I feel very fortunate to own my very own, personal gold mine. Now, I don’t mean that literally (though I wouldn’t mind jumping off a diving board into vault full of gold coins and cash like Uncle Scrooge), but I do feel like I’ve accumulated key pieces of advice that have truly been as good as gold to me. So I wanted to share with you all five nuggets of gold that have been given to me over the past few years.
1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Unknown
During my third year as an undergrad at UW Madison (nobody is cooler than Bucky Badger!), an advisor of mine – that I had built a good relationship with – asked me why I wanted to go to law school. This had been my plan ever since I came in as a freshman, but I realized in that moment that no one had ever asked me that question before, including myself.
I didn’t have a good answer.
I left that meeting feeling very embarrassed, confused, and even angry that my advisor threw this huge wrench in my career plans.
A few weeks later, I met with her to say how upset I was after our last meeting. She explained that it became apparent to her that I had been talking about law school for a few years, but never mentioned what drew me towards that goal or how it connected to my passions. She challenged me to really think about what I was most passionate about and if law school was the route I wanted to take.
After chatting for over an hour, it became clear to me that it was not. I remember telling her how lost I felt and how I didn’t know what my next step should be and where it might lead. That is when she told me to not be afraid of the unknown.
Those words have stuck with me ever since that day. They are the reason I decided to take a leap and go to Benin, where I had a transformative experience teaching English, riding on scary moped taxis, and walking along La Route Des Esclaves where millions of slaves were chained and marched towards the Atlantic.
Whether it’s fear of going to an event alone or figuring out what it means to network, we must not let fear get in the way of action.
2. Be a Critical Thinker
Working in the nonprofit sector, statistics are often thrown at us. When will we take the time to dive deeper into the data as opposed to just accepting what we are told?
I grew up “knowing” that there are more Black men in prison than in college. Have you heard this one before? Well as it turns out, it is absolutely not true today and most likely was never true to begin with. This is one of many myths that scholars, such as Dr. Ivory Toldson, have debunked over the recent years, and it is a great example of why it’s important to be a critical thinker. I took something that I heard and implanted it in my mind as an unfortunate fact without taking the time and effort to think critically about where it came from and who would benefit from perpetuating this malignant and false statistic.
In college, we were all asked to be those critical thinkers on a daily basis. It’s important for us as young professionals to hold onto that mindset as we are working in the nonprofit sector. I’m not saying you should doubt everything you hear and read, but we do need to be cautious of what we take as fact solely because someone smart said it.
3. Don’t Self-select Yourself Out
Too often, young professionals decide to self-select themselves out of potential opportunities. I was guilty of this about a year ago when I was considering nominating myself to join the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. While I was initially excited about this incredible opportunity, I began to wonder if my personal and professional experiences were sufficient for my nomination to be taken seriously.
I actually doubted myself so much that I decided not to continue with my nomination. Luckily, a dear friend and colleague gave me a pep talk and told me to never self-select myself out of anything. A year later, I am currently sitting on MCN’s board feeling so grateful to have had someone encourage me to try.
This can be a very real challenge for many young professionals. Whether you’re on the job hunt, or looking for new and unique opportunities to grow, it’s important to not sell yourself short. And once you’ve arrived at your desired goal, know that you belong there and try your best to not suffer from imposter syndrome.
4. “Go Home, Jarell”
Work-life balance is something that many of us struggle with and can be really challenging to do right consistently. Every once in a while, we need that person to tell you that it’s ok to go home. For me, “Go home, Jarell” was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.
There are obviously times when you need to work later than planned, but it’s important to have a good understanding of yourself and what you need to do to follow through with your responsibly while still maintaining your health and sanity. Sometimes, it may be as simple as going home.
5. Practice Empathy With Every Interaction
There is no better way to build and maintain relationships than to intentionally practice empathy every single day. Actually listening to someone while refraining from judgement can be difficult, but it’s the key truly connecting with someone. While it takes practice and patience, I can guarantee that it will have a major impact on your relationship with your employees, peers, colleagues, and everyone you work with. Here is an entertaining visual on empathy and how it’s very different from sympathy.
Those are five gold nuggets of advice that have been offered to me over the past few years. What is the greatest advice you’ve ever received?