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A Journey of Discovery, a Career Timeline, and a Whole Lot of Post-it Notes

new career connections model
Feb 22 2016

A Journey of Discovery, a Career Timeline, and a Whole Lot of Post-it Notes: Meet Norbert Chang

by Victoria Pu

“The blue ones down here were just recently added. They’re kind of like moments I’m proud of, [moments] that I felt I could speak to at a job.” Below the column of blue post-it notes, each neighboring array of multi-colored sticky-notes held significance of its own. Magenta for job experiences, yellow reserved for words that created resonance. Another set named The Strengths Finder categorized five strengths by column. A few highlighted words included “developer,” “intellectual,” “futuristic.”

All these words and more only begin to describe Norbert Chang, a former NJIT undergraduate student of architecture now studying Civil Engineering at Stanford’s graduate school. When asked about his decision to transition from architecture to civil engineering, he was contemplative yet decisive, “I did enjoy architecture, I did enjoy the build experience, and I didn’t want to completely forego that. Civil engineering would offer me the tangible criteria—it’s about efficiency, lowering costs, whereas architecture was based aesthetically. If you asked someone ‘Do you find this building beautiful’—it’s a very subjective question. That was a little frustrating for me about design—that you couldn’t have…something that was like: ‘This is the best option.’”

But to Chang, not everything is about objectivity or conclusive destinations. He would describe one such ongoing project as “a long process…like writing a diary, or a journal, cataloging your life.” So what exactly is Chang working on? In a word (or a few): a career timeline. This particular idea was inspired by a suggestion from his BEAM career coach. “Pamela [Paspa] had recommended it,” Chang explained. “I just sort of have it on scratch paper [for now]…but what I’d like to do is I’d like to be able to map out the time period between when I graduated from NJIT to now, adding to it. It’ll highlight milestones—projects that I did, moments that I was really proud of, and it’ll just put a picture to it. It’ll be sort of like the post-it notes, but on a timeline so you can see in these intervals what I did; I’m not sure exactly what to expect from it, but I’m really excited about this.”

Conceived as a way to connect seemingly disparate experiences and identity words scribbled on post-it notes, the timeline project is an ongoing journey of self-discovery. Chang said of the initial process, “One exercise that we did that was particularly helpful was that we looked through the assessments [Myers Briggs and Strong Interest Inventory] and she [Pamela] said, “Pick some words that really attract you. And that really helped me figure out who I am—just those words.” From there Chang began cataloging and recording these defining words and experiences: “So what I ended up doing was, on my window, writing down phrases—things I did at my past job, words that appealed strongly to me. And it’s kind of helpful that I have them on my window [because] every day I get up I can take a look at it and say, ‘Yeah, I’m really feeling that.’ Or if something happens that day that I feel like strongly impacts my personal development, I have the post-its there, I’ll write it down.”

The magnitude and impact of discovery run the gamut. From the “futuristic” post-it that inspired Chang to find Windhover by “deviating from [his] typical from class to discover a new area of Stanford”—to the phrase “not deterred or intimidated by opposition,” which constantly reminds Chang: “Quite often it’s not the external opposition that I need to focus on, but more so internal opposition. It is a reminder to calm the voices in my head that spew self criticism.”

Talking with Pamela, too, had transformed the way Chang thought about career development and education. “One thing that I never realized,” Chang began, “was values—what are my values? Pamela helped illustrate that there are important aspects for me: I value making connections—I value having strong connections with individuals as opposed to, say, having a lot of soft connections. This is one of the exercises that was really helpful for me.” Chang paused to indicate a line atop the page: “You can see at the top that that’s my mission statement that we worked on together.” 

In the process of probing his personal values in career sessions with Pamela, Chang realized, “What I took away from that was the fact of vulnerability—the fact that I could be vulnerable—which isn’t something that I would think of with career development, but is absolutely necessary, because career development is not so much finding out what job you want to do, but who you are as a person. As I went to a few more sessions with her, I developed personal confidence in the fact that I felt she understood who I was, and at the same time, I got to know myself better.”

Through connecting with Pamela, Chang also attended a few BEAM events: “Two were those…consulting [sessions], and my intent wasn’t to go into consulting, but to just sort of get in the habit of going to these events and learning more about what BEAM has to offer. And I think what that did was also help boost my confidence because you’re sort of in that environment with people you don't know, and you have to throw yourself out there—again with the whole vulnerability.  

And the more I went to these events the more I built upon that. I developed a lot of confidence, and working with Pamela really helped that.”

Building the timeline is a discovery process akin to “taking a needle on a thread and beginning to pull everything together. And then you get a comprehensive idea of you who are,” Chang began. “It’s a really interesting process, which is why I put emphasis on the process part, because it’s not something that you can say, ‘Okay, I’m going to spend one weekend drinking coffee and doing this,’” he continued jocosely. “But it’s a daily thing—because every day you wake up realizing something different about yourself, and you just keep adding to it something meaningful.”

Chang’s own post-it laden journey is marked with meaning: From stickies that evoke memories of completing the 15-mile Spartan obstacle-course race—“ you realize it’s not the physical strength but the inner drive”—to his draft of a Venn diagram inventory of values, Chang’s own words best summarize the ultimate goal of career development: “Talking to Pamela was the catalyst for realizing that going about looking for a career is a personal journey—it’s not about bottom dollar or adding something to your resume, but what you want your story to be and—at the end of the day—who you want to be.”