Fakin’ it to make it

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy
Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. That has to be my favourite book title. That and Thomas Hardy’s short stories collection “Life’s Little Ironies”. If you have read Hardy then you will appreciate the bitter humour. The title was so good, I couldn’t bring myself the read the book; the book surely couldn’t live up to it.

Erving Goffman was a renowned academic and was one of the first to apply an almost forensic analysis to everyday interactions and this theme was developed in his The Presentation of Life in Everyday Life (1959). The everyday is the important part. We all are aware that we put on a bit of a show for “special” events such as interviews or formal presentations but his take was that we do this all the time to preserve our status and limit damage to our self-esteem. I remember Goffman’s book being deeply serious and at the same time being seriously hilarious. I hope if you decide to read it, so do you.

Shakespeare put it this way:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

Americans have a slightly different way of looking at it. They use the expression:

“Fakin’ it to make it”

Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy has done some interesting research on it: TED Talk: Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are. It is a longish clip but you may find what is contained in there could be useful before that formal presentation or interview.


You can access other help for those tricky presentations in My Career Zone.

Her research shows that body language can affect the levels of the hormones testosterone and cortisol in your body. Testosterone is the one you want to have at a higher level:  it makes you feel more powerful. Cortisol is seen as the “stress” hormone. She recommends that before a formal event, for two minutes, you adopt one or two of the power postures. Hands raised, hands on hips, BIG postures.

I tried this out before a particularly nerve wracking session in Newman A. I went to the toilet opposite the Sanctuary, the one that has a constant smell of asparagus. I did a few power postures. I was particularly fond of what I named the “Mussolini”: hands on hips, jaw protruding forward and striding around the room with long, loping steps. Luckily no one came in. It seemed to work and when I arrived for my five minute input to a lecture and it turned out I was doing the whole hour, I somehow survived.

But I have a doubt. What if you fake it and put on a face which is not yours? Do you become a different person? Do you start playing a role which is no longer you or true to your values, to the person you used to be?

If it is true, in my book, that’s a little irony.

Tom McAndrew
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Fourteen things to do in your first year at the University of Exeter

  1. Enjoy yourself
    Yes, it will be hard work at times but enjoy everything the University has to offer. We want you to be happy here.
  2. Visit Diagon Alley
    J.K Rowling studied here and based Diagon Alley on Gandy Street in Exeter. I believe there is a slightly grander version at Universal studios, Florida. If you were brought up on Harry Potter, you may notice local names that sound familiar.
  3. Run from the flaming tar barrels at Ottery St Mary (Ottery St Catchpole?) on Bonfire Night
    It’s Devon’s version of running with the bulls. You enter the village at your own risk. I did it once and still wake up screaming.

    By Scouse_and_Jules CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Scouse_and_Jules
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  4. Go to Timepiece
    A legendary bar/nightclub in Exeter and no one really knows why.
  5. Cycle to The Turf
    A splendid pub on the estuary. If you are feeling adventurous, cycle down to Dawlish too and see the black swans. You can hire bikes on the Quay.
  6. Cycle or take the train to Exmouth
    There’s sand and seaside stuff going on there.
  7. Go to North Devon for the surf
    Gnarly Dude!

    By rrx_blade CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By rrx_blade
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  8. Go to the Impey.
    It’s a ‘spoons. It is cheap. It’s cheerful. The window in the Orangery was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
  9. Eat some Curly Fries
    All hell broke loose a couple of years ago when they were taken off the Ram Bar menu.

    By Alexandra Richmond, CC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Alexandra Richmond,
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  10. Start thinking about your career
    Well, what did you expect? This is a career blog after all. And we like to think we will help you get to where you want to be. You will be doing the eXfactor but why not think about the Exeter Award? Explore the Career Zone? We are here to help. No pressure. Check out our website: www.exeter.ac.uk/careers/
  11. Go to the RAMM
    Not the bar but the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Museum of the year 2012. Go see Gerald the Giraffe. We like him.
  12. Have a picnic on Cathedral Green
    Sometimes in life it is the simple pleasures that hit the mark. Keep your eye on the seagulls. They like picnicking on Cathedral Green too.

