I had the privilege of participating in a career day event a couple of weeks ago at The Academy of Enterprise and Finance in Long Island, NY. This is a high school with a focus on providing students with a challenging academic, business, and technology program. I was so impressed with the questions the students asked me about my career, but one question in particular struck me, especially because I was asked it more than once. I was asked, “How stressful is your job?”
I was amazed. Seriously? These kids are worried about stress? When I was their age evaluating career options, job related stress never entered my mind. It occurred to me that these kids are watching their parents, and molding their opinion on what their future is going to be—often predicting lots of stress and unhappiness in their career. I told the kids that sure, at times my job can be stressful, but it never outweighs my love for what I do. Many of the kids seemed very surprised by that answer. You can actually love what you’re doing? We’ve got to change the way kids perceive careers, and it starts at home. Whether you’re a student (or graduate) pondering what your future career may be or someone who has been in the workforce for 20 years, we all need to be reminded that you can have a healthy, happy career, and here’s how.
Find out what you love to do and do it – What is your passion? It may be taboo to think you can actually do what you love and get paid for it, but you can. One of the students I talked with at the career day wanted to be a pastry chef. I asked her if she had considered volunteering to help out at a local bakery over the summer. She didn’t think that was possible. Start pursuing your career before graduation if at all possible to determine if you think you could do this as a career.
You own your career – Nobody else is going to make career decisions for you. Only you know you—what motivates you and what will make you happy. It’s not up to anyone else to ensure you make the correct career moves, so make it a point to know yourself and what will and won’t work for you in a career.
Choose to be positive – This might sound silly, but doesn’t it work? No matter what you’re doing, if you start to think positively things start to turn around. Being positive is a choice we have to make every day. If you’re unhappy with your current work situation, you can fight it and complain, but that’s not productive. Evaluate what you want in a career and go after it.
Brand yourself – How do you want to be seen professionally? Think of yourself like a company. You have a personal brand and it needs to be consistent in every touch point you have with a potential employer or your current employer. Utilize career services at your college or high school, for example, to make sure your resume and any other materials reflect who you are and who you ultimately want to become.
Connections are important – It’s not all about who you know, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Start joining professional associations that align with your career aspirations and attend business networking events. You never know who you’ll meet that can help you in the future. You can also join groups on LinkedIn.
Periodically revisit your goals – If you’re feeling stuck in a job, or you’ve lost all enthusiasm about going into work each day, it might be time to revisit your career goals. Maybe you thought you had your dream job, doing something you love, but maybe it’s not the right path for you. It is okay to pursue something else entirely if you need (or want) to. Figure out what our ultimate goal is and how you can get there by mapping out specific objectives—this will keep you on track.
Reinvent yourself when you have to – If you lose a job, don’t let it tear you down. Again, choose to have a positive outlook on the situation. Many people find that losing their job was a great thing for their career. It gave them the motivation to figure out what they wanted and the opportunity to go after it. If you decide to change career paths, seek out people working in that field to get a sense for what it’s like for them. Getting first hand experiences can help determine whether a career is right for you.
Find a mentor – This can tie back into making connections. A mentor is an essential part of career development for anyone. Whether your mentor is working in the field you desire, or just a professional that you respect, make time for this mutually exclusive relationship. A mentor can counsel you on how to develop yourself professionally, how to pursue a specific carrier, and how to overcome challenges you’re facing in the workplace. The mentor gets the opportunity to share their knowledge with someone less experienced in the professional realm, and they get a lot of pride in doing so.
See failures and shortcomings as opportunities – If something goes wrong, and it will, don’t let it get you down. People make mistakes—even the people that run huge companies today make mistakes, and made them back when they started their careers, too. Look at it at an opportunity to do better next time. Figure out what went wrong and find a way to amend it so next time it’ll be seamless. These are learning opportunities.
Learn to deal with stress – Yes, we will all experience stress in our careers at some point, but the key is to overcome the stress. There are many techniques that can help relieve stress. For example, when many people feel overwhelmed, they simply step away from their desk, take a couple of deep breaths and tell themselves it’s going to be okay. You could also try taking ten minutes to break from work and do something unrelated, that’s interesting—maybe it’s just grabbing a coffee with one of your colleagues or going outside for a ten minute walk in the fresh air, but do something that takes your mind off of the stress for a few minutes, so you gain some positive perspective and come back ready to rock and roll.
Take your time – It may seem like you need to find a job, and now! You might have pressure from your family, but it’s worth it take your time and find the right job versus taking the first offer you receive.
Celebrate your successes – We live in a world where we move from task to task, project to project, very quickly. We don’t take the time to celebrate our successes as a project progresses, whether waiting until completion to give proper kudos. If you’ve had a great idea or figured out a way to do something better—take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back.
As a new graduate, you have the whole world at your fingertips. Who knows what you can accomplish? It’s an exciting time for you and I encourage you to take your time and assess what you really want to do for a career, and go after it. Doing something you enjoy will help alleviate stress and resentment, leading to a happier, healthier you, and setting a great example for your future children.
Jennifer Warawa is Vice President and General Manager of Sage Accountant Solutions. She is responsible for leading the accountant business and strategy for Sage North America. Her teams innovate and deliver the technology, education and services accounting professionals need to support small and mid-size businesses. At Sage, her goal is to help accountants get closer to their clients and ensure they remain their most trusted, valuable advisor.
Prior to working with Sage, Jennifer owned an accounting and bookkeeping firm for over 12 years. Not only did her firm provide accounting and bookkeeping services, they also did product consulting, training, implementation and teaching, as well as business/financial planning and marketing.