Stop Trying to Create a Killer Resume and Do This Instead

Jun 15, 2015 - Joe Matar
Your resume isn’t much different than your social media profile. While it may omit some embarrassing pictures, your resume represents a carefully curated persona. It reduces your complex virtues into shiny marketing collateral. But the problem with resumes isn’t that we brand and sell ourselves — it’s that the experiences we tout on our resumes often don’t reflect what we want to do with our lives. They represent a bunch of things we thought we should do. A resume is no longer just bullet points in Arial font. It’s become a totalitarian dictator, coercing us into chasing things that conflict with our hopes and dreams just because those things look nice on paper. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can build lives we want to live. And by pursuing career goals that excite us, we’ll end up building impressive resumes in the process. (Click here to tweet this quote.) Here’s how.

Shed expectations and listen to your gut

There’s a soundtrack to the world we live in. It’s an ambient, barely discernable noise that constantly tells us who we should be and what we should want. From Photoshopped ads showing us what to strive for, to Instagram posts that make us feel inadequate, to articles on the highest-paying careers — we’re immersed in propaganda that pressures us to follow other people’s ideas of success. These external ideas often overpower our internal aspirations and push us down paths that aren’t our own choosing. We’re pressured to attend medical school (even though we love design); to take that prestigious job offer (despite having no interest in the field); to scale back our “impractical” dreams. Either way, blindly heeding this noise is a ticket to career disillusionment and spending your work days covertly browsing websites until you’ve read and watched the entire Internet. Analyze the advice you’re hearing and determine whether it matches what you really want. If you follow it, will you be bored with your work? Will you be living for weekends and Netflix binges? Will you have been true to yourself? If all signs are pointing to “I’m going to be a zombie,” mute outside influences and listen to yourself.

Define what success means to you

We tend to think of success as a flaunt-worthy factoid you can slip into dinner party conversation or trot out on social media. It’s the fancy title on your business card. The purse plastered with brand symbols. The open-concept house with his-and-hers sinks that every couple in the history of House Hunters demands. However, the greatest myth of success is that it can be defined the same way for everyone. For some, the thrill of signing a multi-million-dollar client pumps our blood. For others, working 90-hour weeks for buckets of pay won’t satisfy, and we’d be happier making cat ornaments for Etsy. Wherever you fall, looking beyond society’s one-size-fits-all view of success and defining it for yourself will clear the fog of pressure that clouds your true desires. If thinking about success conjures cheesy posters of people climbing mountains, break down the cliché concept into categories: What does success mean to you financially? At work? With family? These questions will help you whittle success into a manageable vision.

Just do something

Choosing a career can’t be done in a vacuum. It happens in the real world where you try something, hate it, try something else, fail, but keep plugging away at it anyway because you like it. So pick something! Paralyzed by choice? Identify what you really like to do. What engrosses you so much you forget you have two seasons of Game of Thrones to catch up on? Starting might require short-term sacrifices: volunteering for no pay, taking tutorials to build skills, or accepting work that is initially so bad you want to adopt a pseudonym. When you unchain yourself from expectations, define what matters to you, and take action to move forward, you won’t just create a worthwhile resume — you’ll create a life worth living. Brian McAllister is the coauthor of Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life (Chronicle Books; April 2015). He is also cofounder and operations director for Roadtrip Nation, a long-running public television series, educational organization, and movement of people committed to living lives true to their interests.