Plan, plan, plan — and then launch.
That’s the advice of two Texas A&M-based authors who recently released Launchers, a book aimed at people ages 18 to 35 who are figuring out how to get their careers started, or, in some cases, relaunched.
The authors — Codie Wright, a 26-year-old Texan who works as the assistant director at the A&M-based Weston AgriFood Sales Program, and Kerry Litzenberg, an Indiana-born agricultural economics professor at A&M who turns 70 on Monday — contend that their cross-generational collaboration and experiences working with students have helped them create a career-planning process that will help young people on their way.
The book weaves together stories — from former students, people in a variety of professions and from the authors themselves — that aim to provide potential roadmaps and examples of success.
“A lot of people — students who are looking to graduate and people who are looking to relaunch their careers — they want to find the ‘best’ job,” Wright said in a recent interview with The Eagle. “But if they can’t identify what ‘best’ is, they will find themselves in that vicious cycle looking for the next best thing. What we encourage in the book is to figure out what do you like, what are you really good at and how can you, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, line that up with a successful career?”
The authors teach three classes together at Texas A&M that include a focus on emotional intelligence, and they contend that understanding oneself is key to career planning.
“There is enormous stress on these kids to be something, and they have no idea what that is,” Litzenberg said, just after pointing out that approximately 60% of Texas A&M students were in the top 10% of their high school class. “We try to dedicate ourselves to helping them figure out what that something is and be a positive part in their lives rather than a stressor.”
“Their parents or family members will ask them, and it’s relieving whenever you say ‘Oh, I took a job as this,’ and they say, ‘Thank goodness,’ ” Wright added. She said that rather than provide encouragement to “be whatever you want to be” and take the “best” job, it can be helpful for people to identify the kinds of work environments and position characteristics that seem ideal based on one’s strengths. That can help people focus their plans, Wright said.
In the Launchers introduction, the authors express dismay that college students often wait until graduation and then “simply start looking for a job with no plan in place.”
“There seems to be an assumption that somehow the pieces will fall into place, but it doesn’t work that way,” Wright and Litzenberg wrote. “If you don’t create a calculated job launch, you will end up job hunting and most likely take the first job that comes along. You might have four to five jobs in the next five years that you don’t like while you wait for the right one.”
The book is divided into four parts. The opening post-introduction section is titled “Creating Your Career Launch Plan” and concludes with a “launch criteria” guide.
The second section, “What Do You Bring to the Table,” includes resume advice. Part three, “Your Core Competencies,” weaves together stories and analysis about mentorship, interviewing, networking and other aspects of career plan prep, including how one thinks about travel. A story in the book relays the experience of a student who was considering a career in sales but didn’t like the ideal of “driving all over Texas” to meet with hospital clinic managers.
“It didn’t appeal to her at all, and that’s fine. She was smart to avoid a career that would have made her miserable,” the authors wrote. A former student of Litzenberg’s, however, expressed initial hesitation about travel, yet when they caught up two decades later, he lived with his wife in Switzerland.
The final section, “Success in the Workplace,” includes a host of workplace tips and analysis of cross-generational workplace norms and expectations, as well as a chapter on how to revisit plans if a job isn’t the right fit and one’s plan needs to be revamped.
“You get one life, and how terrible would it be spending 40 years of it working in a job you don’t like,” Wright said. Litzenberg quickly added, “Which is interesting because baby boomers did that all the time. My generation and certainly the generation before, they had a job and worked hard at it for their families, even if they hated it.”
Litzenberg cited Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, which pointed out that the “love your job” concept is, largely, a recent notion. Millennials and members of Generation Z, Litzenberg said, have proven more likely to seek enjoyment in their occupation.
Litzenberg, who is almost ubiquitously referred to as “Dr. Litz,” and Wright came to their own careers via different paths, but both credited mentors for helping them find their way.
Litzenberg initially planned to be a high school teacher, he said. A part-time job during college in his school’s agricultural economics department brought him, through a circuitous path, to filling in and teaching a college course.
“I said ‘Oh my gosh, this is it. This is what I want to do,’” he said. He said he has been teaching at the college level for more than 40 years.
“I have an absolute, undying love for working with young people, and Codie has an unbelievable gift for working with young people,” Litzenberg said. “It’s an awesome thing to watch.”
Wright took a course from Litzenberg in 2013 as an undergraduate at Texas A&M, and Wright reached out to Litzenberg as she prepared to begin graduate studies at A&M. Their professional partnership built from there, they said.
Wright is certified to work with students and others on Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, and she said that identifying a person’s strengths through the program has helped her advising and mentoring work, both at her workplace and beyond. Her own career journey involved identifying her strengths, skill sets and connections, she said.
“I always knew I liked the idea of sales, and I liked the idea of working with people, because at the end of the day, we all just want to feel welcome and to connect with somebody else,” she said.