During the past few months, I’ve spoken with many college graduates who are just starting their professional adventure. They are looking for a definitive path and the best way to build their careers. I also know of people who have shifted career paths once or twice by following unconventional paths to perceived success. As a young aspiring professional, I probably would have read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In“ and Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive“, as both books offer anspirational view of how to be a mindful businesswoman.
However, I think I would have also wanted something more to specific to apply to my day-to-day life. In the spirit of sharing more practical advice based on what I’ve learned throughout my career, here is my best advice to my 20-something self:
- Always show gratitude. If someone has done you a good turn, take a moment to express genuine gratitude by mail, email, text, or a few words and smile. It’s a gracious way to live. As old-fashioned as it seems, mailing a hand-written card to a potential employer or dinner party host leaves a lasting impression.
- Maintain your professional reputation. Avoid burning bridges with those you’ve worked with. If anything, invest a little time to continue cultivating your past relationships with colleagues. You never know when you might cross paths again in business.
- Every night, think of three positive things from the day – no matter how minor. This is another way experiencing gratitude, but it’s more introspective. Gratitude has been documented to generate success in individuals.
- Exude confidence. You only have one body. So be comfortable in it. Confidence in yourself will spur confidence others will have in you. Don’t have the confidence? “Fake it ‘til you make it,” as they say.
- Surround yourself with people who nurture you and encourage you. This is true in both your professional and personal life. Anyone else can be a distraction at best and an energy drain at worst.
- Be generous with yourself. I don’t mean that you should go on a buying spree. Be more practical than that. For example, make your bed in the morning as a small comfort for when you’re tired after a long day. You will feel a little more cared for. In addition to investing in as much as you can in your 401(k), set aside savings for the opportunity to advance your education. Even if you don’t end up going back to school (graduate school or otherwise), you will have a safety net if the economy goes south. Spend 150 minutes a week on yourself by incorporating cardiovascular activity. If you don’t have your health, everything else falls away pretty quickly.
- Understand that job interviews are a two-way street. View them as career interviews. The company is as much of a candidate for you as you are for them. After all, if you’re going to be spending 40+ hours per week somewhere, it’s important to be fully informed about how much they will enable your career growth. I always ask job candidates if they have any questions for me. What you ask is sometimes as important as what you’re answering.
- Mistakes can be gifts. Whether a learning experience, a happy accident, or a humbling experience, mistakes can serve us well. Don’t be afraid to make them. Just try not to make the same one twice.