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dear students: what i wish i had known.

Dear students,

I often find myself having similar conversations with you over and over again this time of year. With the urgency of graduation, internships and new jobs upon you, there is this universal fear and panic that starts to set in. Most of us have been there – the pressure to have it all figured out, while being confident, cool and calm. I always seem to come back to the same five pieces of advice that I’d go back and tell myself ten years ago.

1. Don’t just network – build relationships.

This is so unbelievably important, because guess what? People are not stupid and generally know when you just see them as a stepping-stone. Treat them like humans, learn from them, and show your appreciation by sending a thank you card and following up here and there with little points of genuine contact. I can’t say it enough – almost everywhere I have gone in life has been because of my relationships. Something to keep in mind is to always be kind to those on your way up, because you never know who you may meet on your way down. Don’t burn bridges; it’s never worth it.

2. Build your personal brand.

Some of the best advice I have ever received was to take the time to figure out what it is that you DON’T want to do because then you make way for what it is that you do want to do. When you start to hone in on your passions, you start to build your personal brand. Put the hours in to make yourself the expert – blog about it, tweet about it, and develop yourself professionally around it. There are no shortcuts. Establish yourself as the ‘go-to’ person for whatever it is that you are passionate about. Be professional and courteous, and mind those social media posts – people will judge you whether you like it or not because that’s life and it isn’t fair but the good news is, you have complete control over what you present to the world. And, the best way to figure out what you’re good at is to try a bit of everything. Begin your career as a generalist – jump in to help your colleagues whenever and wherever you can, and you’ll start to notice your strengths and passions quickly.

3. Be patient with your path.

Patience really is a virtue. Chances are you are not going to have it all figured out at 22 or 27, 35 or even 50, so don’t feel as though you are falling behind because you don’t know exactly where it is that you are supposed to be. I’m about to turn 33 and I’m still trying to figure it all out. But that’s okay because one thing I do know for sure is that had someone told me ten years ago that I would have pursued a career in philanthropy, lived in three cities and eventually started my own business and gone back to school, I would have told you that you had lost your mind. Be authentic and trust your path – there is no right or wrong way to live the life that you want, That’s the beauty of life – sometimes things happen that you can’t predict, so the more patient and flexible you are with your path, the more you open yourself up to incredible opportunities that you didn’t see coming!

4. Say yes.

Life is scary and it will always be easier to play it safe – so try and say YES! as much as possible because when you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that’s where the good stuff really starts to happen. Be a sponge – learn from everything and everyone that you can. Take the job that might not be ideal, but has great professional development opportunities. Go on interviews for the jobs that you don’t think you’re qualified for or interested in, stay late to work on a cool new project, try different industries or roles, open yourself up to constructive feedback, seek out experiences that scare you because you. just. never. know.

5. Show up and earn your stripes.

Or as I like to say – eat sh*t, because this one is so incredibly powerful. You are not better than anyone and the moment that you start to think you are is the moment that you start to lose. As a student you have so much new knowledge, and a grasp on current affairs and technology that is hard to match – but what you don’t have is experience. You are just now getting the opportunity to test out all that theory that you have in the real world, and it definitely will not always go as expected. Being a leader means that you’re down in the trenches with everyone when the going gets tough. It means that you sometimes take on the job or make the call that no one else wants to and that even when you know you are right, it’s often best to put your ego aside for the sake of moving forward.

The gist of it is, this is going to be a difficult time in your life because your twenties are full of transitions and feeling unsure of yourself. The good news is, everyone experiences it, because it is normal. Don’t be so quick to try and figure it all out because you have a whole life ahead of you – and how unfortunate it would be to live the next 70 years of your life knowing exactly what’s next.

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