Congratulations! The years of all-night study sessions, research papers, exams, and the occasional are now a memory. Today, you are a bona fide college graduate. But as your commencement speaker almost surely told you, this is less an ending than it is a new beginning. You are about to embark on the adventure you have been dreaming of these last few years.
I know how eager you are to get going on your career, and why not? You have, no doubt, picked a field that inspires you. You invested a great deal of time, energy, and money into learning all you can about it. Before you pole-vault into your future, however, let me share with you a little of what I learned on my journey to success.
- First and foremost: seek out and build relationships with mentors, even after your career takes off. Smart professionals surround themselves with even smarter colleagues who can provide advice and support when it is time to make difficult decisions. At every stage of your professional life, there will be plenty of situations and unexpected events that can leave you reeling. This is true regardless of the career path you have chosen. A good mentor will help you stay motivated and reduce your mistakes.
- Don’t ask for a job. Ask for advice. If you straight up ask someone for a job, they’ll be thinking about how they can tell you no. If you ask for advice, they’re more likely to want to help. At the very least, they can introduce you to other valuable connections.
- Be confident enough to challenge yourself to get the job you really want, rather than the job you know you can do with your eyes closed. My wife provided this excellent bit of guidance when I was in the middle of a career change. Who says your life partner can’t be a good mentor?
- Start where you are. Sometimes, you have to learn to ride a bicycle while you’re still building it. In your life and in your career, there will be times when you just can’t wait for all of the planets to align before you move forward. I have had a long and successful career as a healthcare executive, a nonprofit leadership coach, and an entrepreneur. But the odds were against me when I started out. At the age of twenty I checked myself into a psychiatric institution and began the long road to recovery from depression. I had managed to graduate at the bottom of my high school class and couldn’t pay a four-year college to admit me. When I was twenty-four, my abusive father threw me out of the house. I lived at a boarding house with other transients, supporting myself by cleaning bathrooms at the local motor inn.
- Have faith in yourself, and believe in your dreams. I had a vision of my life that included a leadership role in the business world.I focused on earning an education and pursued opportunities that came my way. Of course, not everything worked out perfectly. I learned to celebrate my “wins,” even the little ones, and didn’t let the setbacks shake me from believing that I could turn my dreams into reality.
- Happy people are more likely to be successful, but successful people are not always happy. This has helped me to keep my priorities in order so that I never risked the things that were most important to me—family, friends, and health—for the sake of career. True, I continue to deal with depression and anxiety, but I recognize that these are not character flaws. Both can result from life trauma, loss or grief, and/or biochemistry. The stress of building a career can aggravate the symptoms, making it difficult to navigate otherwise straightforward situations. Clear thinking, productive relationships, and positive energy are critical to a successful life. For me, knowing this made all the difference in the world.
I have heard it said that success is the best form of revenge. If you ask me, there are far better reasons for pursuing the kind of success that I have achieved. I have a wonderful family, many friends, and a rewarding career. With all of this to enjoy, who has time for revenge?