This week, I turn 27. Because of this, I may not the best person to be giving career advice since I’m still at the beginning of my career.
I do think for those of you that are in your 20s, I’ve made many career decisions and have learned a thing or two that might be helpful to you.
Like most college graduates, I had two main criteria for selecting a job: they wanted me enough to give me an offer and they paid enough that I could live on my own.
Fresh out of college, that criteria met my needs and I’m sure at the time, it would meet your needs too.
However, getting older, my job requirements have changed to reflect my ideal career development. This has led me to making some tough decisions in the short time I’ve been in the workforce.
Throughout moving across the country, the changing of companies, and the exploration of new roles, there have been three steps I’ve taken and found helpful towards finding professional success:
- Take time to reflect and understand yourself
- Test your career assumptions
- Occupy where you can provide value
These three simple ideas have led me to a fulfilling professional life and can easily be used to help you find early success in your professional life too.
Take time to reflect and understand yourself
People often make career moves without really understanding if it’s what they actually want. More often, people make career decisions based off of what other people say you should want.
“When do you think you’ll be promoted?”
“I’m sure it would be nice to have more responsibility.”
“Do you think you could negotiate higher?”
All common phrases and questions we hear when talking about our career trajectory.
But, do we really want to be promoted or more responsibility if it means more time away from friends and family? Do we need a higher salary if it will not materially change our lifestyle?
These are all questions we should ask ourselves that have no right answer. They will just help us determine what our goals are and outline our ideal professional life.
Often times, people skip over these important questions to make a career decision that will validate their decision to people who are not themselves.
The first step in finding professional success in your 20s is asking yourself the difficult questions that will help you understand what your professional goals are so that you can understand what your ideal career looks like.
Without this, you may as well have other people make career decisions for you.
Test your career assumptions
After you reflect and understand your career goals, you’ll need to know for sure that what you say you want to do is actually what you prefer to do.
The only way to do this is to test your career assumptions.
For example, if you say you want to be a freelance designer you will recognize that you will be off on your own and the only way to get customers is to sell your work.
Maybe, you’ve even identified that putting in the hours away from designing in order to sell your services is something that you are willing to do to gain more freedom at work.
This is something that you could easily test without quitting your day job.
If this is your goal, test it by trying to sell your first freelance customer outside of working hours.
Is this something you found easy to do? If not, did you enjoy the process and want to put in the effort to iterate on it until it comes naturally?
Maybe you’ll enjoy this aspect of freelancing. Maybe you won’t.
Regardless, it’s much better to figure out if the sales aspect of freelancing is something that you’re good at and enjoy before you quite your job to become a freelancer.
Once you’ve taken the plunge, you don’t want to look back and think that the career you once thought would be freeing is actually harder on you than your original job.
Occupy where you can provide value
One thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that the increase in pay of moving to a new role or to a new company won’t give you happiness the same way providing value everyday will.
Often times people are excited about the prospect of making slightly more than what they are making today without thinking about how that will contribute to their happiness.
One thing that I’ve found guarantees happiness at work is the feeling that you are providing value.
Think about that, the biggest driver of your day to day happiness is whether or not you feel like your work had a positive impact.
This is something that is easy to obtain (if you truly understand yourself) and profound in your career.
That is why the first two steps of finding professional success are absolutely necessary. In order to understand where you can provide value, you need to know what you want to do as well as what you are good at doing.
Without knowing these things, it will be tough for you to move into an area where you feel like you can contribute to your fullest.
Once you know where that is, finding the next step towards succeeding in your career is easy.
I’m sure there are more steps you can take to find professional success early on in your career but these are the three that I’ve found most important.
If you feel like you are just working for a paycheck and wondering what your next move should be, try following these steps and find what works for you.
In the end, the worst that can happen is that you’re right where you started ready to tackle these three steps all over again.