Five Life-Altering Career Lessons for Young Professionals

Five Life-Altering Career Lessons for Young Professionals July 7, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post from by J.B. Wood is being shared here as part of our series on Risks and Rewards in the Young Professional Years.

My first entry-level professional job paid enough for a decent apartment with a sofa and TV. As far as I was concerned, this was the good life, and planning for the upcoming weekend was about as far out as I could comprehend.

Luckily for me, I married a brave, visionary woman who was wise and encouraging and saw the greater potential for our future that I couldn’t always see for myself. She believed in me, nudging me along through my doubts and insecurities. (Also, it didn’t hurt that she was studying to become a psychologist.)

In the first fifteen years of our marriage, I progressed from a lowly administrative position to a senior executive. Which only goes to show that we are capable of far more than we think—but we have to take action to fully realize that potential.

Here are the five most important lessons that helped propel me in those early years.  They can have a dramatic effect on your career path, too.

1. Time is going to pass anyway, so you might as well do something worthwhile.

It sounds so obvious, but in order to think about the future, you must start with the basic acceptance of the passage of time. Whether it’s an MBA or a college diploma, it’s tempting to put off the hard work of building credentials that could improve your career options. What starts as “I can’t because I’m too busy” soon becomes “I can’t because there’s a new baby” or “Now there’s three kids.” You can either put the time in now and benefit for years to come, or regret it later and wonder where all the time went.

2. It’s more stressful being a non-leader than it is being a manager.

The idea of being a leader was intimidating to me at first—making tough decisions, dealing with all the stress and pressure. Why not stick inside a safe cubicle instead? The truth, however, is pretty much the opposite. Research shows that those who manage others actually experience less stress than non-leaders. Managers have more control over resources, authority, delegation, and more power over decisions than their subordinates, which is a huge source of ego satisfaction and stress reduction. So you might as well try and get promoted.

3. You’re going to turn forty some day.

From the time I was in my late twenties, my wife had her eye on the big Four-Oh. Why? Because she knew it is a seminal milestone, where the accumulated energy spent on career development and life choices comes home to roost—in either the momentum of a fulfilling life or the depressing realization of a dead end. Start imagining now what you want your life to look like when you are forty: your job, friends, family, home, lifestyle. Nail down those dreams in vivid detail, giving yourself a destination to work toward.

4. Pay attention to what makes you envious.

Everyone experiences that longing for something we see in someone else, and usually there is a good reason for it. Rather than shutting down those feelings, explore what’s behind them, what they say about your passions, your dreams, your development potential. The key to working through envy is to do something about it. Channel those negative feelings into productive, affirming actions that will move you in the direction your subconscious self-image is nudging you toward.

5. Lean into your fear.

Oddly, it’s not just the fear of failure that stymies us; it’s the fear of success as well: what if you can’t perform? What if you are found out to be a fraud? What if you can’t handle the responsibility? These self-defeating voices can either prevent you from trying at all or can sabotage the opportunities that do come your way. Find a safe friend, a therapist, a mentor, someone who believes in you to process through the negativity and help you embrace your true leadership potential. Small victories will build confidence.

God has given each of us enormous potential for greatness. You can either nurture and grow that potential, or passively ignore it. The decisions you make (or don’t) today will have an enormous impact on where you will be one, five, and fifteen years from now.


[Image used with permission from Microsoft.]


Risks and Rewards in the Young Professional Years

Early in every working life, a special transition occurs before you know how to avoid mistakes, yet after you’ve made them. Like when you first rode a bike without training wheels. You knew enough to be confident, yet too little to avoid losing skin from your knee. The transition is special because it marks a movement from novice to know-how, from apprenticeship to autonomy. Or, as we might say, from young to young professional.

The High Calling recognizes that everyone—moms, accountants, geologists—need vocational growth, so we share past experiences and tell lessons from the future. But what about the early days when we simply got out there and did it?

In the series, Risk and Reward, we ask, “How did I learn so much in so little time?” Join us and be inspired all over again.

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