As a kid I wanted to be everything from a NASA astronaut to a Major League Baseball star. Yet as most people age and mature their dreams tend to evaporate and morph into something more practical and attainable.
But impractical does not mean impossible. That is, if you’re ready and willing to work for it and go the extra miles. The future is now, as they say.
As a Gen Xer, I want to share some professional advice for teens and 20-somethings who are pondering their dream jobs, preparing to start new jobs, or just trying to climb the career ladder at a young age.
It’s no secret that a strong work ethic helps lay the foundation for success. But early career success is usually earned incrementally, starting from the bottom up.
New Generation of Leaders
Millennials — or Gen Y — are 80-plus million strong and growing. They are entering the U.S. workforce at increasing rates and now comprise the largest age-based demographic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Their foothold as new leaders will continue to solidify as older generations retire.
Moreover, let’s not forget about Generation Z, the oldest of whom are now in high school, entering college and/or starting their first jobs.
Some of these young people will be tomorrow’s top entrepreneurs and innovators. They harbor high ambitions and big career aspirations at the dawn of a new millennium in which anything appears possible.
These two generations were born into the Information Age. They can’t comprehend of a world without smart devices. They can’t fathom being far from mobile, digital and virtual technology at their fingertips 24/7 — for better or worse.
Nevertheless, some old-school lessons about career success still make sense.
In fact, these time-tested techniques are arguably more important now than ever. That’s because these rules have either been forgotten or taken for granted in today’s modern era of information overload and instant gratification. Therefore, a refresher course is in order.
As a young person in college, I developed a comprehensive career success plan to help land my dream jobs while still in my early 20s. And — through an uncanny confluence of luck, timing and fate — my improbable dream jobs in Congress and the White House became reality in relatively short order.
This career success plan is broadly applicable to people of all ages. However, it’s especially ripe for a new generation of leaders with unlimited potential due to groundbreaking advances in technology.
Following is Part 1 of my 10-point career success plan for younger Millennials and older members of Gen Z to help make their dreams jobs become reality.
1) Define Your Vision
First, you must have a dream and vision of success. Be bold and think big. Just make sure to be specific. Ponder these questions:
- What am I really good at doing?
- What do I love doing?
- What innate skills or God-given talents do I have?
- What type of work would I do if money wasn’t an issue?
I always loved writing and observing national politics. Thus, I majored in journalism during college. I also began writing a weekly op-ed column for the daily student newspaper during my freshman year.
This served as a catalyst for my next goal: securing a high-level internship in a Congressional leadership office in the U.S. Capitol (as part of my minor in political science).
The lesson here is to get your foot in the door early, even if it means starting at the bottom and doing tedious tasks.
This means seeking out jobs in your areas of interest while simultaneously earning your college degree.
In fact, some young people have no choice but to work their way through college to pay for tuition and related expenses. They deserve kudos for their tireless efforts.
I found that a potent combination of rigorous academic work on one hand, buttressed by real world work experience on the other, was instrumental for success.
2) Build Bridges
Obtaining academic knowledge and professional skills are needed to successfully position yourself in a competitive marketplace. But this is only the beginning of a career journey — not the beginning of the end.
Finding good mentors to help you is also of critical importance.
Good mentors are key to sharpening your skills, imparting valuable knowledge and putting an ambitious young person in touch with industry influencers to broaden their professional network.
Mentors take you under their wings and help lay the groundwork for your success. No one does it alone.
3) Dare to Think Big
An important part of my career advice to young people is this: Don’t be afraid to think big and follow your dreams, wherever they may lead.
In short, dare yourself to take risks in order to plant the seeds which will blossom into your dream jobs.
Get off the “hamster wheel,” get out of your comfort zone and take a leap of faith. Believe in yourself and your abilities.
In one of her last TV interviews the iconic American poet, Maya Angelou, was asked by ABC News what advice she would give to her “younger self.” She offered these words of wisdom:
“Dare — dare to be more than you think you can be — dare.”
In my experience, it’s better to think big and take risks at an early age to jump start your career. Don’t limit your goals by thinking small. Rather, set your goals high by thinking big.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out on a limb if you want to achieve early career success. Don’t be timid in taking a leap of faith. Do it while you’re still young and have your entire work life ahead of you.
Recall the saying, “No risk, no reward.”
4) Leveraging the four P’s
Perseverance, positivity, personality and politeness all go a long way toward achieving success of any kind in life. Don’t invent artificial reasons why you can’t achieve your professional goals at a young age.
Don’t be negative by talking yourself out of a dream before even trying to achieve it.
Rather, maintain a positive attitude, be positively expectant, persistent and perseverent despite the odds. Also, always remember to be polite, humble and kind along the way. Never burn your professional bridges.
Lastly, don’t give up too fast, particularly when facing initial failures or setbacks. Too many young people often fall prey to frustration and procrastination. Yet persistence and perseverance pay dividends.
If you face initial roadblocks then redouble your efforts, revise your strategy and continue moving forward.
Go with your gut feelings and instincts if all else fails. Remember that persistence and perseverance pay off in the short term and over the long run.
Recall that nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.
As it turned out for me, writing for the student newspaper freshman year quickly led to a promotion as editorial page editor as a sophomore.
In fact, I was the youngest editor on staff at the time and won a coveted writing award from The Society of Professional Journalists.
But none of that would have occurred if I had simply sat on the sidelines hoping success would come my way.
The job at the college newspaper served as a catalyst for my next big step: landing a high-level internship in the U.S. Congress, Office of the House Majority Leader, within the ornate confines of the U.S. Capitol.
What came next? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series featuring Points 5–10.
Meanwhile, have any of the career strategies above worked for you?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David is a strategic communications consultant, freelance writer and former federal government spokesman based in the Washington, DC-area. A native New Yorker, David was a journalist prior to his career of public service. You can also find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.