So you’re in your 20s and 30s trying to navigate the professional world. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, in fact-you’re one of the millions of millennials in this arena! Welcome to the club and I encourage you to find comfort knowing that you are not alone as you’re trying to stay humble and attentive to your truths as you navigate through this world and figure it out.
Recently, I underwent a professional transition within my career that brought up many internal and external conversations and opportunities to reflect on the lessons learned from this experience and previous ones like them. Although my most recent professional opportunity for growth presented itself unexpectedly, the desire to transition into a new space and take on something fresh within a different environment had been with me for over a year. NOT because I hated my job, but because I am so committed to the work I love to do! I knew I needed the space to spread my wings and grow in the direction my faith and the universe were exposing and expecting me to, and you may be in that space too! No longer silencing and dismissing my inner voice and desire for change; I took the leap of faith, accepted a new position in a different field(ish), shed many bittersweet tears full of emotional “good byes”, “see you laters” and “lets stay in touch”; packed up my inviting and safe space to many—my office, and closed the door behind me-taking so many precious memories with me that will live a lifetime.
Navigating through the world of professions, professionalism and professional development are major elements of life that impact one’s personal growth and life trajectory and health as well! Thus, it’s important that we pick our 9-5 wisely! Some of you have positively influential people in your lives to challenge you and invest in your growth regularly and others of you may not.
This blog post is a special one for my fellow millennials and allies, reflecting on their career trajectory and next steps as we speak (read) and are ready or want to be ready to take action! You ALL inspire ME! While I had some influential people in my life, who guided me well-some of these lessons were ones gathered as my professional life continued!
Read below for “20 Pieces of Professional Advice Millennials Need To Know” (in no particular order of importance, because they all matter).
- Job Titles are NOT the end all-be all! Yes, titles do carry weight in the professional world and they are important to assess. HOWEVEVER, you MUST understand the weight of titles is based on the industry and the work you will actually be doing. An Assistant Director at one company may be doing the same work as a Manager in another; Coordinator may be doing the same work as the Administrative Assistant, and so on. Know your industry and familiarize yourself with professional titles within the field AND within the company/organization you are working for. Additionally, you may not like your job title, BUT you LOVE the work that you are doing. It is actually more about WHAT you are doing versus the title you wear while doing it that matters most! If there is a financial discrepancy based off the titles; discuss that further-but don’t pass up a great opportunity for growth, doing what you love and have always wanted to do just because the title was/is not what you are looking for.
- What you earned your degree in does not dictate your future professional career. Science majors can become business entrepreneurs, English language arts majors can become doctors, trained dancers can attend law school, sociology majors can become college presidents, culinary arts majors can become policy makers. ANYTHING is possible! YOU have to ask yourself, “what do I imagine myself doing?”, “what speaks to me professionally?”, “what do I enjoy doing?” and from there, determine the paths to get there. You do not have to limit yourself to professions associated with your degree, ever! You can, but the choice is yours! You may have to earn another degree, enroll in a program, network for a professional shift/opportunity, etc., but you are not limited or stuck. The real question is, “Are you truly committed to becoming and doing what you imagined?”
- Living in fear based off perception is painful and you should NOT have to “deal” with it daily. You live in a world where you know perception matters in the work place. It impacts upward mobility, autonomy, and more. But, if you find that you are CONSTANTLY having an internal battle with yourself knowing/feeling that you can’t do, say, suggest, take-on, question, challenge, or deliberate something because “so & so” will think/feel NEGATIVELY-even though you know that is not how it is; you have to re-evaluate where you are and why. You cannot possibly thrive in a position where FEAR OF PERCEPTION takes over. If you’re living in fear at work all together, you must evaluate why and strategize plans to secure your sanity. Making decisions that you stand by is necessary. The thoughts and feelings of others will always be present, but if you believe in what you have to execute, do that and do it well. Places worthy of your investment and that invest in you in return for all of the right reasons, will politely disagree or explain why certain directions can’t or will be taken, but you shouldn’t be silenced out of fear of perception.
- Professional representation matters! Working in a space that is reflective of different elements of your identity is wonderful and super helpful in your professional and personal growth. I remember the excitement I had when I had my first Black woman mentor, professor, and supervisor. If significant elements of your identity are not reflected in leadership, I hope it is reflected in colleagues. Now, if you don’t see important elements of you represented anywhere in the work place, ask yourself “is this environment truly conducive of my ability to thrive and grow?” It could be, but don’t just avoid asking yourself that question because the question or answer is uncomfortable or unknown. Ideally, there should be infinity groups in your work place that you can be part of and a welcoming work climate to get to know people in other divisions, departments, etc. Trust me, if no one reflects you, it could be difficult for you; but difficult does not mean impossible. There are lessons to learn everywhere, it is up to you to decide if that is the place you would like to learn the lesson.
