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Four Career Lessons for My Younger Self

Vol. 1: Building a Career of Passion and Purpose

A career coaching client asked me what I would tell the 21 year-old version of myself about building a career of passion and purpose. Taking everything I've learned in the last 11 years, this is what I'd say (first edition, of course!):

Dear 21 Year-Old Whitney,

#1: You are not fundamentally flawed.

Your greatest obstacle to creating a career of passion and purpose will not be a lack of talent, drive or intellect but a lack of courage to believe in yourself.

You are not fundamentally flawed: it's easy to believe that. It feels safe. You have unique capabilities to offer the world: it's much harder to believe that. It feels vulnerable.

Yet, that vulnerability is where the magic happens. You will not create a career that feels truly meaningful, purposeful and supremely fun without leaning into the vulnerability fall line. Take heart: it will be worth the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure to get there.

#2: No one is going “discover” you, and no one is going rescue you from a job you don't love.

The responsibility is yours to create a career that matters to you. The world needs what you are uniquely capable of creating, but you must stop waiting for someone to “find you" and lay out the red carpet. You need to take ownership. You need to start putting in the work: inner and outer. You need to invest time, energy and money in what will move you in your right direction.

Get to work on creating opportunities rather than waiting for opportunities. To attain a career you truly love:

  • You have to ask yourself hard questions.

  • You have to show up to the answers.

  • You have to step into vulnerability and courage to act on the answers.

#3: There is no success without first defining your own metrics for success.

Everyone is going to tell you how to live your life, yet no one can tell you how to live your life. Everyone will be quick to tell you the right way to succeed, yet no one can tell you the right way for YOU to succeed. True success, purpose and meaning happen on your own terms and by your own metrics. You have to figure out what they are, no one can do it for you.

Chasing other people's metrics of success, rather than your own, will never bring you the purpose and meaning you want. Yes, you do want purpose and meaning --it's life's true currency. Like believing in yourself, it's easy and safe to tell yourself that you're just “one of those people” that don't need passion or purpose. But, you do, and it's worth the deep inner work to get there.

#4: There will be people who don't like you and that is their right.

Don't equate career success, purpose and impact to how many people like you. Your skills in likability will serve you immensely in your career, but a need to be liked will limit and drain you. Stop spending valuable energy and time on “winning over” people who misunderstand your vision or disagree with you. Not everyone will like you and that is their right. You can't control what people think of you.

Use your energy for something in your control:

  • Create space for your brand of art to exist.

  • Speak and embody your truth --keeping it hidden will slowly eat you from the inside.

  • Let go of needing other's approval to pursue your definition of success.

  • Invest in connections that boost your courage.

In reflection:

Through my work, I want to create a collective of professionals taking their passion to purpose in meaningful careers. My talent is helping people show up to the deep, messy, and hard questions and coming out the other end with courage, belief in themselves and resolution to act.

The hardest part of my own journey towards a career of purpose, and maybe yours as well, is shedding all those damn filters that tone down what you really think, what you really want to say, what you really believe, and what you really want to create.

There's that silent voice and sneaky protective instinct that wants to shift to the perceived safety of impression management, rather than true authenticity and creativity. In these human moments, I call myself to remember: there is no magic without vulnerability. It's where the best life has to offer happens.

I'm curious: what career lessons would you tell your younger self? Hit the comments and share with me. I'd love to read them!

Rooting for you all, always.



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