5 Career Tips I Wish I Knew at 21

When I get up and get ready to go to work, I do a lot of usual and a bit of what might be considered unusual things. Like most people, as part of my morning ritual, I press snooze (repeatedly), take a shower, eat breakfast, dress nicely, and (most importantly) sip a cup of coffee. 

As I drink that warm caffeinated elixir, I like to savor the flavor as it slowly (and surely) wakes me up mentally. This is the time when I like to reflect on different parts of my life. It's in no particular order. Whatever comes to my mind is what gets pondered. Sometimes I think about my experiences growing up. In the mix are my childhood, the friends I've made, my accomplishments, things I've been blessed to have, and my career so far. 

As of right now, I can say I've done well in my career. I have a fulfilling role as an educator.  I teach high school English. I'm a role model. I've had hundreds of students over the years. Some are off in college, some aren't. All have left my classroom better than they were when they first walked in. It's a huge responsibility, especially knowing the impact of having (and not having) an education impacts people's entire lives. This is a career I feel blessed to be in.

When I first graduated college, I never thought that I'd have this as my career. I didn't really know what I was going to get myself into. That phase of my life was definitely a struggle. If I could somehow tell my 21 year old self the most important career advice I know now, here is what I'd say:

Uncertainty is Perfectly Okay

No one can predict the future, no one. There is no way to know absolutely everything about what is going to happen in your career or life. There will be times where you feel lost. That's perfectly normal. Being "lost" will give you the space to explore what you like, don't like, and unlock your passions. 

You'll want guidance and direction. It's okay to reach out for it. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign that you want to grow and want to learn from others' experiences.  Even other people don't have all the answers, and that's perfectly fine.

Mistakes Don't Define You; They're Learning Experiences 

Like death and taxes, mistakes are inevitable. Everyone makes them.  What really matters is how you react to them.  Do you see them as a sign to give up? Or do you see it as a sign that something isn't working, so something needs to be adjusted. 

Anytime you try something new, you're bound to make some sort of mistake.  That's okay. What you will learn through experience is minimizing the amount of mistakes you make and dealing with their consequences (hopefully it's not bad at all).

Sometimes making a mistake is painful.  You might've hurt someone you care about.  You let yourself down.  It's not easy.  Getting over it is a process that helps you mature and grow. Owning your mistakes is powerful, so is owning your success.

You Make Your Day; Not the Other Way Around

It might take you some time to realize it, but you are in charge of your life.  I know it may be hard to fully see it, especially because you've had to follow rules and directions from others your whole life. This is one of the most empowering thoughts you've ever been told: you are ultimately in charge of your own life. Your thoughts control your actions.  Your actions affect how life reacts to you. Your family, friends, career, and lifestyle are all directly influenced by your thoughts and actions.  

You get to choose your attitude.  You can choose to be positive or a pessimist.  You can choose to be happy or act with grumpiness.  You may not be able to choose what happens in your life, but you can choose how you react to it.  Act and react with optimism, grace, and manners.  People like being around people who uplift them and are a positive impact on their lives.  

Free Time Can Be More Valuable Than Money

There are two main reasons why many people choose a career: passion and money.  People usually want to be in a career where they can utilize their passion. People also want to make money.  It pays the bills.  Money isn't everything, but it affects your lifestyle. At the beginning of people's careers, people usually don't care about free time, but later on, most of them do.

When people say time is money, they mean it.  Your time at work is valuable, and that's why you get paid to be there.  Your time outside of work is valuable too.  It's YOUR time.  It's your time to rest, relax, and do whatever you need to do.  Free time also gives you the opportunity to do fun things that add happiness into your life.

(By the way, many people become entrepreneurs to give themselves more freedom in their careers. If you're interested, check out Kabbage.com. Kabbage provides small business loans and pride themselves on helping entrepreneurs be productive.)

There is No Work/Life Balance; It's All Life

Achieving and maintaining a work/life balance is a struggle for many adults.  People want to be able to have both a work life and a home life. The truth is, your life can't be separated that way.  There will be times where you are at home and other times at work (sometimes you're at both at the same time).  They both affect each other.  Sometimes they overlap into one another's territory.  Trying to split your life into two or attempting to split your identity between two areas is an idea that is doomed to fail.  

Your life encompasses both home and work.  It's about being flexible and balancing responsibilities from both areas.
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In hindsight, all this seems to be common sense, but they're all things that I knew, but didn't fully understand until I got older. I know that I can't change my past, but really, I wouldn't change my experiences for anything else.  Everything in my career path (experiences, lessons, and mistakes) led me to who I am now and where I am currently in my career. My wish is that my experiences help others out there who are at the beginning stages of their career.

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