If you could give career advice to your younger self, what words of wisdom would you give? Asking myself this question made me really think about how much I’ve learned in just the eight years I’ve been in the workforce since graduating college. I by no means have all the answers at the age of 30, and I don’t think I ever will, as I think we’re in a continuous state of learning in our careers and in our lives. However, if I could give career advice to my younger self right now, in this moment, here’s what I would tell her…
Your First Job is Likely Not Your “Dream Job”
I was so naive in that I thought I landed my “dream job” out of college. Boy, did I get a wake-up call. What seemed too good to be true, was. While a career in advertising can look glamorous with all the free events and goodies you get, it was brutally demanding and exhausting. I was run into the ground and worked 12-14 hour days at the office where I couldn’t take my work home with me. My unhealthy lifestyle made me probably the most unhappy I’ve ever been in my life. I quickly learned to get out and head to a company that valued me not only as an employee, but also as a person who needed a quality work/life balance. Find out how I did that here.
Don’t Let Age Limit You
There were so many times where I didn’t speak up or I didn’t put myself out there because of fear. That fear stemmed from the fact that I thought I was too young and too inexperienced that I was afraid to fail or look stupid. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that everyone is figuring it out and no one has it all figured out. Don’t let your age limit you or hold you back!
Network & Network Some More
Early on in my career, the idea of networking seemed so formal and stuffy. It made me steer clear of any type of “networking event” because I just didn’t want to put myself in those uncomfortable situations. But what I’ve learned over the last few years, in the last year specifically, is that networking is really just making connections that can benefit you – and you can do that socially at things like parties and fun events. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. I write more about networking in this post.
I started doing this in my current job but I wish I would have started as soon as I entered the workforce. You should be documenting any and all positive feedback you receive from your peers and your clients. This feedback is crucial and so beneficial to share with your manager when it comes time to talk about a promotion. I share other ways to you can land a promotion here.
Know Your Worth & Negotiate
I’ve learned to negotiate over the years, but I wish I had known to do it when I received my first job offer out of college. When I heard my salary, as a poor post-grad, I thought, “I’m rich!” But little did I know, I was being paid below average despite the experience and talents I brought to the role. I wish I had done more research on salaries so I would have been prepared to negotiate in that moment. I share some negotiating tips in this post – know your worth, girl!
I also asked the Lipstick & Ink community what career advice they would give to their younger selves and I appreciated and admired every single response. Take a read at what they had to say below!
I would tell her….
About the power of negotiating your salary and taking time to do the things that make you happy.
To not be afraid to ask for things in the name of pursuing better options.
To not stay at a job you don’t see in your future or that you can’t put on your resume.
To not let yourself feel small and don’t fight possibilities/opportunities just because they don’t 100% align with what you ultimately want to do. At the same time, don’t be afraid to speak up about what you need. Ask questions so that you and your boss are always on the same page (especially if you’re clarifying expectations)!
To shape your role. Go beyond the job description to capitalize on your strengths and interests to contribute more to the organization. And on that note, document your accomplishments throughout the year so you’re ready to present to your manager or leadership on a quarterly or annual basis, or when it’s time to talk about growth. It’s very common that leadership expects you are already performing at the next level to grow or be rewarded a promotion. Have regular conversations about how you can grow and learn the expectations of the next level to help get you there.
To not be afraid to ask for more! The worst that can happen is they say no.
To not ask for advice from people your age. It’s good to know what you peers are doing, but I should’ve stuck with finding older friends/role models/mentors.
That your career is not defined by your first “big girl” job. You’ll never have this much freedom professionally in terms of trying out new things, exploring new areas of focus and even living new places—take advantage of it! I personally felt all this pressure when friends were getting more corporate jobs or jobs with bigger companies (even before we graduated) and I was bopping around from internships and fellowships for the first year or so. Looking back now, I learned so much from each place and had some really cool experiences along the way because I was willing—or desperate enough, lol—to be flexible. Plus, for what I was wanting to do, it didn’t make sense to compare myself to people in more traditional fields…I personally never saw myself going that route, but try telling an anxious recent grad all of that!
