“What am I supposed to do?”
Maybe you’ve found yourself asking that question, and not really getting a good answer.
For us millennials, it’s a different game than it was for the generation before us. While there isn’t a concrete step-by-step process for us to take, there are basic principles to follow, whether we’re early in our careers or seeking to further develop it.
To help you with that, here are 15 world-class leaders offering their best career advice:
1. Steve Jobs: It’s not just about your passion.
Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, summarized one of the major insights he gained from his last interactions with Steve Jobs, saying, “The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.”
It’s about finding where you can contribute and benefit other people, “so that 20, 30, 40 years from now … people will say, this person didn’t just have a passion, he cared about making something that other people could benefit from.”
Career development will be difficult if you’re always only thinking about how you will benefit. Think about how what you do will help your manager, the company, or your customer succeed. When you provide value to others, you open up opportunities.
2. Eric Schmidt: Say yes often.
In his 2012 commencement speech, Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said, “I ask each of you [to]… Find a way to say ‘Yes’ to things.”
“Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learning a new language, picking up a new sport. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job. Yes is how you find your spouse, and even your kids.” – Eric Schmidt
Yes is a tiny word that can do big things.
So when you get an offer for your first job and it isn’t exactly what you want, say yes. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll learn. If it works out- perfect. If you don’t feel comfortable applying for a job that’s out of your league, tell yourself yes. Apply for it anyway. You never know what may come out of it.
3. J.K. Rowling: Failure is a part of reaching success.
J.K. Rowling, now one of the wealthiest women in the world, got to know failure very well before she wrote the Harry Potter series. Her short-lived marriage had imploded, she was jobless, a single parent on welfare in the UK, and borderline homeless. If anyone had hit rock bottom, she had. “I was the biggest failure I knew,” Rowling said in her 2008 Harvard commencement speech.
Even when she wrote Harry Potter, she received numerous rejections.
“I don’t think we talk about failure enough,” Rowling told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today. “It would’ve really helped to have someone who had had a measure of success come say to me, ‘You will fail. That’s inevitable. It’s what you do with it.'” – J.K. Rowling
It isn’t always easy to grow your career nowadays. You have to work harder than the people around you. And even when you work hard, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the results you want. You will fail.
Then you dust yourself off and try again.
4. Warren Buffet: Practice humility.
Early on in your career, you’ll get frustrated with co-workers, managers, and people you don’t really like, but don’t give into it. The best advice Warren Buffet ever got was, “Never forget Warren, you can tell a guy to go to hell tomorrow — you don’t give up the right. So just keep your mouth shut today, and see if you feel the same way tomorrow.”
Take the stance that you’re wrong and your goal is to learn how not to be wrong often. This means swallowing your pride and asking for help when necessary. And don’t get defensive if you’re told that you’re wrong.
5. Oprah Winfrey: Do what you have to do.
Sometimes, you can’t always do what you want to do. Oprah’s creed is, “Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.” You won’t be able to get everything you want immediately, so you have to work toward it. Gain the skills and experience you need.
Don’t expect to get your dream job right off the bat. Don’t expect your first business venture to succeed. If it works out that way, great. Just know that you may have to do work you won’t enjoy to get where you want to be.
6. Tiger Woods: Play your game.
Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest professional golfer in history states, “There is no ‘correct’ way to play the game”:
“You have a find a system that works best for you. Whatever makes your game better, do it… If you hit the ball better, and you get the ball consistently better, do it.” – Tiger Woods
You have a different educational background, a different familial upbringing, and different goals from the people around you.
There’s no “right way” to develop your career. One friend might end up moving across the country to improve his career trajectory. Another friend might land a huge opportunity five minutes from home. Whether you’re in software development, marketing, music, nonprofits, or any other industry, play your game.
Don’t feel the need to copy someone else’s career path.
7. Sheryl Sandberg: View your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder.
While a ladder has two directions (up or down), career paths generally don’t usually follow such a simple path. A jungle gym, on the other hand, allows you to move not just up and down, but sideways, over and under, twisting and turning. You can get creative and explore new options.
Sheryl Sandberg has been in law, journalism, government work, and tech. She was the Chief of Staff to the United States Treasury, became the VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and now Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.
People often scoff at those who make such drastic changes in their career, jumping from one industry to another, but Sandberg shows the benefits this kind of approach can offer:
“Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”
When you’re planning out your career, don’t think of it as simply moving up. Think of all the different options you have that can help you get to where you want to be. You’re in a jungle gym.
8. Michael Bloomberg: Never stop learning.
Bloomberg states, “I’ve never met a Nobel Prize winner who didn’t think they had an awful lot more to learn and wasn’t studying every single day.”
