Shiza Shahid, co-founder and ambassador of Malala Fund
Photograph by Neilson Barnard — Getty Images for Samsung
By Shiza Shahid
February 18, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is one piece of advice all millennials should take before entering the workforce? is written by Shiza Shahid, co-founder and ambassador of Malala Fund.

Use your early career to understand your talents and find your creative core. When I speak at colleges and universities, this is the most important advice I give to young people starting out in their careers. I encourage students to approach finding the source of their creative drive as their single greatest learning goal.

Here’s why. By the time you enter the workforce you will have spent at least 18 years of your life in the structure and discipline of school. Your days have been planned for you, with success defined narrowly through testing and the progression from grade to grade.

But when you enter the workforce, you will be given the freedom to finally create your own path. Too often I see young people focused solely on advancing their career as quickly as possible. They want to race up the “corporate ladder,” checking off each step as another accomplishment — just as they are taught to do in school. They choose an industry or firm, and push themselves to succeed within that company’s clearly defined structure. But in my opinion, to achieve true career fulfillment, you must spend your early career finding your purpose instead.

So, how do you find your purpose? Most people say it is about finding your passion, and there is some truth to this. But your passions are never constant; they evolve based on circumstances and newly acquired knowledge. Your creative strengths, however, are innate. Notice your patterns, habits and tastes. Write them down. Don’t view your interests as distractions from your career. See them as guidelines.

Finding your purpose requires a lot of self-reflection when you initially enter the workforce. You should not be focused on “climbing the ladder” but rather discovering what makes you unique. Ask your friends and those around you to observe your strengths and weaknesses. Do the same for them. Maybe even set up a life board. I have known for a majority of my life that my purpose was to empower young women. But in discovering this path, I had to focus on finding my creative core. So, spend your early days understanding what drives you, because realizing your purpose is the first step to a fulfilling career.

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