    By Phillip Capper CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Phillip Capper
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  13. Wander around the Quay
    It feels like a different city.

    By Phineas H CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
    By Phineas H
    CC: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legal
  14. Enjoy Yourself
    I know I have said that but it is worth repeating.

By the Career Zone team.

Closing time

Every ending, a beginning.

It is that time when we are reaching the end of the academic year. A final flurry of exam stress and there, for finalists, your university life is over.

The first line is quote from a lyric of an American songwriter whose work I like.

Another similar quote is “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”   That one is from the Roman Philosopher Seneca the Younger, according to Wikipedia.  Ahem, and we a research university. I first heard it in song called “Closing time” by Semisonic late in the last century (have a listen below). This song was also used in the Simpsons TV series.  It was a dating song for Homer and Marge. Ahem.

We careers advisers like to talk about “transitions”. It is the bit between one settled period of your life, where you know what you are doing, to another settled period.  An ending and a beginning. An odd, exciting but unsure period.  Our first years will have made a major transition to university. Some will have sailed through this period of change, some will have winged it and for some it has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.  Our second years will, in the main, be in that settled period. Our finalists will be entering one of the major transitions in life, leaving education and entering the world of work.  Goodness. Where does the time go?

We are here to help all students with these “transitions” from the first year undergraduates to PHD students and even the postdocs.  We offer help in many ways. Whether it is deciding what to do, help with your plans, how to get an internship or advising you on your CV and applications. Find out more on the Career Zone website.

What many do not realise is that we help graduates and postgraduates up to three years after they have left university. In person, if you are around. By email, by phone, by SKYPE if you are not.

I have to rush. The blog editor, Andy Morgan, is standing over my shoulder and telling me I have to wrap this up and meet my deadline.

But that’s fine.  I have known how to finish this from the start. And, dear Reader, you probably have already guessed how this would all finish.

Every ending, a beginning.

Tom McAndrew
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry

I am sitting in a pub near the university, sipping on a pint, waiting for a friend. Judging by the perfect storm lashing against the oversized fanlight, I feel he may be some time. He may have delayed his cycle ride or interrupted it, seeking shelter. I do what most people seem to do on these occasions; I pick up my smart phone from the sticky table top, check the internet connection and start to browse.

By a haphazard, circuitous route I find myself on the Guardian film website. There is an article here on the top ten film misquotes. Did Darth Vader really say “Luke, I am your father…. ”?  Did Bogart really say “Play it again, Sam.”? Apparently not.  In the top three, is the Dirty Harry quote from the gritty early 70s film of the same name. The quote people remember is “Do you feel lucky, punk? Go ahead, make my day.”

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember an article about luck and try and find this.

There it is on the Daily Mail website. The Guardian first, then the Daily Mail; we careers adviser like to be impartial and unbiased. There’s a Professor Wiseman  who has researched luck and written a book called “The Luck Factor”.

It is about serendipity.

What five syllable word better describes by it melodious rise and fall its meaning; happy accident?  His argument goes that you make your own luck and having a relaxed, outgoing attitude can influence your life for the positive.

Wiseman did an experiment, the article says. He asked people to fill out a questionnaire which gave an idea of how lucky people thought they were. He then asked the same people to read a newspaper and tell him how many photographs were inside. He had secretly placed a message halfway through the newspaper that read ‘Stop counting — there are 43 photographs in this newspaper’. “It was staring everyone in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people spotted it,” says Wiseman. So, it would seem, you do make your own luck.

This can also apply to your career. One careers theory is called “Planned Happenstance”. Krumboltz argues that some planning, an open mind and following what you enjoy, and has meaning for you, is the best way to a happy career, a happy life.  A happy, go lucky one………

My reverie is interrupted by the arrival of my friend and as he begins that slow, dripping, protracted unravelling of his cycle paraphernalia, peculiar, it seems, only to the British cyclist. I tartly remind him that his lateness means that that it is his round. I soon relent however and join the long, wide queue at the bar. After all, I have been lucky. His tardiness has given me an idea for a blog and a structure.

