Matlock, mochas and metamorphosis: The journey from university life to my career

Ben MatlockGrowing up, Ben Matlock (one of TV’s greatest defense attorneys) was my idol. He was charming and down to earth, sharp as a tack, and with a dozen identical suits, he never had to think about what he would wear to court.

My parents had instilled in me the importance of going on to postsecondary from a young age, and also the notion that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Ben Matlock. With a single-minded focus, I set my sights on law school.

When I got to university, I decided to pursue courses of interest – English, history, philosophy, geography. I thought that since I would go on to law school, my undergraduate subjects didn’t much matter. So I studied what I loved.

I was fortunate to spend my first year of university abroad and was bowled over at what my small-town childhood didn’t have the opportunity to teach me about art and culture and how to think critically about the world and the new things I was encountering. After four years of proverbially expanding my horizons, fate (and in truth, not enough “buckling down”) would have it that I wouldn’t get into law school. While only slightly disheartened at these dashed dreams of my youth, I wasn’t fearful about what the future held. The personal growth I experienced in university made me independent and strong. I needed to carve my own path and I had no expectations that my degree guaranteed me a job.

According to a recent poll by the Gandalf Group for the Council of Ontario Universities, 95 per cent of Ontarians expect universities to provide its graduates access to better jobs, but 94 per cent also expected universities to provide the chance to grow personally and 91 per cent said they expect universities to teach greater independence.

For two years, I was a Barista with a BA (gasp!). Contrary to the media coverage on this subject, I was passionate about my work behind the espresso counter, so much so that I was offered the opportunity to manage the business operations of the café. I hired, fired, and balanced cash flows. I worked hard and learned new skills. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade.

From there, I landed a job at Queen’s Park, which led me to where I am now at the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) in a unique role that crosses the communications department and the office of the president. University helped me hone the writing, analytic, strategic and organizational skills that assist me in preparing COU’s president as she leads our organization. As they say, behind every great president is a great executive assistant!

University taught me that the world is not a closet full of the same grey suits. I didn’t only have one career option.

In job interviews, we’re often asked: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Reflecting on my time in university and the path it led me, I always hesitate to answer that question. I wonder if most of us truly know the answer.

Sir Ken Robinson –  noted author, educator and speaker – has said that we give the impression on our CVs that our lives have been a well-ordered and planned series of events, as we do not want prospective employers to know about the real ‘yes’ and ‘no’ decisions we’ve had to make along the way.

I’m inclined to agree. I have no regrets about the path I took, even if it wasn’t the course I had charted in my youth, or the debt I incurred to get here. University was the best investment I could have made in myself and my future.

While I can’t say for sure what I’ll be doing in five years, I imagine I’ll be in a classroom discovering a new passion and sipping a mean double-shot latte.