(This post was previously published in LinkedIn’s “Class of 2013: The Commencement Speeches You Wish You Heard”.)
I’ve heard (and offered) my share of career advice over the years — and at this point in your lives, you are likely hearing more than your minimum daily requirement. I understand. Nearly everyone wants to offer a reflective opinion concerning how you should go forward, and leave your mark on the world. I realize that all of the chatter might feel a bit overwhelming — especially with all that is ahead of you — but rest assured, the advice is certainly well intentioned. However, one key point to remember as you leave this chapter behind, is to temper its application with the sound of your own voice. Listen openly to all the advice that is offered, as it it given with love and concern. However, be sure not to lose yourself within that conversation.
Much of the advice that I personally received about work and career, was really quite good. Some… well…not nearly as good (and memorable for very different reasons). I won’t offer the unabridged volume to you today — and I’ll keep the message brief. But, I would like to share some of the most memorable snippets with you. So, here is the best (and the worst of it) — offered to you, with an accompanying “hindsight is 20/20” review.
“Find something you love to do. If you can eventually get someone to pay you for it, you’ve got it made.” I’ll have to say, this was the best of the lot. Looking back, I never would have have guessed that my dad (a family physician), had been privy to the “secret sauce” of work life happiness — but he did have the power of experience behind him. When he offered me this advice, employee engagement per se, was yet to be discussed. But his words resonated with me and I thought about his comment often. His words guided me at many a crossroad. My dad loved what he did everyday — and this was apparent. He worked long hours, took countless late night phone calls and never missed an opportunity to say hello to a patient outside of the office. When he passed away, I heard countless heartwarming stories from his patients explaining how he had touched their lives in a deep and meaningful way. It was amazing. I wish that kind of career for all of you — so search with great urgency for a role that you will love.
“Don’t stray from your core area of strength.” Wrong. Don’t sell yourself short. Learn as much as you possibly can, about as many core areas of an organization as possible — this will help you to transform into a seasoned contributor. As I entered the world of work, I’d spent years studying work behavior and the elements of organizations. But, what I desperately needed to see, first hand, was how all of the pieces coalesced in real time. When posed with a unique opportunity to write proposals for the broader organization, many let me know they thought it was misguided to leave my role in research. But, for some odd reason I didn’t listen. I’ve never regretted that choice, as I learned more about the business than I ever imagined. Building flexibility, while developing new strengths is always a good path. So even if those opportunities don’t present themselves, search for them. Create them. Ultimately, a career is a mufti-faceted quest, where unexpected twists and turns should be welcome – so don’t hesitate to travel “off-road” and explore once in a while.
“Leave your personal life at the door”. This was undoubtedly the worst (and the most perplexing) advice offered. When this was generously shared (from a very senior staffer, as a newly minted manager) I was absolutely speechless. All I could think of that moment was “How do I possibly accomplish that?”, and “How does anyone, for that matter?” As it turns out this advice wasn’t really a viable goal after all. We essentially bring “all that is us” to our work each day – for better or worse – as our lives outside of the office shape who we are as potential contributors. It would be nearly impossible to perform a dissection, and remove our home or personal life from our office life (or vice versa, for that matter). The irony of this, is how many of us now complete our work from our home offices. Funny how that turned out – as personal lives routinely intersect (and meld) with work life today. Going forward, encourage evolution in your work life, to make work, work for you.
In closing, I’d like to say that I envy the place where you find yourself today. I see a career as an exciting series of doors, leading to the chapters of your future. Open those doors with hope and respect — for yourself — and those that you will certainly meet along your journey.
Good luck to you – I wish you a happy and fulfilling career.
(What is the best or the worst, advice that you’ve received? I’d love to hear it.)