But what about you? Are you feeling lucky?

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

Go ahead.

Make your day.

Tom McAndrew
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter 

Existentialism, Mars Bars and Your Career.

Satre Mars Bar

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I read the existentialists in my undergraduate years.

If I am honest it was a bit a pose, reading Sartre with a French cigarette resting on a sardonic lip. Probably not a bad look for a Parisian café, not for a callow fresher in a run-down pub in Bristol. I do not remember all of it. What I do, still resonates; that we define ourselves by the decisions we make. And with that comes an awful responsibility; we are condemned to be free, as Sartre wrote. We live with the decisions we make. That can result in what are called existentialist dilemmas. This can apply to many things in life and also career choice.

Some careers advisers portray this as the “sweet shop” dilemma.  You enter a newsagent and the confectionary counter lays out its wares in front of you. Should you go for the Mars Bar? You have the money for one item. If you choose the Mars Bar then you will no longer be able to choose another item. That Bounty looks appetising but if you choose that, you will not be able to choose anything else. And you have not even started to consider the minstrels. This can leave you there, standing, staring at the sweets, lost in thought. You may hear an extended sigh from the shopkeeper. There may be a polite cough behind you, the distant cry of a child. You are oblivious, frozen.

As a university careers adviser, you can see similar paralysis in students and graduates. They are overwhelmed by the choices open to them and freeze. One of the greatest pleasures of our roles is to help people in that state of decision-making paralysis. By listening sympathetically, by probing, by reflecting back thoughts. On a good day you can almost see the ideas and decisions start to flow. On rarer days, on a very good day, you can see the “Eureka!” moment; the same moment that I once experienced after seeing a career adviser a couple of years after I had graduated.

All this theorising has made me hungry. I need a snack. I am going to pop round the corner to the Guild shop (other retail outlets are available in the Forum). I am not going for the obvious choice of the Mars bar, I love coconut; it has to be a Bounty. The dark chocolate one. I love the way the sweet soft succulence of the coconut melts and gives way to the slightly bitter taste of the dark chocolate. The best part is when you have eaten one, you still have another bar to enjoy.

But what about you? What’s your decision?

Tom McAndrew, 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter

Big Dreams, Little Dreams

Tom McAndrew, Careers Consultant

Big dreams, little dreams.

As the chanteuse Edif Piaf sang “Non, Je ne regrette rien”.

No regrets.

Having worked as a careers adviser with a broad range of clients over the years, one of the saddest things I have heard, and still sometimes hear, goes like this; “I wish I had the courage to go for my dream career when I could. I played it safe. I stayed in my comfort zone and did the practical, the mundane. I did what people thought I should do. I was not being myself.”  I interviewed a pleasant young man a while ago who said he was interested in becoming an accountant. His body language told me he wasn’t. I reflected this back to him and asked him directly “No, but what do you really want to do?” The answer was very different. When he talked about what he really wanted to do there was real and tangible enthusiasm.  That is why I would always encourage those blessed with a long career road ahead to follow their dream. Go for it, in the modern parlance. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the very least, you can say you tried and failed gloriously.

I also meet those who are overwhelmed by the big dreams of others. They say  “I haven’t climbed Everest. I haven’t had an internship on Wall Street. And I have no ambition to be a CEO of a large investment bank”. When asked that question “What do you really want to do?” sometimes the answer is not a big dream, as they see it.  They say things like “I want to be a good parent; work is a way of me achieving that”. Big dream or little dream? Many would view it as a little dream. I am not sure. As a parent of a daughter at university, I would say a big dream.

Apart from the dreams we see and experience nightly, we choose our dreams and we choose the size of them. They are ours and no one else’s.

Big dreams, little dreams?

You decide.

No regrets.

Tom McAndrew, 
Careers Consultant at the University of Exeter