With millions of high school and college graduates entering the job market this summer, if you find yourself reminiscing about the start of your career and wondering, “What happened?” you’re definitely not alone. We go through so many twists and turns as we go along our career path, it is completely human and normal to feel like you are figuring things out as you go sometimes. Here are a few ways to help yourself continue to move forward with purpose.
What if you feel lost?
For those times where you look around and feel like maybe you’ve lost the thread and don’t know how you got where you are or what step to take next, reconnecting with your younger self can be extremely valuable. Even if you’re in a totally different industry that is a better fit from the one you started in, reflecting on what matters to you at your core can help you gain clarity.
Executive Coach Elizabeth Pearson shares in her book, Career Confinement: How to Free Yourself, Find Your Guides, and Seize the Fire of Inspired Work, not to lose sight of your 22-year-old self—or whichever age you associate with feeling open-hearted, hopeful, and eager to do what you love. In order to help yourself reconnect and stay connected to what lights you up, she even encourages keeping a picture of your younger self (again, doesn’t have to be 22) for a visual reminder you can turn to as often as you need.
When interviewed over Zoom, she says, “We have to dig deep so that we can build a foundation that allows us to thrive in the job we’re in or to let the soul dictate where we’re going next. It’s not something that we have to analyze and try to think our way out of. We really do have to give that soul the microphone and let her lead us in the direction she finally wants to go.”
Reflect on what you wish you’d known
When asked what career advice she would give her younger self, Pearson says, “It’s ok to say ‘I Don’t Know’ at work. Early in our careers, it can feel like admitting that we don’t know how to do something or have all the answers will result in us getting let go or passed over for big promotions, but I’ve found it’s usually the exact opposite. When you’re transparent about how you’re feeling and ask for help with things you aren’t yet familiar with, your boss sees it as a sign that you have humility and are invested in learning, which are strong leadership qualities.”
She also cautions against what she calls “shape-shifting” to fit in. “Dressing in dark suits, if it’s not truly your aesthetic, allowing misogynistic remarks to go unchallenged and pretending you like golf and sports, will not get your acceptance into the ‘boys club,’ so do—and wear—what feels comfortable for you. Value the unique ideals and perspectives you, as a woman, bring to the table.”
Another thing she’d tell her younger self not to do: Don’t compete with other women. “Gender bias and the leadership gap are real, but every time we allow ourselves to be pitted against other women, we diminish our power and fall right into the trap that has been keeping women from supporting and elevating one another, which is a big component of what’s needed to advance in business. We need to harness our collective power to influence change, rather than feel threatened by it.”
The value of self-love and self-care is also something Pearson would share with her younger self. “The size of your thighs is not correlated to your self-worth. You will always wish you had someone else’s body, face, and it will be a complete waste of energy—energy that could be put towards loving others and yourself. The Universe doesn’t make mistakes. You chose this specific body before you manifested to walk this earth, and every moment you spend shaming, loathing, or being ungrateful for the miracle that is our body is a middle finger to the Universe and its divine vision. Your body is not something that can be ‘hated’ into being what you want. It’s quite the opposite.”
Take the next step
You don’t have to know what the full path ahead of you looks like, but even taking one small step forward is still powerful. An important first step anyone can take, according to Pearson, is to update your LinkedIn. Make sure it’s up to date and lists your accomplishments. Don’t be shy!
When negotiating for what you need at your current job or seeking a new job, Pearson stresses the importance of boundaries, especially if you’ve had a hard time setting them in previous roles. “We have to be mindful we don’t invite burnout because once you get burnt out, it’s really hard to come back. You actually have to embrace self-care and the boundaries and advocacy for yourself. Otherwise it’s never going to work.”
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