With graduation right around the corner — and the continued popularity of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In — many young women are trying to figure out the right career path.
I asked five of the smartest and most successful women I know what they wished someone had whispered in their ear at graduation. Here are the top themes that emerged:
You have to make your own path.
And, it will be as big and as exciting as you make it. Long gone are the days where you may enter a company as a recent graduate, receive extensive training, then pursue a management track. Now, the path and the job are both up to you. More and more recent graduates are hopping from one job to the next; and many are even starting their own companies right out of school.
Shama Kabani, CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, agrees. “The number one thing I wish someone had whispered in my ear at graduation would be that the opportunities are boundless. When I graduated, I really believed there were only a handful of careers. It is only when you get into the ‘real world’ when you realize that there are thousands of industries and you can create your own path as long as you bring value to the table. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, you must speak up and intentionally build your brand.”
Only you can define your success.
Shradha Agarwal is the high-energy, thoughtful Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of ContextMedia, Inc., a suite of digital healthcare networks that delivers condition-specific programming at point-of-care in all 50 states. “Upon graduating, we were so determined to follow a ‘Track to Success.’ I wish someone had reminded me that there is no one path to success or one definition of what success even means.”
Whether you’re about to graduate from college, or are 15 years into your career, how do you decide when and what will determine that you’re a success? I see incredibly impressive people struggle with this question all of the time. The hardest part is that it is undefined and it has to come from you. To me, success means understanding three things: what you want, why you want it and how you’re going to get it.
Failing is just part of the deal. And it’s okay.
Our lives are so marked by milestones – like graduating from school – that often, when we miss a milestone, the disappointment can feel overwhelming. Even if you’re doing all the right things, everything will not unfold as you have imagined.
Rudi’s Organic Bakery and JaneKnows.com CEO Jane Miller said, “Do not feel that you have to have all the answers or a bullet-proof plan for your life. Your path will be uniquely your own and it will change as you grow as a person. Listen to those you trust who have walked ahead of you and pay attention to signs that can create opportunities. You will make great decisions and you will make bad decisions and both are important in your path!”
Learn from others.
“I wish someone had told me to take full advantage of the speakers and activities on a college campus. It took until my junior year to really start taking advantage of this. I should have gone to every lecture, town hall, debate and special guest speaker that was offered at Cornell,” said Heather Terenzio-McCollester, Co-Founder and CEO, Techtonic Group. The great news is that there are many opportunities to learn from others. Make an intentional effort to listen.
Carrie Dorr, Founder and Chief Concept Officer of Pure Barre, echoed Heather’s sentiments, “Surround yourself with people that inspire you. You are smarter and more talented than you think you are.”
While the path may seem unclear, it is discoverable. Do everything you can to learn from others so that you may define success on your terms.