It’s graduation season and I keep seeing all kinds of “advice to the class of 2014” blog posts. I have now been out in the real world for five whole years. Given my five years of real-world experience and that I am now an expert on everything ever, I present to you my thoughts for the class of 2014.
My thoughts can be compiled into one sentence, actually:
You need to accept that there is no “path” to success in your career.
This is difficult to accept. When you realize it, it feels like you were lied to your entire life.
I’ve seen it take some people years to get over. Don’t waste years of your life getting over this. Embrace it.
You see, up until your professional life, your life revolves around school. School has a pretty clear-cut method for success:
- Study hard and get good grades.
- Get into a good college.
- …and depending on what lunch table you sit at, try not to get beat up, get pregnant, get cut from the team, get caught smoking under the bleachers, or get freaked out over AP exams in the process.
Once you do these things and get into a good college, you rinse, lather, and repeat.
Throughout your life you are brought up to believe that all that hard work will lead to the career of your dreams. You enter your career expecting another specific set of steps to take in order to get XYZ role before you are 30.
Career paths still apply for some people, like medical professionals. Yet I would argue that with technology, even those are evolving. Ask my mom, a nurse, how she feels about taking patient notes on a tablet.
For those of us in the business world, and even in fields once thought of as secure—like Big Law— the days of the sure-fire ladder are long gone.
This is the reality:
1) There is no one specific set of steps to take to get into XYZ role.
2) By the time you are 30, XYZ role may not exist.
3) By the time you are 30, XYZ role may evolve into something completely different…and you might hate it, or suck at it, or both.
4) Even if you do follow said path, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. These things will toss you off the path no matter how hard you have tried to follow it.
The bad news? It’s all on you. You have to be the one to plot the right steps in your career and drive the bus. What an overwhelming burden and pain in the ass!
The good news? It’s all on you. You get to decide the course of your career. What an amazing adventure and opportunity!
Ever lie awake at night and slip into your wildest dreams?
You know those thoughts… “Someone should make a documentary about that!” or “I should be a spin class instructor!” You probably dismiss these thoughts as fantasy talk and not something you should risk your path for.
In turns out that the fantasy talk isn’t the fantasy talk. It’s the idea of a path worth sticking to that is the fantasy talk.
Your wildest dreams are a path worth creating. You might as well give it a try.
Seriously. You might as well. It’s not like there is some secure path you’re walking away from by making your app, becoming a comedian, or selling cat-print dresses online to raise money for cat charities.
You might as well go after those crazy dreams. Because whether you work on those or follow the supposed path, you’re going to have to work your ass off anyway.
Social media, technology, sticking-around-Boomers, arriving-in-droves-Millenials, annoyed-and-stuck-in-the-middle-Gen-Xers, and the recession have turned the business world upside down. There’s a lot of stuff to figure out. Figuring stuff out or doing things that you have not done before takes time and effort.
You can either figure out stuff that bores you or figure out stuff that excites you.
But what do you do if you don’t know what excites you? How do you find fulfilling work?
You dabble. Passion finds you in motion. It doesn’t strike you out of thin air while you’re sitting on the couch mindlessly watching Netflix.
Read a book. Take on a side project. Volunteer.
You might hate it, or suck at it, or both. That’s fine. Move on to the next thing.
Do it even if you’re hungover. Do it even if you’re scared. Do it even if you don’t feel ready.
You might as well.
You might as well do all these things because you’re just as capable as anyone else who does them.
You have probably seen those “30 Under 30” lists of successful entrepreneurs, or some supposedly-successful CEO speaking at an event, or someone with XYZ job title. You look at these people and think, “Wow they really have it all together, and I’m just sitting here reading Us Weekly in my PJ pants with ketchup stains on them. I suck at life.”
And then you meet them, work for them, date them, or hear about your friend’s OK Cupid date with them. You quickly realize these people are just trying to get laid, pay their bills, and not screw up just like the rest of us.
I got this advice from someone I consider to be nice, yet also smart and successful: “Accept that you’re always going to be winging it. Everyone is winging it.”
That was solid advice.
At least comparatively, you’re doing fine. So be confident in yourself and give yourself a break.
You might as well.
Also, you might as well be positive about this entire process of forging your own path. If you approach every situation as though it is a win-win, it is. You’re either learning, or learning AND becoming the next Instagram. Either way, you’re moving forward.
If you insist on viewing the ups and downs of the journey ahead of you in this way, you’ll have a lot more fun and get a lot more out of the work you do.
It’s your day and it’s your life and no one else’s.
This is a massive, scary responsibility but also a wonderful chance to dig deep and attack those out-there ambitions you’ve always wondered about. What’s the worst that could happen? You might as well.