What’s your path? 10 lessons from mine to yours

I vividly remember the excitement and pressure of making that single, well-informed move in my graduating year. After earning two Masters degrees from reputable universities, I [felt that I] was expected to know exactly what the right next move was, which companies I needed to apply to and the job title I had to show off as testament to the value I was bringing to the job market. What made it slightly more challenging for me was that I had a dual background in Business and Journalism. Was I going to dedicate the next 5-10 years of my life as a Marketer at a multinational or would I become a writer at a publishing house?

Today, I am proud to say that my route the last decade has been dramatically different to my peers and while not without struggle, it taught me a LOT and exposed me to different countries, unique company cultures and various personality types. It also allowed me to cleverly blend my skills in ways I couldn’t have planned.

So what was my path?

My path wasn’t as straightforward as study hard, graduate, get a job offer and stroll into a well established corporation. For starters, I graduated from my second masters at the peak of 2008’s recession (Note to self: Recessions don’t care about qualifications and degrees). Secondly, being a native English speaker, my opportunity pool in The Netherlands was much, much smaller. And third, I simply didn’t know that I was expected to think competitively with a clear picture of at least the next five years at the get go.

I must admit that I was also naive. For example, to this day I’m appalled that at the time, an internship to me meant just that: 3 – 6 months of work experience. I didn’t have the foresight to realize that an internship was a foot in the door to my future at a company. Similarly, I didn’t pursue a traineeship. I realized much later that traineeships carry more promise. An intern is more likely to be underpaid or not paid at all. Under a traineeship, an employer has a vested interest in you and is seeing you as a value add to their future equity.

In 2009, after a series of internships and freelance work in what seemed like the longest year amid a recession, I took a risk and relocated to London not knowing anyone and to no job waiting for me. Within a month, I had secured a job and was a happy Londoner, moving as fast as the pace of the city. I spent five years building my CV and credentials. In late 2014, I decided to move back home to Amsterdam, bringing with me a wealth of international experience that I wouldn’t have had if all had been dandy five years earlier.

So what is your path? Here’s sharing 10 lessons from my own journey:-

  1. It’s OK to not know your next step all the time. I have pushed myself and grown the most in times of uncertainty.
  2. Don’t be fazed by the rat race. Everyone has their own path. Remember Aesop’s Fables’ The Tortoise and the Hare?
  3. Everyone struggles. Some do at 20, others win hard until they burn out even harder at 30 or 40 only to start all over again.
  4. Make an effort to consistently learn and better yourself on the job and outside. The skills will help you somehow, somewhere, sometime.
  5. Success and failure are inevitable. They don’t define you. Accept them with a pinch of salt and keep looking ahead.
  6. Identify a mentor who has done the time and encourages you to reach your full potential. Brilliant mentors are rare – don’t take them for granted.
  7. Be aware of the naysayers because a rose wouldn’t be a rose without some thorns. See them as your call to aim higher.
  8. Recognize opportunities and work hard in every role within every team under every manager at every company. Reputation management is critical to sustain.
  9. Do your very own SWOT analysis and ask your colleagues for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. The exercise can prove to be very insightful.
  10. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You define the shades of green in your path.