Roadmap to Career Success for All Ages (Part 2)

If you never try then you’ll never know what might have been.

Anyone who aspires to achieve career success first needs a potent plan to find their place in the fluid 21st century workplace. This is Part 2 of my “Rapid Career Success Plan” — which applies to people of all ages, but is especially applicable to Millennials (Gen Y) and their younger cohort, Generation Z (the oldest of whom are now in college).

These two demographics of young people represent a new generation of leadership who will profoundly impact all professions and industries worldwide in the coming years and decades. But even if you’re a Boomer or Gen Xer embarking on a new profession, it’s never too late to achieve career success if you take the right approach.

Recap of Part 1

Following is a brief recap of the initial four points of the plan, as articulated here on April 23 in an article entitled, My 10-Point Career Success Plan for Millennials & Gen Z (Part 1).

1) Define Your Vision: Begin with a dream or vision of success before you enter the workforce. Be bold, think big and be specific. Narrowly tailor your career goals with definitive steps in an incremental hierarchy of achievement.

2) Build Bridges to Your Dream Job: Obtaining the academic and professional knowledge to position oneself in a competitive marketplace is only the start. Additionally, finding good mentors to help you learn and advance along the way is of critical importance to bridging any gap in age and work experience.

3) Dare to Think Big: Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Dare yourself to take risks in order to plant the seeds of success. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. Do so while you’re still young and have your entire work life ahead of you. Recall the saying: “No risk, no reward.”

4) Leverage the Four Ps: Perseverance, positiveness, personality and politeness all go a long way toward achieving success of any kind in life. Don’t invent artificial reasons why you can’t achieve your professional goals. Don’t talk yourself out of potential career success before even trying. Rather, be positive, personable, polite and persevere. Also, remember to be humble, kind and to never burn professional bridges along the way

Following are the latter six points of my 10-Point Plan…

5) Network, Network, Network

No, that’s not a typo. Rather it’s analogous to that old saying in real estate: location, location, location. The same applies to career advancement in general and networking in particular. It’s not only important to work harder and smarter with cutting-edge technology, but also to embrace and nurture key professional relationships through networking online and in-person.

These VIP relationships can help pave the way toward swift career advancement. My advice: be fearless, relentless and tireless when networking. Knock on every appropriate door and leave no proverbial stone unturned. This means reaching out to influencers, executives and experts to assist you.

As noted in Part 1, mentors helped me to quickly land a gig as the editorial page editor of the daily student newspaper at the University of Maryland during my sophomore year. I was the youngest editor on staff and won a writing award from The Society of Professional Journalists.

Once that goal was crossed off my list, I turned my attention to national politics, as I’ve always had a keen interest in public affairs and public service.

I aspired to land the highest internship possible within the U.S. Congress.

You can climb the career ladder of success at any age.

I researched and sought out leading political science professors on campus, some of whom had experience working on prior presidential campaigns. Then I showed up at their offices with a handful of my newspaper clips. Fortunately, none of them threw me out.

I shared my news clips, discussed my career goals, and made a bold request for their help. This came via letters of recommendation and references. Frankly, I was surprised this worked out so well, as I didn’t know what to expect. However, reaching out to potential mentors via networking turned out to be a wise move and lifelong lesson.

You have probably heard the saying: “It’s not what you know, but who you know. I would add this caveat — as stated by political commentator and MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, in his book Hardball :

It’s not only who you know, but who you get to know well.

To wit:

  • Who will go to bat for you when needed?
  • Who will provide a good recommendation?
  • Who will put you in touch with the right contacts?

That’s the true test of networking. You may know a lot of people, but what good is that if they brush you off when asked for help?

Networking Online & Off

Today’s job seekers are fortunate to have a plethora of social media networking tools at their fingertips. And while this certainly makes the networking process easier, it should not supersede it by serving as a safety blanket.

Although social media networking is a great start, it’s also important to meet your connections in person, to the extent possible. This solidifies budding relationships and makes you stand out in a crowd of job seekers who may shun in-person meetings.

Let’s face it, most young people today appear more eager to text than talk. They would rather use Facebook over meeting face to face.

Millennials and Gen Z should not rely on social media networking alone, nor should anyone. That’s just one tool and can’t replace the human element.

Thus, try going the extra mile to meet those in your network for lunch, coffee, dinner, drinks, or just stop by their office to say hello. If geography is problematic, then use live video streaming devices like Skype and other popular tech tools.

What if meeting in person is not possible in the short term? In that case, send VIP contacts periodic emails, cards or hand written letters. That way they won’t forget you. Moreover, they will likely be impressed by your efforts.

Then try to meet in person at a later date at their convenience, not yours. Remember that your high-level connections will be super busy, of course, so always be patient and polite.

6) Reject the Naysayers

The bigger your dream, the more likely that people will tell you it’s out of reach, if not impossible. Others may try to convince you to enter a different profession or embark on another career path. But don’t let the negativity of others steer you off course. Rather, believe in yourself, believe in your dreams and stick to the plan.

After working at the student newspaper at the University of Maryland, I set my sights high in securing a coveted full-time internship (for college credit) for the Office of the Majority Leader, House of Representatives, in the ornate U.S. Capitol Building. That’s the second highest leadership position in the lower chamber of Congress, behind the Speaker of the House.

But I never would have achieved that goal had I listened to all the naysayers.

The U.S. Capitol Building, where I completed a press internship in college.

Most young people secure such high-level internships through home state connections to the congressman and/or big campaign contributions from family members. But I had neither of those key factors going for me.

