When I arrived in the office on the first day of my internship with Curator, I was ready to embrace the industry I was passionate about, but I also felt nervous. About to begin my junior year at the University of Washington, I had reached the point in my collegiate career where things tend to get a bit more “serious.”
Every spring I look forward to commencement ceremony season. When I graduated, I only listened to my own speaker that year, which I remember none of. But now I anticipate the speeches to hit the web. Who says grads get all the inspiration and permission to dream? I’m no wise grandmother willow tree, but with three years into the career world, if I were giving a graduation speech, this is the advice I have to offer so far.
Fall in Love with the Journey
As I was wrapping up college, I thought I needed to have everything buttoned up. Planning the rest of my life turned out to be horribly overwhelming. Naturally, I freaked out. Then, someone told me that even 10 or 20 years from that moment, I’d still be asking myself “Who will I be?” He said, “You’ll never get to a point when you’ll know everything that’s coming next or that you’ve figured it all out.” I replied, “Actually, I thought I would,” as if all the thinking happened upfront, and then I could just do it, as simple as a Nike ad.
Real life is a twisting, turning, beautiful mess, and can sometimes feel like you consciously walked straight into the woods and then threw your iPhone into a lake. If you can learn to fall in love with the journey, maybe that lake is the perfect temperature to take a swim. Career building is about moving up the ladder, but just as importantly, it’s about building bridges to other ladders, and exploring how you fit into the world, and that takes flexibility and risk. It’s okay to be a little lost. Look for the lesson in everything and keep asking yourself “Who will I be?” Answer honestly, and you’ll end up in the right place.
Your Job is to Learn
This one is threefold:
1. Read. Everything. Read about your own industry and your clients’ business, but read about the things that interest you, even if it’s fiction.
2. Ask Questions. At the beginning of your career everyone is expecting you to ask questions. Ironically, it feels most scary to ask questions when you’re new to an industry, putting unrealistic expectations on yourself to know it all. The faster you ask, the less you get stuck thinking, “I should know this.”
3. Collaborate. Forget how you’ve done work for the majority of your education. Yes, I said forget. I used to think if I couldn’t finish my work on my own, it meant that I was incompetent or weak. It actually meant I was just wasting time, because I wasn’t using the resources that my (and your future) co-workers are. Most jobs, especially Communications/PR/Advertising require tons of collaboration. Ask earlier rather than later. Get feedback on your work before you think it’s complete.
Find Creative Ways to Contribute
As I mentioned above, you don’t have to know everything, but be proactive about bringing something extra to your team, whether it’s sharing baked goods or sending a helpful article…or a not so helpful BuzzFeed link that reminds everyone how much they love dogs. It’s okay to bring your personality and interests to work, because your co-workers are people, and people like other people.
Be a Yes Wo/Man
Adopt the mindset to always be open to new projects or to just help out for a couple of hours. It’s always an opportunity to learn and can go a long way. First, you never know what a superior sees in you that you may not. They could be setting you up for your next position or even a promotion. Second, when someone asks you to help, it means they trust you with their project. It’s a chance to prove that you’re flexible and well-versed in several pieces of the business. Lastly, you never know when you may need to ask a favor or advice, a year from now or ten. The chances of someone sharing their time with you are a lot higher if you’ve already reciprocated the act.
Everyone has to Earn Their Stripes
No matter which industry you’re in, the first couple of years aren’t that glamorous. It’s a fact. But, if you can hang, understand that no job is below you, and know that discipline is worth something, you will earn your stripes and get to do the stuff your professors used as case studies.
Find a Mentor
Sometimes graduating can feel really lonely, like it’s you against the world. Simultaneously, the predictability of college is suddenly gone. Luckily, millions of people have done the same thing. The best thing you can do is learn from them.
Understand what you want your life to look like and what kind of person you want to be. Then, find a person that reflects it, in their professional and personal life. It might even be two or three different people. Once you’ve found them, make a point to create a real relationship where you can talk regularly. Learn about their successes and failures, for they’ve likely had multiples of each. Share your own struggles and ask questions. Let your mentor bear some of your burdens too. You’ll discover solutions together a lot faster than on your own. And the best part, you’re learning how to make choices and get perspective from a person you admire, helping you become the person you want to be in the long run.
Seek Advice Aggressively
You can learn a lot about a person based on the advice they give. Most people give advice based on the things they value most. If you ask for advice often, you’ll start to see similar themes pop up, which is a great way to learn how to succeed in any workplace.
As an exercise for this post, I’ve gathered several bits of advice from the Curators. You’ll find some to be similar to each other, and others already stated above.
“Live in the moment as much as possible every day.” –Annie
“No task is beneath you, be willing to dig in and do whatever it takes!” –Megan
“My personal motto is ‘let the beauty of what you love be what you do.’ No job or degree is best put to work unless it’s complimented with passion. Find what you love and work that into your education, the result should be a challenge that never stops you from learning.” –Brooke
“Be proactive, be positive and use the word ‘No’ sparingly!” - Chelsey
“Follow your passion, the money will come.” –Scott
“Be an individual-- your uniqueness is an asset, a way to make you stand out in the crowd. Embrace your individuality and use it to fuel your success.” –Noelle
“No matter what your role or title is at your first job/internship, be ready to roll up your sleeves and tackle every project that comes your way.” –Matthew
“I think Conan O’Brien said it best, ‘If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.’” –Ann Marie
“Have a point of view. Always. Regurgitating facts or making pretty charts isn’t enough… to be successful, you need to be able to analyze that data, tell what it means and then what we should do about or with it. People hire agencies for their expertise, so be an expert.” -Dan
“Don't put anything off or get tricked into thinking you'll have time later. You won't. If something seems like it's too expensive, too time consuming or whatever, it's not. Figure out how to make it happen, and do what you want to do. Credit cards can be paid off and stress can be mitigated. You can never go back and do things how you wish you would have done them the first time.” -Paul