When I was in high school, my friends and I would go to our local Perkins just about every weekend. Two things to note about this: 1) I grew up in a super rural area of Pennsylvania, so our “local” Perkins was about 45 minutes away and 2) if you’ve never been to Perkins, they’re a diner-like restaurant chain with amazing pancakes that they serve all day. Seriously. Amazing pancakes. And people, I’m a bit of a pancake snob, so when I say someone has good pancakes, they have good pancakes.

Anyway, there was a group of four or five of us who would go to Perkins at least once during the weekend, and it was a rare occasion when no one at the table got pancakes. It was our hang-out spot, our place to sit drinking diet cokes and talk about life - you know, grades, college plans, extracirruculars, boys. Ok, mostly boys. We were 16-year-old girls after all!

More often than you may believe, though, the talk would turn to our career goals. In those days, we were talking mostly about our college educational plans and what we hoped to do when we got out of school. Over pancakes, we’d dream about the days when our lives would really begin. No more working part-time jobs after school. No more being broke. No more waiting for our lives to start. I think a lot of teens feel that way - excited to get to the “real world.”

After graduating from high school, we all went our separate ways, but occasionally, when home for breaks, we’d get together at Perkins to catch up. Over pancakes, just like old times, we’d talk about how our lives were changing - and thankfully, they were changing for the better in our group, at least most of the time. Of course, there was still a lot of talk about boys, but more and more, we’d talk about our future careers. Pancakes were the fuel for chatting about classes we were taking, applying for internships, and resumes. As we approached graduation, we talked more and more about our career hopes for the future. We were finally entering the real world!

I noticed something interesting, though. As we found time to meet for pancakes after graduation from college, most of us were still talking about future goals we hoped to achieve. Joining the real world didn’t mean we were settled on a smooth career track. In fact, none of us were completely happen with our first jobs. All of us had goals to be something more. And that’s where our group broke off into two distinct groups - those of us who were actively working toward achieving more in our careers…and those of us who were just eating pancakes.

The Pancake Problem is one that I think affects people around the world. So many people sit with their friends or colleagues and talk about their goals, but when the pancakes are eaten and it’s time to say your good-byes, do you actually take action? If your goal is to open your own business, what are you doing right now to make that possible? If your goal is to get a raise, what are you doing right now to make that possible?

Are you taking steps forward, even baby ones? Or are you just eating pancakes?

If you’re not currently happy with your career choice or job, talking about your goals won’t actually cause anything to change. In high school and college, we make progress by going to class and completing our school work. You show up for class, and you eventually graduate. It’s just a matter of time. You aren’t on any kind of schedule when you leave college, so if you want to make progress, you can’t just show up for work and expect something to happen. It’s not a matter of time anymore. It’s a matter of effort.

Right now, think about your ultimate career goal. Be realistic, but reach high (i.e., if you’re 40 years old, it’s not realistic for your goal to be playing in the NFL, but it is a realistic goal to be on an NFL team coaching staff). Now, name three things you can work on today to get closer to that goal. If you have NFL dreams, that might be:

  1. Volunteer to help coach a high school team.
  2. Take night classes in sports management to get your degree.
  3. Save money to go as many industry events as possible in the coming year.

Of course, your goal is probably very different, so your tasks are probably different as well. But frankly, if your idea of a taking action is waking up, going to a job you hate, going home to watch tv, falling asleep, and repeating…well, you’re never going to get there. That’s the Pancake Problem. Talk means nothing. Action means everything.

So what action are you taking?

Like what you read here? Stay connected with the After Graduation community and receive a free copy of Career Oomph!, a weekly newsletter to help you stay motivated to find that perfect job:

  1. Gini Martinez (Reply) on Tuesday 9, 2010

    Great post, Allison!
    Inaction is something I think we can all identify with at some point in our lives. That first step can create amazing momentum, but often it’s hard to visualize it and even harder to motivate towards it. Making a simple action plan would really help. :-)

    • Allison (Reply) on Tuesday 9, 2010

      Thanks for stopping by, Gini! I think you bring up a really valid point - EVERYONE deals with inaction and lack of motivation at some point. There are people who may need less pushing and prodding than others, but no one is immune.

  2. Archan Mehta (Reply) on Tuesday 9, 2010

    Thanks for writing this post, Allison, it was timely. Taking action is the name of game, one step at a time. Put your best foot forward, but it is easier said than done in a world that is saturated with too many choices. Also, there are so many distractions that can get in the way of reaching your goals. That’s why not everybody is able to achieve closure. However, the movie “Rocky” makes it clear that where there is a will, there is a way. Sylvester Stallone’s character succeeds against overwhelming odds. Thanks. Cheers.

              General Career
              Job Hunting
              Tips and Tricks
              Site News

    Escaping the 9 to 5 Maren Kate's site is all about leaving the rat race to own your own business. She talks a lot about gaining freedom from the traditional work atmosphere and using virtual workers to achieve your entrepreneurship goals.

    Kommein An important part of job-hunting in most industries is social networking. Deb Ng's site is my favorite resource for learning more about using Twitter, Facebook, and other sites for more than telling people what you had for lunch and sharing party pictures.

    JobMonkey If you're at a loss when it comes to knowing what you want to do in life, JobMonkey is a great site to learn about career options. Their guides cover everything from truck driving to banking. They also have info about the training you'll need to work in these fields.

    Brass Tack Thinking At Brass Tack Thinking, Amber and Tamsen walk you through the process of making things happen, from developing your personal philosophy and brainstorming ideas to implementing those ideas to see real results in your life.

    Lifebeat Lifebeat is a weekly podcast from Nathan Hangen with music by Oleg Mokhov. Every Tuesday, you can listen to some energizing music along with motivational conversation and debate/discussion about concepts applicable to entrepreneurs and employees alike.