A Message to Young Professionals
Last weekend I had the honour of judging the annual accounting competition at my university. When I was in school, I competed every year. It was always a great opportunity to put my education into practice, work on my presentation skills, and network with other students and industry representatives. Now that I’m out in the workforce I love being able to go back and talk to students, see the talent, share my story, and provide advice where possible.
The morning of the event was hectic, I had been up late the night before writing my last blog post, I slept in past my alarm and still had to straighten my hair. I only had time to do my hair and get dressed and literally run out the door to the subway, hoping that I would catch the train on time. I barely made it to the train and still hadn’t even had breakfast or read the case that I was going to be judging. When I got on the train, I read the case and then decided to meditate to calm myself down from the rush of the morning. I needed to feel centered and grounded so I could show up fully at the event. I plugged in my headphones and did a short meditation that I had downloaded for offline use on the Calm app. After 10 minutes I felt calm, composed, and I had realized my purpose for the day, which lead me to jotting down some notes in my phone so I could write this blog post today.
The following is what came to me during my meditation and I want to share it with anyone who is a young person about to enter the workforce, particularly if you are going into a corporate job or professional field. My purpose for the event was to spread this message, and I wanted to continue to do that online as well.
You can do this. You are smart, talented, and have a purpose in business. Don’t let anyone or any limiting beliefs tell you otherwise. With that being said, you need to take care of yourself and be a conscious leader. These are the lessons I have learned in my career so far:
1. Put yourself first – don’t let your work affect your physical or mental health. Your health is the most important, without it you won’t even be able to work. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself so you can show up as the best version of yourself in all aspects of your life, including your job. Assuming that you’re not a doctor, your work is not life or death, it will be there in the morning when you are well rested and have the energy to do it well.
2. Set boundaries and be very clear about them with your manager and colleagues – whatever you need to do to feel your best, make sure you set boundaries around it and communicate it to the people you work with. For example, maybe there is a fitness class on Tuesday’s that you absolutely love; it makes you feel great and gives you energy, but it starts at 6pm so that means you need to be leaving work promptly at 5pm to get there on time. You need to tell people that you are committing to going to the class so you won’t be able to work past 5pm on Tuesdays. It’s very important to stay firm with your boundaries because as soon as you start swaying from them and letting people cross them, then it will be even more difficult to re-establish them.
3. You’re allowed to say no – this one is tough, especially early on in your career when you will feel like you have to hustle and work long hours and take on all of the available opportunities to prove yourself in the role. But remember that you’re not doing anyone any good but taking on everything and burning yourself out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or know you don’t have capacity to take on that extra assignment, then politely say no. There is nothing wrong with saying “thank you for the opportunity, however, I have a lot on my plate right now and I want to be able to focus on what I’m currently doing so I can do it well”. If you spread yourself too thin, the quality of your work and productivity will decrease, so isn’t it better to do less but do a great job rather than do a lot of things adequately?
4. Speak up for yourself – if you want more responsibility, want to do something extra curricular or have too much on your plate, you need to say so. No one can read your mind; your manager may not always think of you for an opportunity unless you have already expressed interest. I learned this lesson when I was early in my career, my manager at the time was leading a newly formed social committee and I really wanted to be a part of it. I was never asked if I wanted to be on the committee but I would see them every so often meeting in the room near my desk and I was upset that I wasn’t involved. I let myself think things like “they must not need anyone else on the committee or he would have offered”. Then after a few weeks I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to ask and if the committee was full, then at least he would know I was interested if they needed help with something or if a spot opened up. I sent him an email saying that I would love to be a part of the committee if there was space but if not, I would be happy to help with whatever they need, and to my surprise he replied with “of course, we would love to have you on the committee!” and that was that. Moral of the story is to just ask.
5. Find your passion – your work should light you up, it shouldn’t feel like a struggle. If you’re always dreading Monday or feel like you’re “working for the weekend”, then something needs to change. Now that doesn’t mean you need to up and quit your job. Perhaps you can find a way to incorporate something you’re passionate about into your job. For me, I did it through establishing and leading a Wellness Committee for my department. Maybe for you it could be volunteering to be on a diversity committee or social committee or engaging in a mentorship program. Maybe you see another colleague doing some work that you think is really interesting, so you ask your manager if you can get involved in it to learn more and expand your skill set. There are so many opportunities if you keep your eyes out for them and know yourself well enough to look for something that truly lights you up.
In my opinion, to be a good leader you need to care for yourself so that you can be respectful of other people’s boundaries and care for them. I think compassion is an extremely important quality for leaders to have. I also think that the best way to lead is to lead by example. Set boundaries for yourself so that you can demonstrate to others that it is acceptable for them to set boundaries as well. Take care of your health so you can show others that it is important to do so.
I believe we are starting to see a shift in corporations as millennials start to make their mark. We want to have purposeful jobs and feel like we are making a difference, but we also want to enjoy life and feel our best. I’m generalizing here and know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I believe that as a collective, we are starting to recognize the importance of taking care of ourselves and that will only make us better leaders.
If you’re just starting out, I wish you all the best on your career journey and encourage you to stay curious. You might be graduating soon, but learning is a life long journey. If you stay open to opportunities, stay true to yourself, and be compassionate towards others, I have no doubt that you’ll have a very successful career.