Careers

The career advice I'd give my 22-year-old self

A rift in the space-time continuum allows "Star Trek" character Spock to counsel his younger self.
Source: Paramount Pictures
A rift in the space-time continuum allows "Star Trek" character Spock to counsel his younger self.

When you're young, you don't know anything, or at least you don't know much.

And that's OK.

Sometimes when you don't know what you don't know, it allows you to forge ahead on a path that might have scared you sideways if you'd known more.

That's how it was for me, as a blissfully ignorant 22-year-old starting my first journalism job just out of school. I've held several jobs since as a writer and editor, and now as a managing editor at CNBC Digital people frequently ask for my career advice.

If I could go back, here's what I would tell my younger self.

Get personal

In "The Godfather" business was just business. In real life, it's personal.
Silver Screen Collection | Hulton Archive | Getty Images
In "The Godfather" business was just business. In real life, it's personal.

You've probably heard the saying "it's not personal, it's business." Complete BS. A business is a group of people working together to sell things to other people. It's all about people, and building strong relationships is the only way to succeed.

I didn't understand that when I first started out. I was nice, of course, but I mostly kept my head down and tried to do a great job. What I didn't realize was that intentionally connecting with others actually helps you do even better work because you get better information, can leverage their networks, and have a wider perspective of your organization and industry. Bonus: It also means more people are more likely to know about all the great work you're doing.

So if I could go back, I'd tell myself not to skip the happy hours, to invite lots of people to coffee to ask them what they do, and to spend more time calling people up or stopping by their desks just to ask what's new. That's how the real work gets done.

Throw out your plan

You probably think you need to have every move mapped out, that careers are chess games won by careful plotting and strategy. I did at first, and I was terrified. My only experience playing chess was at age 8, when my grandfather explained the rules and then immediately tried to beat me (and succeeded).

I would tell my 22-year-old self: Relax. You can't possibly know what you want to do or what you're good at yet. Ask questions, pay attention, try things. When you're open to what could be, you'll notice a lot more of the opportunities that present themselves.

One of my favorite books of all time is "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff, which uses everyone's favorite teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh to illustrate the Eastern philosophy of Taoism. I would recommend a Taoist approach to career-building. Understand and embrace your innate talents, see where they take you, and if there's an obstacle in your way, don't fight it — go around it. In other words, be more like Pooh.

Just keep swimming

"Finding Nemo" character Dory has the right outlook: Keep moving forward.
Source: Disney
"Finding Nemo" character Dory has the right outlook: Keep moving forward.

Here's a secret: You might not know anything when you're young, but when you're older, you know only a little bit more. That's not very much! You'll never have all the answers. You have to just keep showing up every day and figure things out as you go.

While that might seem simple enough, showing up — physically, mentally and emotionally — for years and then decades is actually quite difficult. It's easy to coast, to get stressed out, to give up. It's hard to keep bringing your all every day and not let things get you down. But that's what it takes.

My dad likes to say, "Keep on keepin' on," and I had a mentor who loved the slogan, "Keep calm and carry on." But I think "Finding Nemo" star Dory might have said it best: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." Because even if we're not all blessed with short-term memory loss (wouldn't that be great sometimes?), there's only one direction to go in this life: Onward!