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Common Reading 2023: Letter to the Person Who, During the Q&A Session After the Reading, Asked for Career Advice by Matthew Olzmann

Letter to the Person Who, During the Q&A Session After the Reading, Asked for Career Advice — Matthew Olzmann

Listen to Matthew Olzmann's reading of the poem

“Letter to the Person Who, During the Q&A Session After the Reading, Asked for Career Advice” is a poem about not knowing what career to choose, and the balance between choosing a career that aligns with your passions, interests, or hobbies and choosing a career that is financially rewarding.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think is most important to consider when choosing a career: passion, financial stability, or something else? (No right or wrong answers) 

  1. What unconventional careers would interest you? What about those jobs is appealing?

Class Activity

  • Explore the Career Development Center’s (CDC) resource “Exploring Your Major and Possible Careers” and/or schedule an appointment with the CDC to help you figure out the right career path for you. 

  • Take at least one free career/personality test online (several are included in the CDC resource). See if your results offer any insight into potential career paths. 

Introduction — Allie Grill

One of my favorite quotes is from the author and theologian Frederick Buecher, who described a calling as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I appreciate this definition because the career exploration requires us to look within ourselves to find joy, or what Olzmann describes in the following text as “astonishment” or an “alpine ibex.” So how do you discern your deep gladness?

Rather than thinking about what you’d like to do post-graduation, instead consider who you would like to become. Curiosity is essential in this process, which is why I enjoy Olzmann’s recommendation to find an entry-level job standing by the riverbank. In your busy collegiate life, a moment to pause and reflect can be rare, but it is necessary for your self-development. If you feel confused, I suggest taking a walk down to the Susquehanna River for contemplation.

In this poem, Olzmann introduces several fantastical career choices, like “chainsaw juggler,” among several common choices like “commodity analyst.” This juxtaposition exposes the absurdity of these quintessential job titles, often intentionally based in industry jargon. Can anyone actually define what it means to be a commodity analyst? My guess is no, not even commodity analysts themselves.

So, read ahead. Consider the fantastical, the absurd, and put aside what you’ve been told about success. It’s time to find your own footholds and keep climbing.

Related Videos

"20 Jobs You Never Knew Existed | Ultimate List" from Insider

"Totally Awesome Jobs You Probably Never Thought Existed" from Great Big Story

Additional Resources

Career Development Center (CDC)

Check out the webpage for Susquehanna University's Career Development Center (CDC) to learn more about the services they offer and how they help students prepare for their careers.

"Exploring Your Major and Possible Careers" from SU's CDC

This resource from Susquehanna's CDC includes various tools and tips for choosing a major and/or career. It has links to career personality tests, resources for researching different majors/careers, and information on how to schedule an appointment with a career advisor.

"How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)"

This Wait But Why blog post by Tim Urban goes in-depth to explain a framework to help you decide on a career path for yourself that balances different wants and needs. It includes several humorous doodles to help illustrate the writer's points.

About the Author

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Mezzanines, which was selected for the Kundiman Prize, and Contradictions in the Design, both from Alice James Books. His writing has appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. Currently, he teaches at Dartmouth College and also in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.


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