I Know What You Did Last Summer (And So Do You!)

From traveling to BBQs, camping to beach days, our favorite summer moments are easy to remember. And while recalling the smell of our favorite suntan lotion or taste of a golden-brown S’more is simple enough, most of us would probably have a tough time remembering why exactly we chose to do those things in the first place.

Would you be able to list the challenges that arose during these events or activities? Could you explain how you overcame them or what you might do differently in the future?

Knowing how to reflect on your experiences and articulate what you did, learned, and would do differently next time are important. Why? High school guidance counselors, job interviewers, and college administrators are going to ask you to do these things again and again over the next few years.

Actually, these things (reflecting, evaluating, and articulating) help us better understand the concept of employability.

What’s Employability?

The term employability sounds like it’s about jobs or employment, right? Well, there’s more to it than just the job part! Employability is really about developing and communicating the personal qualities that help you grow, learn, and persevere throughout all aspects of your personal, academic, and professional life. In fact, your employability is strengthened by your experiences.

But these experiences aren’t only coming from your part-time jobs and formal employment.

We’re talking about the breadth of your experiences—leaving home for overnight camp, completing chores around the house, conquering big waves, mowing lawns, walking dogs, and babysitting. All of these can build personal and professional skills that employers and colleges are looking for.

So, before you trade in your sunscreen for a backpack, let’s take a moment and learn how to reflect on what you learned about yourself and the world over the summer. Who knows? You might even find out that you picked up new transferrable skills you didn’t realize you had!

Ready to begin?

Checkout our Summer Activities Checklist

This doc will give your teen a centralized place to start storing their experiences and learning. (We’ll email it to you…in less than two seconds!) DOWNLOAD IT HERE

What did you do this summer?

Think about new things you tried, places you visited, or people that you met this summer. If you are feeling stuck, look back at your Insta or photos on your phone for ideas.

SEAL: Situation, Effect, Action, and Learning

Now that you’ve got your mind jumpstarted, we’re going to use something called the SEAL process. I learned about it from the University of Queensland, Australia. But don’t worry, it’s not complicated. It’s only got four steps, and I use it myself ALL THE TIME for reflection.

This is how it works.

As you reflect on your summer, think about:

1). Situation: What situations did you find yourself in this summer. What happened?

2). Effect: How did this situation make you feel?

3). Action: What action(s) did you take? What skills did you use?

4). Learning: What did you learn from this experience? How can you use these skills and knowledge again in the future?

My Turn

Want to see an example of the SEAL Process in action? Here’s an exercise I did to reflect on my own summer experiences:

1). Situation: I got lost while traveling out of the country, didn’t understand the rail system, and couldn’t find my way back to my hotel.

2). Effect: I got totally nervous (because I was outside of my comfort zone and didn’t know the language) and started to panic.

3). Action: I used Google Maps and Google Translator and asked people for help to double-check that I was going in the right direction. I asked how long it would take to get to my hotel and what landmarks were along the way so I could track my progress.

4). Learning: I realized that I can overcome my fear and use tools and available resources to guide me. I also recognized that solving my own problems helped me build the independence, maturity, and confidence to work through new problems in the future.

See, it’s not so bad. You can use the SEAL exercise more than once. Actually, if you’re feeling motivated (and super nerdy like me), you could do this with all your summer experiences and investigate what you’ve learned.

Btw, being able to think on your feet and stay cool when things are uncertain is very important in school, work, and life.

Why Should I Do This?

Great question. When you begin looking for a job (while in high school or afterward), you will see that hiring managers don’t want to recruit candidates who have never had problems or struggled. College admissions committees aren’t interested in admitting helpless students either.

In fact, employers and colleges want the exact opposite. They’re looking to connect with a diverse talent pool that can overcome adversity. Resilient people with multi-dimensional experiences and backgrounds are ALWAYS in high demand.

Does that sound like you? Have you faced adversities or challenges in your life?

So What’s a Challenge anyway?

As you know, challenges can take on many shapes, sizes, and levels of intensity. Challenges could involve a diagnosis, sick relative, managing time or money, organizing work, focusing in class, making friends, or even reading subtle social cues.

Often, these challenges make us feel ostracized, different, or less than. And, unfortunately, these types of feelings can lead to self-doubting language, like: “I’m bad at directions!” or “I can’t do math!”

Has This Helped You, Michelle?

Another great question! Using the SEAL process to reflect on my own life has helped me not only communicate my potential to others in a positive way but also see my struggles in a new light, internalizing my strengths and feeling good about my potential to offer value to the world.

In other words, this exercise reminds me that when I overcome adversity, I persevere.

And that is something to celebrate!!

Will this work right away?

Ok, so, no, I didn’t change my thinking in one day. But, overtime, I was able to replace the I’m-afraid-of-going-new-places-because-I’m-bad-at-directions broken record (that used to play in my head when I was anxious) with a new track. It goes something like this: “The last time I traveled abroad and had a problem, I stayed cool and used every tool available and double-checked my work to make sure I arrived safely.”

And somedays, when I’m really on my game, I can take it a step further and apply it in a different part of my life, too: “Whatever problems come my way at this job or school aren’t going to be the end of me. I have skills to draw upon that will help me stay calm and focused on the task at hand.”

I think you would agree that these are great skills to have, especially because you can use them again and again, no matter where you are (life, school, or work).

Your Turn

As you go through the SEAL process, feel free to let me know if it helps you recognize your developing skills (which we both know you already have, right?). It might require a little practice, but, once you master it, you can take this approach with you and use it throughout your life.

Now, are you ready to try it for yourself?

Btw, if you like learning about employability, stay tuned for our upcoming workshops: Employability 101 and Cleaning your Digital Footprint.

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Joseph NovinsonMichelle Arundale is an employability consultant at Vested Academics. She helps students with learning differences and disabilities obtain and maintain competitive employment in integrated community workplaces.

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