Reflections: My Climb Up the Career Ladder

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was reveling in the fact that when people asked me what I do I could respond by saying, “Nothing!” I was a recent Howard graduate enjoying her free time and awaiting the start date of her new job. I had two months to get a reaction with this response out of as many people as possible, especially my education and career focused family members and family friends, and I intended to make the most of it.

Those were fun times, but of course after enjoying my summer free time I entered the real world and hit the ground running. And while I still often feel like I’m faking this whole adult thing, I’ve grown and learned a lot over the last two years.

Last month I received a promotion and officially climbed my first step up the career ladder. Even more recently I was told what my raise would be (once Uncle Sam has his way I’m guessing I can buy myself an extra cup of coffee every week. JK. Or am I?). All of these very adult-like things made me reflect on some of the lessons I've learned along the way. Allow me to share a few with you:

Mentors are everything.
I constantly operate under a “you don't know what you don't know” mentality. I have had so many individuals over the last year formally and informally mentor me. I have developed strong relationships with some of these individuals and have heavily depended on them through my more challenging times. Without their support, advice, understanding and sometimes tough love I would not have grown as much as I have.

The people you work with are more important than the work you are doing.
I work in a project based environment where my managers and coworkers change with every project I’m placed on. I’ve been fortunate enough to move around on projects often, and as a result I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different manager and teams. I have come to the conclusion that I’d rather do work on a less than awesome project for awesome people than work on an awesome project with far from awesome people. Hands down. Everyone isn’t blessed to have managers and coworkers who are committed to their success. Once it’s found, I believe that it should be treasured.

Bad experiences suck but can be worth gold.
There is nothing like a bad manager to teach you how to be a manager in the future. Prior to my own bad experience I had been working with really excellent managers. The type of managers who coach you, challenge you, encourage you and support you. I was told over and over by my peers that I was living the life. And then, as one of my friends put it, I was given a "reality check".

However, there are so many things that I learned through that situation that I would not have learned in the type of environment I had grown accustomed to prior. I not only spent time thinking critically about the type of manager I would like to be, but I also had the opportunity to reflect on my own areas for improvement that I had not witnessed previously. As cliché as it sounds, it was truly one of those “in hindsight it was good for me” kind of situations.

Your career is nobody else’s but your own.
This is something my company has drilled into us from day one, and it has been an interesting concept to me since then. As an individual with dreams, goals and aspirations, you are responsible for taking the steps necessary to accomplish them. While we all know that it cannot be done alone, unless you are proactive about choosing the direction you want your career to take and steer the wheel accordingly nobody can provide you with the information, resources and support you’ll need along the way. It's empowering once you realize how much you can accomplish without a passive mindset. You become more engaged with your work and excited about the opportunities that present themselves.

Those are the four most prominent lessons I’ve learned over the last two years. What other lessons have you learned as a young professional that have been instrumental to your success?