five years post-undergrad traveling through 25 countries, working in the education, event, theatre, hospitality and adventure tourism sectors. Anna started her career in higher education at Johns Hopkins University before transitioning into entrepreneur life, where she is proud to be today.

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