This caused a lot of my people I knew to ask why they would want me? It was a good question. However, sometimes long shots come in. But if you never try, then you’ll never know.

Nearly everyone I spoke to about this goal told me I had no chance. Yet I remained steadfast and undeterred, even though I was only 20 years old. Eventually, I was lucky enough to obtain an interview which led to being offered the job.

During the interview, I spoke passionately about my career aspirations and pledged to do whatever it took to get the job done. My passion, conviction and determination were sincere, apparent and made a strong impression.

I was unaware at the time that the congressman’s top administrative aide was an alumnus of the University of Maryland who was very familiar with the student newspaper where I had worked. In hindsight, this likely helped me secure the job. However, if I had never aimed high in the first place, this important internship — which was the catalyst for my big goal of working in the White House — would never have materialized.

7) Visualize & Affirm It

In your mind, see yourself having successfully accomplished the goal. Make positive affirmations and feel the corresponding emotions. Other tips: write down your goals, create a scrapbook and be enthusiastic about this process.

As noted, my ultimate goal was to work in the White House for a future President of the United States after graduating from college. Little did I know at the time that this seminal internship at the highest levels of Congress would put me in close contact with the likes of George Stephanopoulos and other influential rising Capitol Hill staffers who were then top aides to the House Majority Leader — and subsequently worked for then-Governor Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992.

The more I assisted them, the more they got to know me, like me and rely on me.

These high-level professional relationships, which I maintained and nurtured, proved instrumental in helping me achieve my ultimate goal: landing a political appointment in the White House for the Administration of President Bill Clinton.

  • Below is a photo of my parents and I with President Clinton in the Oval Office. The photo was taken after a Saturday morning weekly radio address to the nation (hence, the casual attire). I worked as a press assistant at the time.
  • Meanwhile, George Stephanopoulos — with whom I had worked years earlier during that key internship in Congress — was a top advisor to President Clinton. Other professionals I had worked with on Capitol Hill also held senior positions.
  • Even one of the graduate school professors from the University of Maryland, who helped me as a mentor, received a job as a domestic policy advisor in the West Wing.

Somehow, all the pieces of the puzzle came together for me, as fate would have it. But had I never tried to reach my dream job it never would have materialized

Official White House photo of me and my parents with President Clinton in the Oval Office.

8) Believe!

It’s essential to have faith and know in your heart that nothing will stop you from reaching your goals. It’s also imperative to realize that nearly anything is possible if you sincerely believe in yourself and your abilities.

Here’s a great example: Russell Wilson is an NFL star quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks (pictured below). He’s also a Millennial who led his team to a surprise Super Bowl victory in 2014. Yet Wilson was an undersized and under-rated quarterback at the time. But that didn’t stop him, despite his many detractors. Here’s Wilson’s advice:

  • “My dad used to always tell me, Russ, why not you?”
  • “And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you, and you can go a long way.”

NFL millennial quarterback Russell Wilson with the Super Bowl Trophy in hand.

Therefore, why not pose the same question to yourself when pondering whether you should aim high in attempting to secure a dream job:

Why not me?

Some might label that outlook as youthful arrogance or even narcissism. However, others will say it’s simply self-confidence, which is an essential ingredient of career success. I likewise believed in myself and my God-given talents and ability, even when others did not.

9) Leverage Luck & Timing

The rare and powerful combination of good luck and good timing is an intangible factor in achieving professional success at any age. However, the more prepared and well positioned one is to achieve a specific goal, the more likely that luck and timing can be pivotal factors in career advancement.

For instance, I did everything in my power back then to best position myself for unique professional opportunities at a young age. Then I seized those opportunities despite the odds. My motto: Carpe Diem! (Seize the day!)

Further, my goal and vision of working in the White House started years before I had even heard of Bill Clinton, who was then an obscure governor of Arkansas and not a household name in national politics. But interestingly enough, the more I worked for it, networked and believed in my dream, the luckier I appeared to get.

If you never try, then you’ll never know what might have been.

If you never try, then you’ll never know…

10) Never Give Up

Finally, if you don’t succeed at first, then keep trying. Redouble your efforts, revamp your game plan, and persevere. Don’t give up at the first sign of failure. Rather, consider initial failure as a stepping stone along the way to achieving success.

It’s a fact that most successful people throughout history first overcame adversity and failure prior to achieving big goals. The keys was they fought through it and learned from it. They forged ahead with renewed vigor instead of giving up at initial failure.

The irony here is that the more successful one becomes, the less people tend to remember the failures which preceded the grand achievements.

Therefore, don’t fall prey to giving up too early and prematurely forfeiting potential success. Too many people hit major roadblocks and then end up taking an easier and more conventional career path. In essence, they give up on their dreams and settle for something less.

But no one wants to look back later in life thinking about what might have been? That is, if they had only tried harder by remaining steadfast, positive, and persevering.

Final Thoughts

Whoever you are, no matter how far away your professional dreams may appear, anything is possible if a person is 100% committed to the ultimate goal and doesn’t give up. This is critically important for today’s new generation of leaders to comprehend, as well as anyone at any age who aspires to achieve big career success.

By acting on the aforementioned 10-points and principles in a strategic and deliberate manner, you may soon find unique job opportunities appearing.

In fact, your dream job may materialize before you know it, whether at a young age or any age. That is, if you have a potent career plan and vigoorously pursue it until the goal is reached.

Always remember: if you never try, you’ll never know.

Originally published at medium.com

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