- Don’t assume that just because a person’s intersectionalities reflect yours, they will be supportive of you and invest in your professional growth; even if they are professional levels “above you” or “below you”. While it is comforting to know someone who looks like you are around, it is still imperative that you pay attention to mannerisms, conversations, direct and indirect interactions, tone of voice, body language, etc. Comfort DOES NOT equate to automatic removal of ability to execute professional judgement. Real interactions influence depth not surface based assumptions.
- Seek great supervision because professional management matters! “Terrible” bosses are real. Sometimes; supervisors are great people; but not all great people are great supervisors. A descent supervisor assists in ensuring that you are meeting at least the bare minimum of what you are expected to do at work; good supervisors ensure you have average performance; great supervisors ensure you are performing above average and invest in your professional interests as they keep them in mind and execute on it; and superb supervisors ensure you are above average, invest in your professional interests & execute on them, and take it a step further and help you to develop beyond what you yourself have thought of for yourself. Likewise, all supervisors should care to expose you to opportunities that focus on your development within the field. Your success impacts them as well. So do your research and take-up the sessions that build a better and more professional you.
- Professional mentorship and sponsorship is important, and they don’t have to look like you! Having people you trust around you to guide you professionally is great. If you can develop a mentoring relationship with colleagues within your company, you are certainly winning! Mentorship and sponsorship assist in avoiding some commonly made professional mistakes, provides opportunities to build your social capital as you meet people within and outside of your field(s) of interest, and you will learn meaningful content to pay it forward to another.
- Monetary benefits are more than your salary! Yes, I know-money talks (so I’ve been told) but it isn’t the only thing to consider when determining the right/best compensation packages. Other benefits at your current or next job may speak volumes if you ask and listen. Amazing healthcare services, automatic/earned vacation time, a wonderful retirement package (with high matching rates based on your contribution), work from home flexibility, occasions to travel for work, relocation packages, an opportunity to receive a free or a discounted degree, investment in your development through conference attendance, and more may be the deal breaker(s) as you think about your next stages of life in your current stage simultaneously. Sometimes, the money you make today may not be exactly what you are looking for; but the benefits provide that buffer for the future.
- Don’t compromise everything about your values for the place you work; especially with your non-negotiables! I’d imagine that every job has a moment within the details of the work that you do that may cause you to ask yourself if you agree with this decision, direction, etc. In a healthy work environment, those moments should not occur often. If you are in doubt of your commitment and investment to a company or organization daily because the decisions being made DO NOT align with your values regularly, you need to consider other options because your soul and spirit may be greatly impacted. Furthermore, that level of internal discomfort, anxiety, pressure, and second-guessing every day is not healthy.
- Your probationary period at the job is also the jobs probationary period with you! Now that interviews are over and you started working; it’s important to take notes for yourself. Professional climate is important to monitor as it will impact you directly and indirectly. Are people positive, energetic, jaded, bitter, collaborating, working in silos, open to mutual feedback, combative, inspired, complacent, and/or upset where you are working? This may not be easy to tell during the interview stages of a job, but once on the job-observe just as much if not more than you engage with others during your first few months within the role. You will learn a lot, the more you listen and observe. The happiness, discontentment, and “off the record” conversations with colleagues within a professional setting tell you a lot about where you work. They may also provide you with perspective of how the company/organization has grown and what people think of the direction it is going in-which may assist in your development of your stance of the company/organization as well.
- Create a document and follow through on updating it with all of the work you do! ALWAYS document your work on projects/initiatives and record the impact you have made in numbers and/or percentages when possible! This will come in handy for promotions, raises, professional reviews, updating your resume, personal reflection, and so much more. It can also help you to meet your goals if you notice your goal item is not yet accomplished. Again, invest in yourself by taking the extra time to record it all, so others can trust to invest in you too! Ageism is real in some work spaces-so to my 20 something year olds and even early 30 somethings; the importance of documenting your work and not assuming people notice it or value it is necessary!
- Upward mobility and a challenge of skillsets are key element to professional happiness! With that being said, you need to go after what you want as well-even with superb supervisors. Ask about opportunities for growth within your company or organization. Pay attention to paths to promotions, raises, meeting goal bonuses, etc, and execute on those teachings/expectations. Be sure to take on new/different projects and ask for them if they aren’t coming your way! Stay invested and up to date with the content within your career and professional growth investment and others will invest in your professional growth as well. I don’t need or want you to be in the same position for more than 2-3 years without a raise and/or promotion. If you are in that position; re-evaluate yourself, your work climate/culture, discuss it with your supervisor (with data/documentation of your work at hand), and proceed accordingly.
- Develop a community and safe space in your workplace with meaningful relationships. As I stated before, join a work related infinity group and/or chat it up with people. You only know who you vibe with by meeting and vibing/not vibing with people. Additionally, everyone needs at least one person they trust who understands their work environment without much added explanation to be motivated by, inspired by, affirmed by, and to vent to. They will be like the siblings, family, and friends who just get you and the inside jokes. Work has these moments too, and we all need that work friend who gets it!
