How to Build a Successful Career You Love
I was asked by my high school, The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia, to give a speech at their annual Career Day. Many students and faculty asked for a copy of the speech to share, so here it is. It was an absolute privilege to get to share my ideas and insights from all the work I do here at The Career Studio with the fantastic students at Potomac.
How many of you don’t really know what you want to do with your career?
Raise your hand.
Thank you for sharing!
That’s totally normal. And that was me too. No clue. Literally none. And yet here I am today giving the opening speech at Career Day.
So don’t stress.
I'm going to start by saying that building a career you love
Really takes self-awareness about who you are and what you want from life
And then the courage and confidence
To forge your OWN, unique path in pursuit of those insights.
Steve Jobs said,
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."
That’s the theme of my talk today
At moments like these, you’ll often hear people say, Just follow your passion.
I’m NOT going to tell you to do that
I’m not really a fan of that phrase
Not because passion isn’t important. It is!
It’s just that it’s often over-emphasized
As if you’re either born with passion for something
Or, it will magically appear one day
The truth is that passion doesn’t work like this for most people
And, so, when you’re told to ‘follow’ it
This can push us in the wrong direction
Because if we aren’t blessed with an all-consuming passion for something in high school or college
We feel that we simply don’t have a passion.
So, instead we may follow what our parents did
Or, follow the advice of a friend
Thinking, I don’t have a passion, so I’ll just do something safe.
But what happens then? Well…
We find ourselves careers we don’t really care about
We think, hey, I have a good job. And a good salary.
But, are you excited to get out of bed every morning?
Does what you do for a living light you up?
If you’re spending 8-10-12 hours a day doing something that looks good on paper but doesn’t feed your soul
It’s a recipe for burnout
You’re going to wind up at 30 or 40 wondering, what am I doing with my life?
To keep on the Steve Jobs theme, he also said
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life,
And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
So, I’m going to give you four points today
A framework you can use throughout your career
To help you take the reins and forge your own unique path towards a successful career YOU love.
First: Foster Your Interests
THIS is how you find your passion.
Because passion emerges from the pursuit of your interests.
So, Make a list
List out everything that you enjoy doing
Or, that you are interested in doing
Make it an exhaustive list
Everything from you can’t wait to go home and work through that complicated math problem
To…you’re interested in learning about the stars
Maybe simply, that you enjoy watching movies
That’s cool too.
Here’s an example of how this works
Perhaps you’re super organized
You love to label and color-code everything
You’re so obsessed with being organized
That you organize your friends’ rooms
You come to school and you organize the classroom
People call you Marie Kondo
Well, good news!
There’s a career for that and it’s called being a professional organizer.
In fact, this is basically the story of two women who started something called The Home Edit -
A professional home organizing service
They now have 1.5m followers on Instagram and a show on Netflix.
So, your job right now is not to judge yourself
Or, downplay what gets your engine started
You can make a career out of any interest.
And through the pursuit of your interests will emerge your passion.
Second, Play to your strengths
Did you know that people who focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, more productive and more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life?
So you see, it’s not about trying to be like someone else,
It’s about being more like yourself.
But how do you find your strengths?
Well, simply, start by thinking about what comes naturally to you.
Is it music?
Are you gifted with a great sense of humor?
Maybe you’re good at listening or comforting others
Or, you’re really good at putting together puzzles
Or, maybe, you are the one person everyone comes to for advice
And ask yourself,
What have my teachers told me I’m good at?
How about my friends and family?
Or just ask them!
Oftentimes they will see strengths in you
That you don’t see in yourself
And watch out
Many of us tend to brush off compliments and instead focus on our weaknesses
Our brains are actually wired to focus on the negative more strongly than the positive
But this doesn’t serve us.
Because your strengths are your power
And a core part of your roadmap to career success and happiness.
So, list out ALL of your strengths – without judgement
So, now you have two lists
One for what you’re interested in
And one for what you’re good at
Then you want to review your lists
And match them up
How can you apply your strengths to the things that interest you?
Maybe you’re good at solving problems
And you love to rearrange your room
That could mean you’d be a great architect
Or, work in interior design
Maybe on one list
You wrote that people tell you that you’re naturally funny
And on the other list
You noted that you love to doodle
Could that mean you’d make a great cartoonist?
Or, perhaps a writer that can visualize the humor and then write about it
So think, what kind of companies or industries could use that kind of talent?
Do you see how this works?
Okay --- #3
In the career world, Your network is really your compass
What do I mean by that?
The world is made up of relationships.
You know, only 2% of the resumes submitted to jobs posted online ever get reviewed by human eyes?
Most jobs are filled instead through some sort of relationship.
