ELEVATE Series: Careers in Health & Well-being Recap

Hannah Guffey

If you weren't able to join us this week for our panel program highlighting alumni with careers related to health & well-being, you're in luck! We've recapped the highlights of the program below, along with key takeaways that will likely apply to you no matter your year or stage of your career journey. 

ELEVATE Series: Careers in Health & Well-Being

Featured Alumni:

JASON ELLIOTT | Psychology ‘13

traveler, public speaker, teacher, mentor, storyteller, talk show host

LISA JAKUB | Sociology ‘10

writer, public speaker, discussion group leader, yoga instructor, “massive introvert”

ALEX PEAVEY | Psychology ‘99

coach, counselor, strategist, athletics, practicing mindfulness for 20 years  

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5:30pm. Three panelists sat at the front of the room, each with a humble smile. All UVA graduates, these alumni all brought personal and professional stories about their careers in non-clinical health and mental well-being. Hannah prompted the first question:

Psychology and sociology aren’t clinical medicine, but you all practice health in some way. What strategies have guided you through a non-traditional career path?

Alex – I didn’t apply to any of the places I’ve worked, rather through knowing someone or the next opportunity presenting itself. Pursue what resonates with you - with intention. Mindfulness wasn’t a professional goal, but an outcome of coaching, which is more counseling than coaching. Students keep coming to speak with me. What was I doing? Just listening.

Lisa – Don’t ask what the world needs, instead ask yourself what makes you come alive. Self-definition is really important. I didn’t get an MFA, but I still love writing. Imposter syndrome is real; I’m not an expert on mindfulness or mental health, I’m just sharing my story. I’m a writer because I have stories I want to share – it took me a really long time to own that.

Jason – I love planning ahead. The challenge with planning too far ahead is feeling like I often missed the mark – like I failed. I’ve learned to embrace uncertainty, because changes in the plan are a necessary part of the process. Changes are great learning opportunities.

 

Some fourth years that haven’t locked down a job yet feel behind. Where were you fourth year, during your job search? What was your first job experience like?

Lisa – You can always change your mind. In my 20s, I grew tired of acting in LA, so I started UVA in my 30s. I was an older student and somewhat out of place and ultimately confused about my future all over again. If I had any advice, ask yourself “what’s the thing that makes you lose track of time?” During school, prepare yourself to do just that.

Jason – I failed a major class that I needed to graduate my final semester. Knowing I was graduating late really sucked at first because coming back for another year felt so embarrassing. But the extra year exposed me to incredible people and gave me life-changing experiences with healthcare & HIV. Those people and that experience led me to the work I’m doing now – I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t failed that class.

Alex – Remember Jefferson’s terminology – ‘fourth year’. Learning and new opportunities never stop. Fourth year isn’t some end to a career formula. I had no idea what I wanted long-term at graduation, so I just found an athletics job like I’d been doing in school. Early mornings and late paychecks were rough, but the next opportunity came soon after. Keep pursuing what you love because that pays the soul, not just your wallet.

 

Your work is very personal. What principles can help students balance personal and professional interests while they’re still on Grounds?

JasonCheck your bias. Ask questions. Learn more. There are a lot of answers of grounds – just ask the right questions. Hang out with different student groups. Sit with someone new in the dining hall. Attend CIO info sessions. Participate in sustained dialogue. Listen.

AlexYou have to personally practice mindfulness before you can teach it, because employers will ask “where did you get your training”? The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction certification is a great place to begin so you can start teaching others.

Lisa – Again, ask questions. Make connections. Take classes that you would love, regardless of your intended career path. After you graduate, access to knowledge and resources decreases a lot, so be a sponge while you’re here. As a sociology major, the classes that impacted me most were cosmology, the History of Southern Africa, and Buddhism. Completely unrelated, but completely eye-opening.

 

Traditional paths might be boring, but financially secure. How do I sustain myself in a career like this?

Lisa1. Redefine your idea of success. I used to have a really nice car, but I was unhappy. If success means money, money doesn’t guarantee happiness. 2. Don’t work for free. Value yourself. Working for free devalues not only your work but also the profession. People will find the money if they really want you.

Jason1. Finding the common thread between my passions makes my career sustainable. I can get paid to do what I’m already practicing for myself. 2. Self-care. I am way too empathetic for anyone in public health to think I don’t need help balancing everything too.

Alex1. Know when to say no. “No.” That’s a complete sentence. 2. Be yourself. If you’re pretending in an interview, are you going to pretend all the time on the job too?

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Some applause for all the inspiration so far. Hannah then opened then floor for a few student questions before light snacks and informal networking:

 

If your story is really personal, how do you find courage to share it?

Jason – When you are presenting facts, you can be wrong. When you’re telling your story, you can never be wrong. Don’t talk about something as you’re going through it – talk about what you learned afterwards. I try to avoid posting about my bad day or complaining on Facebook. Reflection is always more productive and relatable.

Lisa – When I’m sharing a story, I’m not just talking about me – I’m talking about us. I’m talking about topics that aren’t talked about enough. Anxiety, depression, loneliness. Someone somewhere is going through the same thing, and when they hear your story, they’ll feel a little less alone. Find courage in making those connections, offering reassurance, and reducing stigma.

 

Could you share your personal definition of success? Do you have any resilient practices if something shakes those values?

Jason – So, I have a sweet tooth. I can be easy-going, like pudding. But pudding doesn’t have a container, and by default, someone else is going to try to contain it. I don’t want someone else to contain me. So instead, I can be super-structured, like cake. But if a piece breaks off, the whole cake crumbles. That’s not healthy or sustainable. What dessert is in the middle? …. Jell-o. Think, “I’m not pudding. I’m not cake. I’m jell-o.” Bounce around life a little.

Lisa – Daily mediation for 11 years. Yoga for 9 years. Understand how your body and mind function together so that you can always come back to yourself and find that stillness.

Alex – You know the quote, the zen never sees its flower. Have faith that your story and your work is impactful. Feel your emotions (because you should), absorb them, and then strategize before you act on them.

 

Various cultures stigmatize mental health. Do you encounter that professionally?

Lisa – Maybe, yes, but culture is changing. Consider comments on social media. There are typically 10 positive comments for every negative one. And when there is a negative one, there are 20 more saying “Hey, that’s not okay. We won’t make space for that here.” Support is drowning out criticism. Mental health is equally as a valid as physical health. Let’s all talk more about it.