The Most Important Piece of Career Advice for New Grads

Follow this advice, and you'll have an energizing, engaging, inspiring career to look forward to.

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As graduation season approaches, I want to share the most important piece of advice I can offer. It’s not sexy, and it won’t appeal to your desire for immediate gratification. But if you follow it, it will lead to an energizing, engaging, inspiring career. And just as important, you will never find yourself in the unenviable position of needing to work with a career coach like me.

My work focuses on helping people find and create careers they love. Typically people come to me when the feeling of frustration and stuckness has become so intolerable that it forces them into action. They know they need to make a change, but they don’t know to what, or how.

Invariably one of the comments my clients make at some point is, “I wish I had done this sooner. I wish I had known this when I was just starting out.”

So my advice is this: Don’t worry about making the “right choice” as you launch your career. Because the odds are good you’re not going to. Instead, find a path that seems appealing and use the next five years as research and development (R&D) for your career. Use that time to get a deeper understanding of what energizes and inspires you, and use that insight to make your decisions moving forward.

[See 10 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Internship.]

Let go of the notion that you’re going to pick a path and ride it to the top. That kind of thinking creates a rigidity that limits your potential to refine your direction to reflect what you discover about what energizes you. You may get lucky and pick precisely the career that you were meant for and never have to change and adjust your focus, but the chances of that are miniscule. It happens, but not often.

Turn your job into career R&D

How do you approach your work as R&D? It’s simple. Make it an ongoing habit to ask two questions:

• What do I love about this?

• What do I dislike about this?

[See How to Decide Which Career is Right for You.]

Any time you have an answer to either of those questions, follow it up with one more question: “Why?” So instead of, “I loved doing the research for that project,” you ask why and discover, “I loved the exploration and discovery aspect of it.”

The more you ask that question, the more you start to see underlying themes that tend to be there when you feel on fire about what you’re doing. So if you see exploration and discovery emerge as a theme, for example, you can watch for opportunities to experience more of it. That might be via research, interviewing people, work that requires constant learning of something new, photography, or something completely different. For a deeper look at identifying those sources of energy, read this article on Planning for Passion.

[See Why College Students Should Join LinkedIn.]

It never gets easier than right now

It will never get easier to sculpt your career and guide it in a direction that reflects who you are and what lights you up. You are at the perfect stage of the game. Most people come to me ten years or more after they graduate. It takes that long for them to realize (and accept) that they’re on the wrong path, and that they need to do something about it. And by that time they often have to navigate the demands of family, mortgages, and a variety of other commitments as they make the change.

As you choose the work to ride into your career, pick the kind that feels best, but let go of any illusion that it will be your forever-path. Instead, ask those career R&D questions and start factoring the results into your decisions. The more you do, the more energized and fulfilled you will feel. What’s more, you’ll be better at what you do, because it will tap into what you naturally love.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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