Someone you know will know someone else who can
give you a piece of advice about a career path
Or, explain how to enter an industry
So, you want to get comfortable asking for help and advice
I’ll give you an example
When I first moved to London I was working in sports for the English soccer team, Chelsea Football Club
After a few years, I was sure that it wasn’t long-term career for me.
I was very interested in exploring big brand advertising
But I didn’t know anyone remotely related to that industry.
My network in London was small. I grew up here in DC!
So, I started telling every person I met
Literally every person.
That I wanted to get into advertising
- the cab driver, the barista, people I’d only just met at a party.
Eventually, I found someone
And HE introduced me to a headhunting firm that gets people interviews with ad agencies
And, boom, that was the key that unlocked my next career step.
But if I hadn’t been comfortable putting myself out there
Growing my network and telling everyone I met what my goal was
I would have never gotten there.
So, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice - all the time.
This is how you grow.
This is how you find interesting opportunities.
This is how you move into new spaces.
OK, lastly, #4: Don’t sacrifice your health and wellbeing
I know this sounds a bit like a platitude
But you guys are beginning to experience what it’s like to have a lot on your plate
Not only homework and sports and various extracurricular activities
And now also SATs and college apps.
It’s a lot to juggle, right?
And regardless of what you go on to do after college
You’ll still have a lot on your plate
Life is filled with stuff to do and deadlines to meet.
But burning the candle at both ends will burn you out.
You’re not a robot. You’re not a machine.
And sleeping less is NOT a badge of honor.
Instead, working hard, really, is about working smart.
Your productivity for focused work peaks at around 4-5 hours a day.
To make those hours great, you gotta take care of yourself
Every day you have to plan some deliberate downtime
It could be reading, spending time with friends or just relaxing with a podcast.
Then, you want to add 8 hours of sleep.
I know I probably sound like your parents, but it’s true
And every week get some exercise, get your heart moving
It sounds obvious and simple. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to sacrifice our health in the name of our career.
Don’t do it.
Because this is an integral ingredient to your success in anything you do.
OK, I’m going to end today
By telling you a little bit about myself
And how this has worked for me
As you heard, I started here in Intermediate School
And when I graduated and went to Penn
As I said at the start, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do
So, for all of you sitting there right now feeling a bit lost because you have genuinely no idea what your “passion” is
If you have identified a few things that interest you
You already have a road map.
After graduation, I tried on loads of things that interested me:
I’ve worked in beauty, sports, advertising and the tech industry on 3 different continents
It’s been a really exciting and varied career
And it’s because I wasn’t doing what I was “supposed” to do
I went for opportunities based on my interests and strengths
And used the people I met along the way to help guide me and open doors
I was following what was the most interesting and fun.
Don’t discount how important fun is!
Along the way, I learned more and more about my interests and strengths and about three years ago, finally uncovered a real passion.
Helping as many people as possible love what they do.
Because I love what I do.
I’m excited to get out of bed every morning
I get to do work that feels challenging, fun and important.
Which reinforces my message to you
That is…that following what you think you should do,
choosing the ‘safe’ option,
or following what other people are doing
is a recipe for unhappiness
Because you aren't creating a life around the unique things that make YOU happy
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
If you constantly say no to opportunities
Because you’re feeling afraid or because you’re feeling shy - which happens to all of us
You will miss out on your opportunities for growth
When Laura Miller asked me to do today's keynote speech
Honestly, I wanted to say no.
I've never really enjoyed speaking in front of large audiences
And I really have no experience writing speeches
But I knew it was an opportunity to share my passion and my insights from working with so many clients.
It was the right thing for Potomac, and it was the right thing for me.
So, I played to my strengths.
Which in this case meant not writing a speech.
Instead, I hired a speech writer.
Together, we translated my ideas into the speech you're hearing right now.
I asked my network for help - and got guidance on my delivery and content
And leading up to this I took care of myself -
I'm vigilant about getting 8 hours of sleep and this morning I did some meditation.
The four principles I shared
Are a framework you can come back to time and time again as you face challenges
or uncertainties in your career.
The lesson here is that you can’t be afraid to take that first step.
Believe in your soul that if you find the courage take that step towards your unique version of success and happiness
The universe will find a way to support you.
So, let me recap:
- Foster your interests – this is how you find your passion
- Play to your strengths – these are your power
- Get comfortable asking for help and advice – this is how you navigate your course
- Stay mentally and physical healthy – working hard is about working smart
- And, lastly, have the courage to get comfortable being uncomfortable – this is how you grow
This is all from the lens of a career coach whose job it is
To make it easier to build a successful career you love.
So, thank you so much having me today. It’s a privilege.
Here’s to a bright and satisfying future
For each and every one of you.
Want more? You can sign up here for once a month emails from The Career Studio with simple inspiration, tools and tips for building a successful career you love.
Interested in getting help writing your own speech? I wholeheartedly recommend Lynn Bohart.
Picture credit: The Potomac School