When it comes to selecting the right path for your career, sometimes it feels like it all boils down to pure dumb luck. From picking the ‘right’ calling in life to actually figuring out what you like and what you’re good at, there’s a lot of road to cover and the greater part of it is paved by numerous unpredictable twists and turns.
Even though you spend your whole life developing specific skills and thinking about your future, nothing really prepares you for the real world and all the challenges you’ll have to face on your journey to self-discovery.
For many of us there’s a tendency to overthink things and reevaluate our every decision. Questions like: “Did I choose the right career path? Am I in the right industry? What about my future development?” tend to constantly replay in our head and that can often make us unsure about the choices we make along the way. Especially career-wise.
That’s why most people tend to get lost along the way. They need more time than they first anticipated to find a job that they enjoy doing, and a company where they can actually shine and make a difference.
At Content Insights, we are quite aware of this problem, so we decided to reach out to Alex, our Head of People Operations, and ask her to share with us some first-career advice.
Even though Alex has been with us for a while and has helped many of us working at Content Insights understand and adopt the essence of what it means to be ‘one of the Insights people’, she’s also the only person in the whole company who has worked in multiple different positions, with multiple teams.
Without further ado, here are Alex’s words of wisdom for all those who are confused about their career path or would love to evolve to their best selves:
In the early stages of your career, money should not be your main motivation
When we sat down with Alex and started talking about her professional experience inside and outside of Content Insights, we noticed that she had different priorities than most people do when looking for a job.
For Alex, money was never the answer. She was never interested in literally selling her time for money. What Alex wanted out of any job was an opportunity to learn and grow in a healthy environment. She was always focused on finding something that genuinely excited her and made her feel good about herself and the work she was doing.
“Sometimes we go after a certain job because we literally believe it will “pay off”,” she explains. “The position might be awesomely paid, the company might have a great benefits program, but you may well find that the job itself is truly boring or mundane or too stressful. Receiving a fat paycheck feels awesome, but that awesomeness lasts only for a couple of days until you get stuck with the same old dull tasks.”
She believes that this kind of trade where we rot away at our desks for a pile of dollars is unsustainable. In order to be content at work, we need to be constantly engaged at our station and feel passionate about what we do.
Or, to put it another way, as Alex does:
“You need to go to bed with the challenges that will keep you up at night because you are eager to solve them, not because you are sick to go to work tomorrow.”
So, don’t settle. Find what you love to do and stick to it. It will drive you to achieve more, to grow and develop constantly. You will advance in your career much faster than in some job you got stuck with.
Build strong social connections and work on your workplace relationships
Alex believes that, regardless of what you do and in which stage of life you currently find yourself, building connections with people around you is of great importance for your well-being and career. It helps you gain more advocates and extend your reach.
“The relationships you build in your life will not only provide you with support,” she says, “but they will also greatly influence your self-worth – both of which lead to feelings of happiness.”
The Harvard Study of Adult Development did a study a while ago that supports Alex’s advice. They tracked the lives of 724 men for 79 years, hoping to discover the secret to success, happiness, and a good life. The study found that relationships tremendously impact our health, happiness, and quality of life. It was also found that the quality of relationships mattered more than quantity.
“At work, we have co-workers, team members, team leads, managers – but we are all still people who need to feel connected. The majority of people you meet through work are willing to communicate and share their experience. Use your time at work to build connections with people that inspire you, from whom you can learn, and with whom you can share ideas and doubts.
Connections are important for the future too. If you have a great network, you can always have someone to support you in your future endeavors, someone who will gladly recommend you, sponsor or mentor you.”
As a full-time employee, you will spend the majority of your day at the office, which is why building and nurturing great work relationships is so important. These relationships can either positively or negatively affect your stress levels, productivity and general feelings of happiness. In most cases, they will directly influence how you feel about a specific job, company, and profession.
Good or bad – don’t shy away from experiences
The only way to truly understand if you will enjoy something is by trying it. As mentioned above, Alex has worked in multiple different positions, with multiple teams within the company. At various times she has been part of SDR, marketing, customer success, support – and that’s just the ones we know about. With the possible exception of Bojan, there are few others who have the kind of first-hand experience of so many different areas of the business as she does.
Alex didn’t change positions because she didn’t have what to do, but because it was important for the company (and her as well) to have someone who truly understands the processes of every part of our business, and the best way to do this was to allow her to gain experience in each team. That not only helped her become better at her current job but also enabled her to develop new skills and interests.
“I believe in something called life-long learning. Learning can be formal and non-formal. There are a lot of ways to learn, but what I find the most efficient is learning through work. Learning through work means solving problems and challenges for which you need some new skills and knowledge.
In order to meet our challenges, we need to learn and discover. We do that by research, mentoring, but most importantly by trial and error. The best way to learn something is to try and see what happens.”
To learn like this, Alex believes that it’s imperative to have an environment which is supportive and which encourages experiments and learning from mistakes. But also, you need to be fearless and ready to take the risk and stand by your decisions.
There’s another perk to this approach too: “Experimenting and learning through work will help advance your career. You’ll likely grow much faster, take bigger challenges and strive for excellence in things you already know.”
Wasted opportunities haunt people, so try your best not to miss out on chances to learn and grow
As the quote goes: “Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”
Even though we’re surrounded by opportunities, we typically don’t understand their value until they pass us by. For most people, searching for a job is a stressful process. Certain opportunities tend to feel too threatening, too big or too demanding.
Our Head of People Operations believes that in order to grow as individuals and develop our professional careers in the right directions we need to be brave and be willing to take on a certain degree of risk.
“If you are too afraid, questioning if you’re good enough or whether you can respond to the challenges, in the end, you will lose. It’s easier to stay within your comfort zone, to continue doing things the way you used to, but that’s not going to lead you to progress and development. That opportunity will go, someone else will take it, and you will be left with regret and wondering what would have happened if you were bold enough.”
We need to grab the opportunities that present themselves, learn, do everything in our power to meet the challenges ahead of us. You will miss out on a lot if you let fear control of your decisions.
Jump in with both feet and learn how to actually participate
Regardless of how good of a student you once were or how good you were at your previous job – it takes real guts, determination and confidence to leave your comfort zone and embark on something new. This is especially true if that something new means starting a job within a new company and working with a new group of people who you don’t really know, but believe they could teach you a lot of things about your work.
Alex believes that if you jump into your new life with both feet right away and survive the initial shock – you’ll be fine.
“People who know me, don’t believe me when I tell them that I was an introvert. AIESEC [The leadership program], and the other experiences my work has afforded me has changed me big time. Now, I’m very open to people and opportunities. I like to participate in team activities, to be enthusiastic and have fun all the way. Work is taking a bigger part of our day that’s why it’s important to have fun, to talk to people, enjoy the teamwork and team building.”
Alex thinks that we need to learn how to adapt and be part of the team in order to grow and gain new skills. The best way to do that is to find a place at work where you can actually connect with people on a deeper level:
“My favorite place at our office is our kitchen. We are all buzzing there, talking nonsense and sharing stupid stories, but that downtime serves a really important function: it’s enabled us to all bond strongly over those water-cooler moments.”
To effectively operate in at work, you must be willing to try and, above everything, become open to your surroundings. Not all of your colleagues share your values, strengths or views on life. It is important to learn how to work cooperatively with others, avoid issues wherever you’re able and learn how to best resolve conflict should a problem arise.
Thank you Alex for these wonderful tips. Do you any career advice to share with people reading this article? If so, feel free to share your thoughts with us.