When I began my career twelve years ago, the primary way to advance was through paid education. I focused solely on attending seminars, conferences or workshops where I could learn new things and meet new people.
Looking back, I think I missed out on many career development opportunities that were much more accessible to me at the time; volunteering for good causes, saying yes to favours asked by colleagues at work, or attending free online education courses.
If I could do it all again now, I’d stress less about attending every expensive course and instead, take advantage of as many of the vast number of opportunities to develop that exist in today’s world as possible.
The second point I would tell my younger self if I could go back is to be more intentional and strategic about expanding my networks.
Most of our lives are shaped by the people we meet and relate to. We are automatically part of our networks of family and school friends. We gradually develop our professional networks as we enter the world of work.
However, it is also important to build strategic contacts; mutually beneficial relationships with people from a variety of different backgrounds and sectors.
These people may not hire you or link you directly to an opportunity but the information they share is likely to be invaluable in providing new insights and aiding personal development that makes you stand out.
Your network should include people you feel confident will vouch for you when necessary.
After completing the mandatory requirement to return to my home country for two years after graduating from the University of Aberdeen on a Chevening Scholarship, I wanted to return to working in an international environment. It was through the networks I’d created that I knew where to go to look for relevant online courses and career opportunities. Within two months, I was working on projects supporting the World Health Organization.
My final piece of advice is to focus on your strengths. Don’t worry if you’re not good at everything.
Rather than trying to improve in areas of weakness, identify those aspects of work that you enjoy and feel strong in.
You may not be an instant expert but the small steps you take in developing your strengths will prove invaluable in making you successful in your career.
Challenges and setbacks are inevitable in all professional journey’s but there is power in failure. I try and view every mistake as a learning experience. For me, they evidence that I’ve left my comfort zone, taken risks and given me room to grow.
Each one of us is on a unique journey. It is not necessary to measure your professional success by competing with your friends, colleagues or family. After all, when it comes to career satisfaction, there is no lift, we must take the stairs.