As a newcomer to Montenegro, one of the most common questions I’m asked is “How did you get here?” While sometimes I’m sure it’s prompted by the fact that my family is from a relatively small town in Mississippi, often times it’s a more probing question inquiring about my journey to follow my dreams of living and working overseas. The truth is that I’ve taken a nontraditional path to arrive in this beautiful place, but my success and my story is built upon the words of wisdom others have offered to me and that I now hope to pass along to you.
#1 “Do what you love”
My dad once told me that one day I would spend more cumulative time at work than I would spend
anywhere else, so I might as well choose something I’d enjoy. While that’s a sobering thought, I found it to be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to accumulate money or the prestige of progressing professionally, but those ambitions are easily choked out by the challenges we face in the workplace. So, it’s important that you choose a professional path that allows you to do work you actually enjoy. After all, “we work to live – not live to work,” right?
#2 “Vertical isn’t always better”
Early on, a more experienced colleague shared that often young professionals are so focused on
climbing the corporate ladder that they work to develop expertise in one specific area – assuming this expertise will eventually lead to career growth. But, in reality, this decision can be far more detrimental and limiting to their aim than helpful.
As you think about the leader of a company, he or she needs to have a broad understanding of its inner workings. He or she doesn’t have to know all the details of how things work (there are managers for that), but the need to understand how one decision impacts all areas of the business is critical. Thus, making lateral career moves over vertical ones to gain a broader view of the interconnectedness of a company is critical for young professionals.
#3 “Take jobs outside your training”
I didn’t know what I loved to do when I first entered the workforce, so, out of necessity, my story is full of a lot of trial and error – taking jobs or volunteer opportunities to test the waters and see if I enjoyed the work. Often times I found out that I didn’t like the work, and that could be discouraging. But, even learning what I didn’t want to do long-term was valuable information because this knowledge guided my future decisions and pursuits. The courage to seek out and take opportunities outside the area of my formal education was fueled not only by my own prior experience but also by a mentor who saw a creative way to apply my skills as an industrial engineer in the sales and marketing field and later as a project manager – areas in which I never expected to work.
Taking jobs outside my structured training afforded me new opportunities to learn and gain skillsets that opened my eyes to work I really enjoyed but likely would have never considered if I had not been open to something non-conventional. As an added benefit, my diverse background allowed me to complement my colleagues’ expertise by adding value through my strengths, while at the same time developing my weaknesses by shadowing and learning from them.
#4 “Seek out those you admire”
The most valuable tool for building my career that I’ve received to date is the introduction of the
“informational interview”. Truly, the concept is quite simple – reach out to people you admire, meet
them for coffee, intentionally ask probing questions, and act on the information you receive. Yet, this tool alone has connected me with far more professionals than countless “networking events”, has connected me with job prospects, has led to shadowing opportunities, and has even kept me from making career moves that I would have regretted.
The hardest part of leveraging this piece of advice is using it. It can be intimidating to reach out to someone you don’t know and initiate a meeting while clearly articulating the desire to learn from them. But, I’ve found that most people enjoy talking about themselves, and they typically enjoy helping other people – especially when that person approaches them humbly. So, be quick to admit that you don’t know it all and still have a lot to learn, then invite some inspiring experts to coffee – the worse they can say is “no”.
#5 “Look for the window”
Sometimes, we can’t find a job that meets our needs but also allows us to do the work we love. What do we do then? We look for the window in a room full of closed doors. Find a job that allows you the flexibility to pursue your passions simultaneously, outside of or in conjunction with your day-to-day job. And who knows, maybe your side venture will eventually become your main gig – as is the case with so many entrepreneurs.
Let’s learn from each other. What advice have you received that’s made a profound impact on your life?