Small children have big dreams. 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. As a Gen Xer, I want to share some professional advice for young people who are pondering their dream jobs, preparing to start new jobs, or trying to climb the career ladder at a young age.
It’s no secret that building a strong work ethic helps lay the foundation for future success. But it’s also worth noting that 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 who are now in college and might be 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 Digital 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. 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, at ages 20 and 23, respectively.
Career Success Plan
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 are the eights steps to career success:
- Define Your Vision: First, you must have a vision of success prior to achieving it. Be bold and think big. Don’t be negative by talking yourself out of your vision before even trying to achieve it. Don’t invent artificial reasons why you can’t succeed at a young age, or any age, just make sure to set specific goals which are narrowly tailored within a progressive hierarchy of achievement.
If you’re having trouble defining your vision, 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?
Once you’ve defined your vision then roll up your shirt sleeves and start getting to work.
- Dare to Think Big: Picking up on the prior point, don’t be afraid to think big and follow your dreams wherever they may lead. Dare yourself to take risks in order to plant the seeds with the potential to blossom into your dream job. Get out of your comfort zone, and take a leap of faith. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Recall the saying: “No risk, no reward.”
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.”
- Remember the four P’s: Perseverance, positivity, personality and politeness all go a long way toward achieving success of any kind in life. Maintain a positive attitude, be positively expectant, persistent and persevere despite the odds. 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. Recall that nothing worthwhile in life comes easy and good manners (being polite) can help pave way the on the road to success.
- Reject the Naysayers: The bigger your dream, the more likely that people will tell you it’s out of reach, if not impossible. Others may try to convince you to enter a different profession or embark on another career path. But don’t let the negativity of others steer you off course. Rather, believe in yourself, your dreams and your innate talent and ability.
Then stick to your plan and keep moving forward. Some people you encounter might be jealous of your aspirations; call you overly confident, narcissistic. They may likewise doubt your discipline or intellectual capacity to achieve your goals. But remember that what others say and think don’t matter unless you listen to them. Remember to reject the naysayers.
- Visualize & Affirm It: Visualization can be a powerful tool to spark motivation and elicit raw emotion. Thus, see yourself having successfully accomplished the goal in your mind. Make positive affirmations and feel the corresponding emotions of victory. Other helpful tips include write down your goals, creating a scrapbook of photos and cutouts, and always being enthusiastic about the process with the end goal in mind.
To borrow a popular saying from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
- Believe! It’s essential to have faith and know in your heart that nothing can stop you from reaching your goal; regardless of how far off it may appear. It’s also imperative to realize that nearly anything is possible if you sincerely believe in your ability, put your mind to it, work hard and keep the faith.
Here’s a great example: Russell Wilson is an NFL star quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks. He’s also a Millennial who led his team to a surprise Super Bowl victory in 2014. Yet Wilson was an undersized and under-rated quarterback at the time. But that didn’t stop him, despite his many detractors.
Here’s Wilson’s advice: “My dad used to always tell me, Russ, why not you? And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you, and you can go a long way.”
- Leverage Luck & Timing: The rare and powerful combination of good luck and good timing is an intangible factor in achieving professional success at any age. However, the more prepared and well positioned one is to achieve a specific goal, the more likely that luck and timing can be pivotal factors in career advancement.
For instance, I did everything in my power back then to best position myself for unique professional opportunities at a young age. Then I seized those opportunities despite the odds. My motto: Carpe Diem (Seize the Day). Recall that if you never try, then you’ll never know what might have been.
- Never Give Up: Finally, if you don’t succeed at first, then keep trying. Redouble your efforts, revamp your game plan, and persevere. Don’t give up at the first sign of failure. Rather, consider initial failure as a stepping stone along the way to achieving success.
It’s a fact that most successful people throughout history overcame adversity and failure prior to achieving big goals. They fought through it and learned from it. They forged ahead with renewed vigor instead of giving up at initial failure.
The irony is that the more successful one becomes, the less people tend to remember the failures which preceded the grand achievements. Therefore, don’t fall prey to giving up too early and prematurely forfeiting potential success. Too many people hit major roadblocks and end up taking an easier and more conventional career path.
Too many young people give up on their dreams and settle for something less. But don’t give up on yours.
Whoever you are, no matter how far away your professional dreams may appear, anything is possible if a person is 100% committed to the ultimate goal and doesn’t quit. This is critical for today’s new generation of leaders to comprehend, as well as anyone at any age who aspires to achieve big career success.
Act on the aforementioned 8-points and principles and job opportunities may soon appear. Your dream job may materialize before you know it, at any age, if you have a potent career plan and vigorously pursue it.
Always remember: if you never try, you’ll never know.