If you had talked to me a decade ago, I would’ve told you I had no desire to start a company or become a venture capitalist. At the time, I didn’t have the most positive view of the VC world. The industry was (and still is) overwhelmingly white and male and heavily focused on certain industries.
But in 2015, I realized I could change the culture and methodology around VC investing to elevate the industry. Thus, I founded a VC firm that specializes in disruptive technologies. Since then, I’ve spoken at events like the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos as their young global leader and landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list as the featured honoree of the VC industry. I didn’t stumble into success; instead, I carved out my career path and took these four deliberate steps.
1. Play the long game. When we’re young, we tend to gravitate toward opportunities that feel exciting in the moment but likely won’t further our overarching career goals. Doing so may offer some instant gratification, but it won’t create sustainable success. Ask yourself what kind of life you want to achieve. Are you pursuing opportunities that align with that long-term vision? If not, change paths.
This doesn’t mean you need to know exactly where you want to be in five, 10, or 20 years. In fact, I’ve followed more of an intuitive career path by finding opportunities I’m passionate about, taking on those I deem worthwhile challenges, and forging ahead. But I’ve always had my “big goal” in mind: to be influential in my industry. If an opportunity doesn’t take me closer to my goal (or, worse, sets me further back), I move on. Not all opportunities have been easy to pass up, but I’ve found that having a clear goal is like a lighthouse in the fog.
2. Stop wasting energy on useless anger. Humans are emotional beings, and we can’t just turn off that aspect of ourselves when we walk into work. In fact, according to a 2018 survey, 45% of workers have cried on the job, and 52% have lost their temper. Of those who admitted to showing anger, 65% said it was directed toward colleagues, while 37% said it was directed toward their boss.
We all experience frustrating workplace situations or feel at odds with co-workers, but how we respond and move forward says a lot about our emotional intelligence and professionalism. Yes, there is a time and place for anger, and I am well-aware that women — especially women of color — are unfairly penalized for showing emotions. However, when a colleague criticizes one of my decisions, I take a step back before acting on my gut reaction. I ask myself: Is this anger useful, or is my ego taking over?
Being challenged at work can be helpful, especially as a leader and founder. Ultimately, I want my business to grow, and if an individual is seeing something I’m not, I want to hear about it. Change your attitude from wanting to be right to finding the best solution.
3. Don’t let doubters determine what you’re capable of. It’s all too easy to let naysayers drown out that inner voice that’s telling you to change careers, start that business, or go back to school. But more than likely, their hate is a byproduct of their own fears and insecurities. Don’t let external doubt feed your self-doubt. Only you know what you’re capable of.
When I founded my VC firm, so many people criticized my choices and doubted my ability to succeed based on my age and gender. I believe in healthy skepticism, so I heard them out. Then, I used their doubts as motivation to prove them wrong. At the time, we were one of the few companies investing in artificial intelligence in healthcare. Today, healthcare AI funding is at an all-time high: AI healthcare startups, specifically, raised $864 million in VC-backed deals in the second quarter of 2019 alone.
4. Stop trying to be the smartest person in the room. I consider myself a competitive person, but I also believe it’s important to surround myself with people who are smarter than me. Why? If I’m the smartest person in the room, then I’m also incapable of learning and growing.
Thus, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive, smart, inspiring people. In fact, research suggests doing so improves success: One study says our happiness directly correlates with those we surround ourselves with, and another study confirms that our behavior is majorly influenced by friends and other support. Why be the smartest person in the room when you can learn from others?
One of the many reasons I love my job so much is that I get to talk to smart people every day. Pursue opportunities where you know you have skill and knowledge gaps to plug; those are where you’ll grow most.
Launching and navigating your career shouldn’t be an exercise in spontaneity, but you don’t need to follow a rigid plan, either. Use these four tips to inform and guide your journey, and watch your career goals come to fruition.