Growing up, I often fantasized about being a “career lady”. When I thought about my future, I could picture it a million different ways, but it almost always included me living in a big city and working in a job that made me feel good about myself. I’m pretty happy to say that after many setbacks, multiple returns to school, plenty of very low-paying jobs and several years of utter confusion, I have finally achieved both. Plus, I don’t even have to wear heels or pantyhose to work, which is doubly exciting.
I’ve been a therapist since 2009, which makes me a career-changer. Prior to this latest incarnation I also spent time as a beauty writer and editor, a nanny, a cocktail waitress, a private tutor, an elementary school teacher and a freelance copyeditor. The path to my career was definitely not straight– it was very wriggly, and occasionally rocky– but the struggles and setbacks have been strangely worth it, and ultimately very, very helpful.
So when comprehensive career resource The Ladders asked me to dole out career advice to recent graduates, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I’d had the idea to ask my friends for their career advice months ago in hopes of writing something like that already. In my therapy practice, I always have at least six or seven 20-somethings on my roster that are either current college or high school students or recent graduates, anxious about starting their professional life. These tend to be some of my favorite clients to work with, not only because I can remember and relate to that experience, but also because of their energy, optimism and hopefulness for the future.
So whether you’re just starting out, or at a place in your life where you’re looking to make a change, these are the words of wisdom from some of my most trusted sources–my friends. A few of my thoughts are sprinkled in too:).
<My niece Allison, future career lady>
Jenn (me), Clinical social worker/ Psychotherapist
Bridget, Learning and Development Supervising Associate for a major corporation
Aimee, Stay-at-home-mom, Former HR professional
Michelle, Interior Redesign and Staging Specialist, Feng Shui Consultant and Owner of Inspired by Design, LLC
Rachel, Plastic surgery nurse/ Rock musician
What do you wish you had known when you were younger and just starting out?
“I was very lucky early on in my career to find a mentor. It is extremely beneficial to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to provide guidance on next steps, to be a sounding board. Don’t be intimidated, strike up a conversation with someone further along in their career. Nine times out of ten, they’ll be happy to talk and help.” - Bridget
“Don’t try to take on a job that you’re not ready for. Don’t try to impress people so they like you.”- Michelle
“It’s really okay if you don’t know what you want to do. Most of the time there’s no thunderbolt, a-ha moment where we magically figure it all out. A lot of stuff happens simply by process of elimination. Prepare to hit a few bumps and plan for an exit strategy. Start backward; what do you definitely not want to do? This might help narrow things down a bit.”- Jennifer
“I wish I’d known that everyone felt the same as me–lost. I was too shy to speak up. I wish I’d known that it’s okay to ask for help.”- Rachel
What’s the biggest mistake or setback you’ve made professionally? How did you get through it?
“I don’t believe in mistakes. Everything is just a learning experience. I think the only mistake would be to view something as such. Again, things will go well, things will go badly. When things go badly, look at what happened, learn a lesson, and move on. No need to dwell, no need for a pity party.” - Bridget
“Success comes from confidence and knowledge gained by learning from mistakes.”- Rachel
“I make mistakes daily at work. I forget things people told me. I have said things that weren’t helpful. I always take ownership of my mistakes at work and am very quick to tell people when I’ve done something wrong, don’t have an answer for them, or feel like someone else would be a better fit for them as a therapist. To err is human, and taking responsibility for mistakes is important. Plus, if we did everything perfectly the first time out, we’d never learn or grow personally or professionally.”- Jennifer
To what do you attribute your success?
“I think my success is not professional but personal — I believe I am successful at being a mom because I am so proud of the way my daughter is developing. I guess I attribute my success at motherhood to listening to my instincts.”- Aimee
“Not giving up. There will be amazing months and years where everything seems to fall into place. There will be terrible months and years where you will question everything. It’s all part of the ride. None of it is permanent. So don’t get too cocky when things are good, and don’t get too down when things are bad. Just keep going, always.”- Bridget
“Having strong communication skills and a positive attitude. You can be the most well-qualified, impressively educated job candidate, but if you are unpleasant to be around or have a poor attitude, you’re going to hit a really big wall professionally. Don’t discount the importance of honing your interpersonal skills.”- Jennifer
Finally just admitting it was time for a change, doing what I love, and making my own rules. I love being my own boss and am proud that I’m able to do something I love and get paid for it.”- Michelle
What’s the most important thing to remember when it comes to your personal life?
“I think it’s important to find a hobby or volunteer work that can be scheduled into your calendar so that it becomes as much a priority as your work. Doing something that you truly enjoy is important for the soul and will keep you well-rounded.” -Aimee
“You are no good to yourself or your employer if you are burned out. If you don’t have time for balance, you need to discuss your workload with your employer. If they expect you to give over your life to the job, it may be time to find a new one!” - Bridget
“Try to leave work at work, whenever possible. Don’t internalize your job. At the end of the day, it will be more important for your headstone to read “She was a loving mother/sister/daughter” than anything else. - Michelle
“It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think everyone needs to be in search of their “dream career” in order to be happy. Plenty of people find jobs that may not stoke their creative fires, but pay the bills and allow the flexibility and financial ability to pursue other interests, hobbies and passions outside of their work.”- Jennifer
What’s the boldest choice you have made in your life? What have been the payoffs and drawbacks?
“Quitting my corporate job to to be a stay-at-home mom. The payoff is that I get to be the one to raise my daughter exactly the way I see fit. I get to witness every achievement, milestone and nuance in her days. I am proud to be the one to guide and shape her life. The drawback is that my work skills are getting rusty. I don’t know when or if I’ll return to the corporate world, but if I do, it’s going to be a huge adjustment.” - Aimee
“After being laid off of multiple jobs in one industry, I decided to start my own business in another one that I had always felt passionate about. Starting a business is very hard. Getting new clients is hard. Building a reputation is hard. But doing and enjoying the work makes it all worth it. The fulfillment I have when a job is done and a client is happy is the best feeling. Feeding my spirit and soul through creative work that helps people is one of the best feelings in the world.”- Michelle
“The decision to live my life for myself, not others. To not worry about the opinions of others. It might not seem very bold, but it was a very difficult shift to make in my head, and it’s something I have to remind myself of often. People are going to question your choices, people are going to think you are wrong. But people don’t have to live your life for you. Listen to that voice in your head telling you what you truly want, follow it, and block out the voices of haters.”- Bridget
What is your best career advice for women?
“I would suggest looking toward careers that could offer flexibility, which would be helpful upon returning to work if she decides to stay home with her children for a few/many years. Careers where she could have her own practice, such as accounting, real estate, education, or therapy would be suitable for part-time work or flexibility.” - Aimee
“Be honest, upfront, respectful and never get overly emotional on the job.”- Rachel
“People aren’t mind readers; you need to let your expectations and desires be known. If you want a promotion, your bosses need to know that. If you’re not satisfied with your compensation, they need to know that too. And if nothing is done about it, you need to look elsewhere. It’s imperative to open your mouth and not be afraid to ask. And don’t languish someplace that is not filling needs for you. You have to be getting something out of your job. If you aren’t, you’re not building a career.”- Bridget
“Don’t avoid doing something you really want to do (like graduate or medical school) because it will take 2, 3, 4 years to complete it. Money is a different story, but the time will pass regardless. Make the most of it. Don’t say “it’s too late to do that”. It probably isn’t.”- Jennifer