7 career lessons for my 25 year old self, and my children's generation today.
One of the many Joys of having children is seeing the world through their eyes, and having the opportunity to live it all again. One of the frustrations is that in spite of all of your accumulated experience and knowledge, they may seem reluctant to listen and only appear to learn by making their own mistakes. This is how I learned as well and it maybe a universal law. If I could shortcut the process, these are the things I would tell my 25 year old self and my children’s generation. Some of these points may resonate for you too.
1/ Make positive choices, particularly early on
Do the things which really excite you and make you want to jump out of bed rather than crawl out every morning. Follow your instincts rather than the money- you will earn enough once you become good at the things you enjoy. Do not compromise too much on the things which really matter to you. Be clear about what they are early on as it is likely to become more difficult to change direction later.
2/ Find your sweet spot and learn to excel
You are more likely to make a living from the things you are good at and can learn to excel at rather than the things you would like to be good at but in all honesty are not. Playing the guitar and saving the planet maybe great hobbies but poor career choices. Focus your energies on maximising your talents rather than eradicating all of your weaknesses, as so many people are inclined to do.
‘Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, that is your vocation’
There is little space for enthusiastic amateurs and people who are quite good at what they do for a living, and this is likely to become more acute in future.
3/ Say yes and go for it!
Be prepared to take risks and grasp new opportunities. You will only develop the skills, experience and self- knowledge to excel once you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and failed a few times. Failure is a necessary and inevitable part of the learning process and nothing to be ashamed of. You will learn more from your failures than your successes, if you approach them with the right attitude, and honesty.
4/There is no spotlight until you actively seek the light
Many people are unduly self-conscious and feel they are being scrutinised most of the time. This can lead to a greater danger of over-caution and becoming marginalised and ignored. There is no spotlight, unless you actively seek one. When you do, focus on being the best version of yourself, rather than what you think others might want to see. Believe it or not, most people want to you succeed rather than to fail but you must empower yourself first.
5/Learn to be emotionally intelligent
Regardless of whether you are an introvert and get your energy from within or an extrovert who draws their energy from groups, learn to embrace your own true nature and celebrate it. Both introverts and extroverts can make great leaders if they become emotionally intelligent. Treat others with kindness and respect and and learn what motivates and inspires them. Leadership is not a popularity contest but does require understanding, empathy and mastery if you are to excel.
6/Try to see opportunities rather than the threats- regardless of what is going on in the outside world.
The economy may be challenging, Brexit causing uncertainty and digital disruption turning the world upside down. Try not to obsess about the news, which is invariably bad and focus on the opportunities out there. The challenge is to remain vigilant, recognise where the gaps in the market exist and position yourself accordingly. Stay ahead of the technology, its master rather than servant and recognise that the most significant changes are likely to be 'anthropological rather than technological'*
7/Life is a journey rather than a destination so try to enjoy it!
You always have a choice, so if you find yourself working in a bullying culture, move on. If you are in a declining industry or profession, retrain. If you have landed in the wrong field think again. If there is one word which describes the way we will all need to be now and in future it is Agile. The idea of a role or career for life is all but out-dated and we may as well accept this now. Have a completely open mind about the nature of work and employment and enjoy the journey!
And if all this seems a little too much to ask, I refer you to the words of my Grandfather, who used to tell me with typical simplicity and clarity ‘we all need to learn to swim in the waters we find ourselves in’. Yes, times are challenging and are likely to become more so. Then again, he lived through two world wars and the great depression and it doesn’t get much harder than that.
If there are any messages that you would like to tell your children or your 25 year old selves, do share them in the comments section below.
*This is an expression I picked up from Ade McCormack's 'Beyond nine to five' an excellent career guide for the digital age.