Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez: My best career advice for millennials

February 4, 2015, 5:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Anna Maria Chavez

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business 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 Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of USA.

Today’s young workers face some of the most exciting opportunities and complex challenges that have ever confronted any generation. On the one hand, millennials will be the best educated, best prepared, and most technologically advanced group of workers our nation has ever produced. They stand on the precipice of unlimited opportunities as the forces of globalization and technology have made our world faster, smaller, smarter, and more engaging than ever before. In today’s fast-paced environment, if you can dream it, you really can do it, and there are willing partners located in every corner of the globe who stand ready to help you achieve your dreams.

However, the same forces of globalization that create an international marketplace of ideas and cross-cultural partnerships have also taken competition to new heights. Today’s college students aren’t just competing with the student next to them; they are competing with students in China, India, South America, Europe, and throughout the world who are every bit as eager to take advantage of the opportunities the 21st century will offer. With more and more workers competing for a smaller piece of the pie, millennials face a professional world that is more unforgiving and challenging than any other time in history.

I have learned so many lessons about leadership throughout my career in both the public and private sectors. But if I had one piece of advice for millennials about to enter this highly competitive new world it would be this: be patient and persistent. As the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, I remind young women often that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This is an important lesson I think everyone should understand when they are just starting out in their professional lives. You may not find your perfect career path immediately, but if you follow your passions and persevere, your chances of landing somewhere exciting and fulfilling are so much greater.

My previous jobs working in both federal and local government taught me the value of patience and the reality that you must foster good ideas, heed advice, solicit feedback, and understand that cultivating change takes time. This has been just as true at Girl Scouts — leading an iconic organization takes vision, courage, and a lot of help from people with different points of view. But above all, it takes patience and persistence.

There’s a tendency for young people to get discouraged and frustrated easily. But don’t be afraid to fail. In many ways, we learn so much more from our failures than our successes. Remind yourself that failure is nothing more than a means to a greater end. Bide your time, learn from your mistakes, and lead by example. If you believe in what you’re doing, it will show.

It may be that the days of holding a single job for 30 or 40 years are behind us. Millennials will need to be far more flexible than previous generations; but the opportunities they have to change their world forever are equally unrivaled in history. Patience and a willingness to cultivate partnerships, and work with others will be vital as they navigate this exciting, challenging new world.

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