Seventeen years ago right around this time, I had just completed four years at St. Joseph’s University with a major in finance. On paper, I was off to a great start with two job offers from prominent financial institutions. In reality, I was panicking. I hated finance. For four years I suffered through the classes and internships always hoping that I would one day like it. That day never came. So when I ran into a friend a few weeks before graduation and she told me about her new job as a consultant at a company called Anderson Consulting (now Accenture), I saw an opportunity. A door had opened for me. I had no idea what a consultant did, but it sounded awesome and if my friend could do it, I could too. I sent the recruiter my resume and two months later I started my consulting career. Those first few months were terrifying. I had no clue what I was doing yet the experience turned out to be one of the best ones of my career. That one conversation about an opportunity started me on a path that I would never have planned for myself and I’m grateful. Here are 5 suggestions to help you find the totally unexpected and potentially amazing opportunities in your career journey.
- Say “yes” to the unknown. I’m a planner. I like to know what is coming around the bend. I rarely, if ever, take risks and when I do, they are calculated….which at that point, I’m not sure you can qualify it as a risk. With my career, however, I’ve found the courage and have jumped into the unknown – FOUR times. Four times in my career I’ve said “yes” to positions that I had zero to little experience in and only a vague sense of what the job entailed. All I knew was that someone believed I could do it and that was enough for me. All four positions were by far the best learning and most fulfilling experiences of my career journey. What I learned through those experiences outweighs everything I learned from the carefully planned and well-orchestrated career moves. Some of the best things in life aren’t planned. Confidently embrace the unknown and say “yes” to opportunities and be amazed by how much you grow.
- Think of your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder. Lorie Page, Executive Coach and Founder of Allasso Leadership, best demonstrates this motto. Just look at her profile and you will see several years of lateral and vertical moves and jumps throughout IT, consulting and healthcare. The role of coach had always interested Page, but it remained just that – an interest. Until one day in the middle of a conversation with the CEO, she recognized an opportunity to help women within the company. There was no job description. No defined career path. Just an interest and a conversation. At the top of her consulting career, Page exchanged her client facing role for an internal one that allowed her to coach and develop female leaders. There are many different paths. Some have been clearly defined for us, some have not. Don’t be afraid of the lateral moves. Don’t be afraid to take a step back. And don’t be afraid to create your own path.
- Master the art of listening. Jess Podgajny swears that the art of listening is like “currency for your career journey”. Her company Blink Consulting is all about helping clients find and leverage opportunities for business success no matter how hidden they are. Her advice? Hone the skill of listening and your adventures will be abundant and your journey will be long. How well do you listen? Listening without all the chatter in your head is HARD to do. Practice turning off the noise and really listen to what the person is saying. Be present. Pick up on the said and unsaid cues. Be humble and recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Be curious and ask good questions. You never know what you will uncover. It could be your next big opportunity.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint and the finish line is a moving target. So lace up folks, hydrate, and pace yourselves. There is a lot to learn from your career journey. But real learning comes from new experiences, thoughtful reflection, and action. You can’t and shouldn’t rush the process. Meredith Toole, the Founder of Talent Point Consulting, says, “Where you start out does not determine where you go and the opportunities are endless”. Maybe your first job is not the ideal job, but it’s a start. What is important is that you keep your eyes open and soak up all the sights. Learn everything you can from it. Don’t miss out on all the opportunities because you are sprinting to the finish line. Instead, pace yourself, explore, and see where the road takes you. You may be surprised!
- Let your values be your compass. When I graduated school, my father gave me a book called “Life’s Lessons”. Each page had an inspiring quote. There was one quote by Thomas Jefferson that my dad highlighted. “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock”. I hope your career is filled with amazing companies whose purpose excite you. I hope that you work with leaders who value your uniqueness and contributions and energize you. I hope they treat you with kindness and fairness…. But this may not always be the case. During these times it’s important that you have a deep sense of who you are and what you stand for, so you don’t fall for anything. Call them principles or values, it doesn’t matter. They serve as your moral compass as you navigate the world. You may not know where the road will take you, but with your principles firmly in hand, be confident that your career journey will be what it should be and yours alone. Go fearlessly.
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