‘Tis the season to find young, ambitious minds embarking on a new chapter. Even as we continue to muddle through this pandemic – semesters are ending, students are graduating, new beginnings are gleaming – it’s a good time for some introspection, don’t you think?
While bidding farewell to my undergraduate career this month, I’ve been doing a lot of that. So much has changed in the past year and our brains are still unpacking it all. As the future of work and learning continues to unfold, what lessons do we want to take with us? Both from this reality and from the great “before”?
For me, the most important takeaways are not specific to the new world of work we’re facing – they’re a little bit more holistic than that. I had the opportunity to complete six co-op terms over the past five years, and two of them were fully remote. And while there are key differences, pros and cons to in-person, remote or hybrid work, a lot of the advice I would give to my younger self doesn’t really change. These are some of the most significant pieces:
- Cultivate an MVP mindset. MVP stands for minimum viable product and it just so happens to be a great metaphor, too. When it comes to tackling big projects, challenges and ideas, start small. Simplicity is the key we keep forgetting. This is especially important when you’re just getting started in your career – a time when just about anything can feel daunting if you don’t break it down and take things step by step. Resist your perfectionist impulses. Follow your curiosities with low stakes and don’t hesitate to test them. Experiment with low-lift ways to prototype your concept and get it in front of people. Seek diverse perspectives up front and build out from there in a way that encapsulates them. Don’t get too caught up in the mechanics of things right off the bat, just keep moving forward.
- Network, network, network. It’s quite the buzzword, isn’t it? I’m not always a fan of those, but some words create buzz for a reason. Networking is timelessly important because connecting with other people is hugely valuable. In this new world of work, you have to be even more intentional about doing it. Make an effort to talk to as many people as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. More often than not, people want to help – even if they haven’t met you in person or don’t see your face every day. And when you have a moment of someone’s time, how can you make that interaction meaningful? The trick is to just be genuine and honestly interested in what makes people who they are. Listen, learn and share your ideas with vulnerability. That’s how you build solid relationships founded on mutual kindness and respect, which can take you far.
- Confidence is key. Impostor syndrome is real, especially for co-op students and new graduates – and often especially for women, neuro-diverse and marginalized groups as well. It can be a blessing in the sense that it keeps you humble and challenges any sense of entitlement you might have in the workplace. That said, confidence and self-compassion are equally important. The sooner you learn to trust yourself, the better off you’ll be personally and professionally (these things are often more intertwined than we think). Remember that impostor syndrome is ultimately a thought pattern you can choose to let go of again and again. It isn’t easy, but it is a feeling that doesn’t hold any tangible power over you. Odds are if you’ve landed an opportunity, you did something valuable that got you there in the first place. That means you are already capable of totally crushing it. Besides, you’re always a better version of yourself when you show up wholeheartedly – nerves, imperfections and all. Blatant authenticity stands out for a reason.
- Be radically creative. This is an important one, no matter the job, whether it is technical or non-technical, remote, in-person or hybrid. Creativity is a strength we should all nurture and be vigilant about. Ebb and flow with your inventive and passionate ideas. Know that you don’t need to chase every last one of them and that, regardless of what you may or may not produce, your creative capacity is an asset all on its own. Anchor yourself in reality and the problem you’re trying to solve, but don’t hold back in the process.
- Manage your expectations. Set all the goals and intentions you feel compelled to set, but be prepared to stretch, grow and change. Be adaptable. To quote self-help author Tony Robbins, “Stay committed to your decisions but stay flexible in your approach.” Be ready to end and begin again if you need to. Remember that, at any given moment, you haven’t yet had some of your best ideas, your biggest days, your brightest moments. And if you think about it, the ones you’ve had were probably not exactly what you once expected them to be. Bring that mindset into every new opportunity and let it be your superpower as you navigate the future of work.
- Be a team player. No matter where you work or for how long, this is one of the most essential characteristics you can foster. You will need other people and they will need you. Don’t be above any task that furthers the success of your team’s overarching mission.
Despite the digital-first nature of the future of work, our generation needs to be as human as we can in our approach. Let’s keep looking for ways to combine the best of the old and the new.