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Why passion may not be enough to build a successful career

February 10, 2015, 8:30 PM UTC
Courtesy of Sarah Leary

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 Sarah Leary, co-founder and vice president of marketing and operations at Nextdoor.

Inspiration comes from experience.

Many talented businessmen and women advise young people to follow their passions. However, I’ve seen that most are paralyzed by this open-ended advice because they don’t know what they are passionate about in the professional world. And this isn’t entirely their fault. They simply lack the real world experience and feedback to distinguish what they are truly passionate about — yet. In fact, the advice to follow your passion can often work against you as an inexpereienced young professional.

This is why I strongly encourage college students to pursue multiple internships while in school. It only takes a few months for many students to quickly realize what they do and don’t enjoy. The fastest way to discover your passion in the workplace is by exploring different types of industries and positions. Concrete work experience, even as an intern, is illuminating.

So, while you’re working to discover your passion, I believe it’s critical to dive all in and absorb as much as possible – even if it means taking a lower-paying job or a position in a remote location. Don’t be afraid to take the hard jobs, put in the long hours, and prioritize investing in yourself. The start of a career should be about developing tangible skills that will form the foundation of a life-long, valuable skillset and expand your career opportunities. The experience and feedback will help millennials discover what they really love to do – and equally as important, what they dislike doing – and how to use this knowledge to build a successful career.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What is one piece of advice all millennials should take before entering the workforce?

How to build a career, not just a job by Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Best lesson from your first job: discovering your weaknesses by Ann Marie Petach, Senior Managing Director of Solutions Group at BlackRock.

3 ways to get noticed at work by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

Can millennials revolutionize business? by Erica Dhawan, co-author of “Get Big Things Done” and CEO of Cotential.

Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez: My best career advice for millennials by Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girl Scouts of USA