How to Build a Top Business Career from the Bottom Up
As young people navigating through a business degree program or entering the business world, we’re constantly reminded that we’re young and inexperienced. It’s meant as a putdown; an easy way to dismiss our ideas. But what if being young and inexperienced was an asset? Here’s the good news — it absolutely can be. Let’s take a look at why that’s true and how you can use it to your advantage to start building a top business career.
Make Friends with Failure
People who’ve been working in the business world for 10 or 20 years are deeply entrenched; they are less likely to take risks because failure can be devastating. When you’re young and starting from the bottom, there’s no career to cling to, no 401K to contribute, no corporate ladder rung to hang onto. Or, to quote Bob Dylan, “when you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Science — and plenty of anecdotal evidence — has shown us that, more than anything else, failure is the greatest path to success, but only if we handle it properly. Use this to your advantage. Whether it’s in business school or a career in business management, know that you’re in a better position to fail than most of the people “above” you. Learn to shake off these failures; let them teach you lessons and allow them to fuel you. Doing this, and keeping it up as you climb through the ranks of the business world, will separate you from the rest.
Forget About a Top-Down Career Approach
The old model for building a career in business was top-down: when it came time to look for a job, you would choose a career like “marketing,” “engineering” or “PR” and find jobs in that category and that category alone. Here’s the problem with that model — without real-world experience in those fields, grads fresh from b-school don’t have the knowledge to choose the “right” path. Many choose a path and make it their career only to discover they don’t like it and don’t really excel at it.
Here’s another instance where being young and at the bottom is an advantage. Instead of boxing yourself in right away, choose a “bottom-up” approach. Take jobs that interest you, even if it means they’re out of your area. Get out of the mindset of what career field you’re in or what title you can have. In other words, don’t reject something because it’s not in your “area.” Use everything as a learning opportunity, even if it’s learning about filing or social media or order processing. Focus on what you’re doing today.
Learn to Relax
This one might seem counterintuitive, but going against conventional wisdom is often where true progress lies. Ask 10 different people how they got where they are in their careers and you’ll get 10 different answers. And, each of those answers will undoubtedly be filled with fortuitous encounters, unexpected twists, devastating firings and unplanned career changes. Indeed, a business career is seldom a straight path and fighting against that truth is stressful and fruitless.
Want to build a top business career? Introduce a little Zen. Lean into the zigs and be cool with the zags. Be flexible and open to change. Know that your plan for your career is a rough sketch that, in all likelihood, will look nothing like the final design. Control the things you can control and let the rest take care of itself. You may look back in 20 years and realize the path you took was way better than the path you wanted to take.