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:-
- It’s OK to not know your next step all the time. I have pushed myself and grown the most in times of uncertainty.
- Don’t be fazed by the rat race. Everyone has their own path. Remember Aesop’s Fables’ The Tortoise and the Hare?
- 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.
- Make an effort to consistently learn and better yourself on the job and outside. The skills will help you somehow, somewhere, sometime.
- Success and failure are inevitable. They don’t define you. Accept them with a pinch of salt and keep looking ahead.
- 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.
- Be aware of the naysayers because a rose wouldn’t be a rose without some thorns. See them as your call to aim higher.
- Recognize opportunities and work hard in every role within every team under every manager at every company. Reputation management is critical to sustain.
- 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.
- The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You define the shades of green in your path.