- Patience is a virtue when professionally applying for a new role or transitioning into a field, industry, etc. You may have the opportunity to apply for or be considered for your dream job/career-CONGRATULATIONS! You may be the selected candidate or you may not be. If you weren’t selected, I AM NOT SORRY (assuming the decision to not hire you was not a product of implicit bias or discrimination). I am not sorry, because I know the next opportunity that is right for you will present itself and it will be full of lessons to take not of and follow through on. Trust that what you want and are looking for is out there and put in the work to get there. Now, if that means restructuring the plan and take a steppingstone position, DO IT or waiting it out until that right opportunity is there, go for it. DO what is BEST, but either way, be patient and trust in life’s process.
- Invest in yourself outside of work! If you have a hobby you like to indulge in, non-work related passion/interest that you never attended to, a dream you wanted to commit to but never did, etc. follow through on it! Your 9-5 does not have to dictate your entire week and control your weekends. Fuel your soul regularly by doing what you love to do. Ideally, you love what you do at your place of work which is you are there, and maybe you don’t and it is just a steppingstone or a means to an end for now. Whatever the reason, you are still a person outside of work-what are you doing to take care of that person?
- Human Resources are there to help you, but may not always be in a position to help you. I have heard about cases where people who have filed complaints were fired, or multiple people have provided criticism of the same individual and little change has been made years later, and several other situations I wish I hadn’t. I have not worked in HR but I share this hoping that your HR department is helpful should you ever need them and to also UNAPOLOGETICALLY call out people in positions to create better work spaces and hold them accountable. We can’t continue to live in a world where people are not protected or are harmed for using a service that is there to serve them.
- Bringing your whole-self to work is important and necessary! No, I’m not just talking about showing up and being present in the work that you are doing-that is obviously important though. I am talking about bring your whole-self and being present. Your professional team can’t respect the natural headed, Hijab wearing, LGBTQA identified, creative wardrobe ensemble, multi-lingual love of reality tv, pulled him or herself up by the boot-straps, migrant from another country, lover of all types of music or no music at all, cat lady/man, wearer of eccentric acrylic nails, fan of MacDonald’s coffee instead of Starbucks’ or Dunkin Donuts’ if you don’t bring that person (you to work). It just won’t happen, because it can’t. I know code switching is a thing for people, but if we want to normalize the acceptance of all those who are labeled as different, were historically marginalized, and more-we have to bring those identities into the work place. Somethings might have to be introduced in doses, but you’re grown-figure out the timeline for yourself; but DON’T not bring your whole-self to work again and be upset that your team doesn’t respect such and such about certain people when you’re internally fuming and externally conforming.
- It’s ok to spend some time job hopping as you figure out where you would like to settle in for the long-term career investment! I know this opinion may not be ideal to many who are critical of millennials, but you’re just starting out and at 25 your brain fully formed so-come on! Be reasonable with yourself. Now, I’m not saying work somewhere for 6 months and leave because they didn’t promote you after one great project you completed either! What I am saying is, it’s normal to think something is your ideal position only to be in it and realize this is not it or this is no longer it. You are exploring yourself professionally, just as in other aspects of your life. Take it slow and do great work in any role that you are in and when you do decide to leave; thank the team for the wonderful opportunity to learn and grow, give your two weeks, and move on. Sometimes, moving on might be internally and other times, moving on might mean coming back there at another time.
- Don’t be afraid to provide your supervisor with constructive criticism and feedback. I know, some supervisors are not the most inviting or welcoming of feedback; but you have to share it if you feel it is imperative information to receive to allow you to do your job better. I had a supervisor who I could not give constructive feedback to because they were always insulted by what I had to say, even if my words came in response to something they said 5 minutes ago within the conversation. I ultimately had to make a choice between speaking to them about what mattered and what I could let go-speaking on all that impacted my productivity immediately. All else, I kept mental notes of and vowed to not repeat come by time to supervise many more people and I did just that. Ultimately, you can’t excel in spaces that won’t hone in on your growth. So if feedback is needed in order for you to grow, give the feedback and prosper!
- Delegation and follow-through are essential for productivity. Follow your gut instincts and professional moral compass. Check-in with yourself to know when you are overwhelmed, need to take a moment for self-care, are experiencing burn-out, and all. You are the one who knows you best. Stay true to your heart in the professional decisions that you make and professional interactions that you have. Be authentic, transparent as much as possible, apologetic for the mistakes made, and open to feedback.
In all, the professional development journey is one that is full of beautiful changes, lessons, and opportunities for growth. Remember, as we age and change, so does our outlook and decision influencers. Stay true to you and listen to your gut instincts at work; the same as you would/should in other aspects of your life. It is my hope that you are all in positions that fulfill your needs from the inside out. If you are not quite there yet, re-read this post several times, jot down your thoughts, record your needs, and set out to work in environments that allow your whole self to be in the room, not just ¼ of you!
In truth, wishing you the best for your current professional journey and beyond!
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