No matter how successful you are, the need for learning never stops. Bloomberg believes that there’s nothing so powerful as an open, inquiring mind:
“The world is full of people who have stopped learning and who think they’ve got it all figured out. You’ve no doubt met some of them already – and you’ll meet plenty more.”
9. Serena Williams: Focus is more important than luck.
Serena Williams had a rough childhood growing up in Compton, California and says this about concentration, “If you can keep playing tennis when somebody is shooting a gun down the street, that’s concentration.”
When asked about being lucky, Serena said:
“Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.”
There’s a lot of noise out there (maybe not often gunshots), but you have to ignore it. There’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; and people sharing photos of their recent backpacking trip across Asia, their recent engagement, or their new dream job. Ignore all of that.
While other people are focused on what everyone else is doing, you have to stay focused on what you’re doing.
Focus on your career path. The jobs you want. The goals you have. Focus.
10. Richard Branson: Never look back in regret — move on to the next thing.
Richard Branson observes, “The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures, rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running ALL the Virgin businesses — so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”
His mother also taught him the importance of moving on to the next thing.
When you apply for jobs, or even make a mistake at work, don’t get frustrated, don’t regret it. Move forward to the next application. Focus on the next project. It’s all a part of the learning process.
The time you spend frustrated and regretful is wasted time.
11. Beyoncé: Surround yourself with hard-working and talented friends.
Queen Bey shines much more prominently than her former bandmates from Destiny’s Child. The unfortunate thing is that they’re often compared.
In our lives, we’ll find ourselves comparing our success to people who are much more successful, and well, it makes us feel terrible. However, if Kelly Rowland can accept that being friends with Beyoncé makes her shine more, not less, we can learn something from that.
By being friends with hardworking and talented people, instead of competing with them, you’ll further push your career forward.
Working with the best will only make you better.
12. Arianna Huffington: Don’t work too hard.
Contrary to what many people believe, it’s important to not work too hard. Arianna Huffington learned this the hard way when she burned out, collapsed from exhaustion, hit her head, broke her cheekbone, and woke up in a puddle of blood.
When asked whether young people pursuing their dreams should burn the candle at both ends, Arianna Huffington wrote, “This couldn’t be less true. And for far too long, we have been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success.”
She’s convinced that if she had known that when she was 22, she would have achieved all she had achieved but with less stress, worry and anxiety.
Yes, career growth is important. Yes, we should work hard to get where we want to be. But remember that your health is important. Without it, you won’t be able to achieve your goals.
13. Stewart Butterfield: Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr and CEO of Slack, told The New York Times, “Some people will know exactly what they want to do at a very young age, but the odds are low. I feel like people in their early- to mid-20s are very earnest. They’re very serious, and they want to feel like they’ve accomplished a lot at a very young age rather than just trying to figure stuff out. So I try to push them toward a more experimental attitude.”
It’s easy to get jealous of people who have it all figured out and know exactly what they want to do. The rest of us have to find out what we want to do, and the best way to do that is experiment. Take on new projects at work, learn new skills on your own, like programming, graphic design, or even brewing, to find out if you like it.
14. Mark Bartels: Have a timeline for success when you start a new job.
StumbleUpon CEO, Mark Bartels tells Business Insider, “Mapping out a concrete timeline for yourself should be one of the first things you do when you start a new gig.”
“We talk about budgets; we talk about planning your finances; but what a lot of people don’t do is plan out the next 12 to 18 or 24 months of their careers.” – Mark Bartels
A lack of planning can be costly, both in terms of your time and energy- and it could also potentially cause an existential crisis.
Having an agenda helps you define success for yourself in a new role. Otherwise, you may work for two or three years, then ask yourself, “Why am I still here?” If you don’t have concrete goals, you can’t answer that question. But if you set out a plan, you can say, “I still haven’t achieved my goal because … x, y, z, but I’m closer and can achieve it in six more months.”
15. Brian Chesky: Don’t listen to your parents.
When asked about advice for college graduates, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, told The New York Times’, “I’d say, don’t listen to your parents. They’re the most important relationships in your life, but you should never take your parents’ career advice, and I’m using parents as a proxy for all the pressures in the world.”
Your parents may want the best for you, but their “best” and your “best” may be different. In some cases they may limit you out of fear that you’ll fail if you reach too high.
He continues to say that, “… whatever career you’re in, assume it’s going to be a massive failure. That way, you’re not making decisions based on success, money and career. You’re only making it based on doing what you love.”
Don’t let success, money, career status and other glamorous thing cloud your judgment about what you want to do. Find something you enjoy doing and do it. Make it work. Don’t try to fulfill someone else’s idea of career success.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via images.unsplash.com