I have been fortunate to work with a variety of companies over the past 25 years. Some of the most important lessons I learned throughout my career were gained very early on and have served me well over the years. Three lessons that have been particularly useful are: doing what you love, taking unexpected career turns, and working with non-profit organizations.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE. I earned my undergraduate degree in foods and nutrition because I was fascinated by food as a science and as an art. I discovered that food as an art form was my true interest because it allowed me to create new products and find creative ways to market them. This influenced my job seeking from the very start. Instead of pursuing research, Ipursued marketing. This taught me that finding work in the right aspect of what you love is critical. It makes all the difference as to whether you have a job or a career.
TAKE THE UNEXPECTED CAREER TURNS. I spent a good part of my senior year in college sending letters to a variety of food companies looking for marketing positions. Many didn’t respond or, if so, sent polite declines. A few indicated that I would benefit from a more business- versus science-oriented background. However, one responder said I should contact a national public relations agency that specialized in food. I didn’t know much about public relations, but I sent the agency a letter and interviewed for the position over the phone. I got an entry-level position at that agency based on the call.
Though I didn’t have any formal public relations training, it turned out to be a terrific first step in my career. I learned to write, develop business plans, think creatively, sell my ideas, and speak confidently in front of groups. I did go back and get my master’s degree five years after college, but it was that first unexpected step that started my career.
GET INVOLVED IN NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. Motivating people who don’t work for you is completely different from managing direct reports. I became a much stronger manager and leader through my not-for-profit experiences. I learned to be a better listener, clearer communicator, and more inspiring motivator. These skills also proved to be invaluable in today’s matrix organizations whereone frequently works with others without a direct reporting relationship.