To choose a career that allows for more work/life balance. I wish I would’ve chosen a career path that would allow for more paid time off so I could take off when I needed to and keep my sanity in check. I would also tell myself to choose a career that doesn’t require grad school. Now I feel like this is a hard one because nowadays I feel like so many companies and careers require it for some reason but the amount of debt I am in is crippling. I wish I would have gone into a field, worked a bit, then went to grad school when I actually had some money. I chose to go right into grad school and while that was my choice, I wish I would’ve known I had other options first.
To not worry. No one knows what they’re doing either.
To not be afraid of doing what you really want to do because you enjoy it. I feel as if we end up in a career because we feel like we are supposed to being doing that and not because we want to. I was originally going to school for communications and switched to dental because I was afraid I wouldn’t find a job with a communications degree. Now here I am at my dental job not loving what I do everyday. My dream job is to be an event planner and I now have the courage to reach out and pursue it. Like I said, we tend to get caught up in what society wants us to do vs what we really want to do.
To not measure yourself by how far your friends are in their career. You are on your own path and need to set your own goals. I remember being worried about not being far enough in my education compared to peers I had gone to high school with. I had friends that had their Masters degrees and were working on their PhD at 23 and I hadn’t even finished my Bachelors then and thought I was a failure. Looking back now, I am a director at one of the top, if not the largest, social service provider in Illinois and in the whole US. I finished my Masters at 31 and was already a Director and serving on boards in my 20’s because I put service to others first and I realized it’s a lot more about giving back and making those connections than sitting and studying all day long (important too but not if you are doing it just to “keep up with the Joneses”).
That the interview process and first few months on the job is not just a one way street with the company deciding if you’re a good fit. You also need to realize if the company is a good fit for you.
To learn before doing – but to a certain degree. I think it’s GREAT to learn about something before you dive in, example “how to start a blog.” Definitely do your research and learn the basics to start it right so that it can actually go somewhere. BUT, the trap to avoid is getting caught up in needing to know “everything” before you start. This held me back for a long time. I have spent too much time reading on how to do something, rather than just starting to do it! It wasted precious time! It’s easy to think “there is so much information out there and I want to make sure that I have gotten all the best advice.” The fact is that there is new things being discovered each and everyday and things are ever changing which means there is always something to learn. But if you want to make something of yourself or a business, you need to allot yourself a certain amount of time for the learning portion and then just start doing, because anything else you may have missed, you will learn along the way, but at least you will be moving forward.
That no one is the end-all-be-all. That means me, my boss, my co-workers, the owner of the company. No one. That’s the beauty of it. We all need each other in business and in life. It’s not on my shoulders to do everything perfectly. In fact, most people don’t find perfectionism to be an attractive quality. Authenticity and humility leads us to much greater places than trying to convince the world that we’ve got it all together. At the same time, we can’t expect the world from other people either. No one will be able to fulfill all our needs. A co-worker, a vendor, a consultant will not always get things right. But that’s okay, too. We are all assets to one another. In our weakness, another person shines through. In someone else’s weakness, we can step up with grace to offer a solution. I tried for so much of my life to be the best at everything. And for a while, it seemed to be working. But they don’t give out A’s in business. It’s all about getting the job done while moving from one day to the next. It’s a fluid world. It’s not about being the best. It’s about working together and honoring one another’s strengths and weaknesses. It really comes down to valuing people. There’s no need to put so much pressure on ourselves or on our coworkers, bosses, and peers to perform. Just show up, do your best work, and show up the next day and do the same. And never be afraid to ask for help. That’s how we set ourselves on a path to continuous growth.
To find her real passion and then chase it like a lion. Like go for it! I’m 27 years old and I still haven’t figured out what I’m truly passionate about. Of course, I work in IT and it’s a decent job and I like it, but not at the extent of what brings fire in me to work my ass off. As the saying goes, time is fleeting and you cannot bring back the years you have missed. But If I were given a chance, then I would ask her to stop and focus on what brings her the most satisfaction and transform that fuel into a career. Find her purpose in the sea of the millennial world. But I will also point out that it is hard to find what brings you peace and happiness to the core. Of course at a high-level, kindness, compassion and being able to impact more lives can feel rewarding but that doesn’t the erase the struggle of finding what you really want to achieve.
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Senior Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.