This coming Friday I have the honor of being the keynote speaker at my high school’s Career Day! To be honest, I’ve put off writing my speech for weeks because I’m quite nervous. I’ve spoken in front of plenty of adult-filled rooms before, but something about this feels different. After thinking about it for a bit, I realized the big difference between this speaking event and others is: I really want to positively impact these girls — and think I have an opportunity to do so more than I would with adults. I remember how I was at that age and, even though I often came off as couldn’t-care-less, too-cool-for-this, high school was a time of great learning and change, and the things I did, read, and experienced had a big impact on me.
As most adults do, I wish I could tell my younger self all the things I know now (and have her actually listen to my advice!). This speaking opportunity is, in some small way, a chance to share what I’ve learned with young women who will be sitting just where I once was. I’m grateful that I’ll have a chance to speak to these girls, to tell them what I know, especially about building a career that brings fulfillment to my life. I’m sure some of them will roll their eyes or zone out (I know I might have), but I’m hoping some of them will tune in and feel inspired by what I have to say. Though I still haven’t figured out exactly what my speech will sound like, I’ve narrowed my focus to eight key ideas, which I thought I’d share with you in case you’re (a) a teenage girl reading this and wondering what to do with her or life, or (b) a regular ol’ adult who longs for a career that’s inspiring and fulfilling.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LIKE
The first (and most important!) step to creating a career you’ll actually enjoy is figuring out what you like. This sounds kind of obvious, but most of us aren’t taught to pay close attention to what we enjoy doing. We’re asked what our favorite subject is, but not necessarily encouraged to dig deeper. Let’s say your favorite subject is English. Why? Because you like to write? Because it’s one of the few courses where you can be creative? Because you enjoy reading? Understanding why you like something is so important to carving out a career path because it gives you guidelines but doesn’t limit you to only one path. Imagine your ideal career. Why do you feel drawn to that? What about it is most appealing (i.e., freedom, ability to travel, creativity, income, etc.)? It’s important to know what things interest you, but also why they interest you.
TAKE YOUR TIME
And this is where step number two comes in: taking your time. Whether you’re a high schooler or a middle-aged adult, it’s important to take your time when reflecting on building a career. (And, yes, adults can change careers! It’s never too late!) It’s okay to take time to figure out exactly what you want to do (and why you want to do it). In fact, it’s a good idea not to rush into one thing, assuming it’s going to be perfect for you. Until you really get into something (a career, a relationship, etc.), you don’t know exactly what it will be like. So go slow. And pay attention. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re doing something (for work and for fun). Are you truly enjoying yourself? Are you unaware of how much time has passed? Are you bored or wishing you we somewhere else? Taking your time allows you to take note of how certain activities make you feel. Very few people have the “perfect” career right off the bat; most successful people take time to explore what will really work for them.
TRY NEW THINGS
Hand-in-hand with taking your time is the next step: trying new things. People of any age can (and should!) try new things, but this is especially true when you’re in high school and college. Those are some of the best times to get out of your comfort zone and experiment with different activities, groups of people, and interests. Schools are such great resources for information and opportunities, and it’s a great idea to take advantage of all they have to offer while you can. Sign up for random clubs, try out for a play, volunteer with classmates, sit with a different crowd at lunch — do whatever you can to have new experiences as often as possible. You probably won’t love all of them, but you’ll learn something about yourself. And the better you know yourself, the better equipped you are to choose a path that’s best for you.
While I won’t advise you actively go looking for mistakes to make, I will recommend being open enough to new experiences and situations to risk making a mistake or two. After all, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken the big risk of leaving my regular job to do what I love! The worst thing you can do when trying to create an inspiring career is avoid taking any risks. When you get out of your comfort zone and try different things, you’re bound to make mistakes. But making mistakes is how you learn, and from the errors you make come endless insights into what does and doesn’t work for you. For example, you might take a job in an industry you’re not sure you’ll love. After awhile, you might grow to dislike the job. Rather than think to yourself, What a mistake. I never should have accepted this job! consider what you’ve learned and take those lessons with you when you move on to a new job.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Continual learning is absolutely vital for creating an amazing, positive career. Even if you’ve found your dream job and you love what you do, keep learning — about your industry, about other industries, about life in general. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to create a more ideal career situation for yourself. And, you might discover that there are other things you might enjoy doing as well. When I left my full-time job to pursue Positively Present, I had absolutely no idea I would end up launching my own graphic design business! And the only reason this happened was because I signed up for a few classes to see if I could improve some of the design on my site. As soon as I mastered the basics, I realized how much I loved graphic design and illustrating and now it’s a huge part of what I do. You never know what will happen when you open yourself up to learning new things, and there are so many great online resources to keep learning even if you’re no longer in school. You can take online courses in almost any subject of interest (you can even get an MBA in healthcare administration!), which is pretty amazing.
LOVE WHO YOU ARE
Cultivating self-love is more general life advice than it is career advice, but self-love actually plays a big role in creating a great career. For one, the more you love and respect yourself, the less likely you are to settle for a career path that’s only ho-hum. Self-love tunes you in to your unique talents and abilities and makes you confident enough to want to share these with others through your work. Additionally, a strong love for yourself will prevent you from ever settling for poor treatment at the workplace (or anywhere!). You teach others how to treat you, and if you treat yourself with love and respect, you’ll form more positive relationships at work, and those will always help you (even if you don’t love your current job). Self-love also discourages you from comparing where you are to where others are, which can sometimes be a problem in the workplace. With a loving attitude toward yourself, you’ll focus on your own work and you won’t waste time comparing yourself to others.
WRITE YOUR OWN STORY
When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I always envisioned myself working for Vogue or writing novels. I never, in a million years, imagined I’d write on my own site (blogs were barely a thing back then!), publish a book filled with my own (positive!) advice, or have the opportunity to be creative through graphic design. No one ever said to me, “You can be a writer and a graphic designer,” but, here I am, doing both. We all have the power to write our own stories — in our careers and in life in general — and you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing or do it the same way others do it. Look to those who have careers you admire and use them as inspiration, but don’t feel you have to do just what they do. Remember: you’re the author of your own career, and you can write your own unique story, even if it’s a tale that’s never been written before.
LOOK FOR THE GOOD
Looking for the good is another piece of advice that applies to life as well as work. No matter what situation you find yourself in career-wise, strive to make the best of it while you’re there. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you’ll probably have some jobs you don’t love. And that’s okay. Try to enjoy them the best you can while you’re there and use them as opportunities to learn what you do and don’t like. Even if you’re fortunate enough to do what you love (and I hope you are!), you’ll have to do things you don’t enjoy, and there will be days you feel drained of all energy and inspiration. These are the times you’ll need to look hard for the good, but an optimistic outlook is always worth the effort. Whether it’s at work or in life, the only thing you have 100% control over at all times is your attitude. It sounds cliche, but choosing a positive attitude can be transform the way you see your career — and the way you see the world.
Whether you’re thinking about a future career or you’re looking to make a career change, I hope these tips inspire you to do some soul-searching and figure out what you really want. It’s hard not to get caught up in what you “should” be doing (or what everyone else is doing), but never forget that your career is yours and you have the power to spend your days working in an environment that makes you feel inspired, fulfilled, and happy.
Knowing who you are and what you want is key to creating a positive career. If you’re looking for some more soul-searching inspiration, check out the Finding Yourself workbook. Discover more about yourself, and uncover what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.