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Listen to your gut — it could make you CEO one day

February 11, 2015, 7:10 PM UTC
Photograph by Asa Mathat

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 Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

My 9th grade geometry teacher once taught me, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. At the time, I assumed my career path would look the same. However, as much as we’d like to model our career like a neatly formulated math equation, the reality is that it rarely works out that way. Millennials, you’re faced with an increasingly complex, diverse, and uncharted landscape—navigating it wont be easy or simple, but preparing for it may require a skill often overlooked.

It doesn’t involve having all the answers, knowing the right people, or studying every detail of your industry. Although there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, in today’s incredibly multifaceted environment, they simply don’t outweigh the keen ability to listen to your gut.

Why? Let me explain. My first job was as an executive assistant at Time, Inc., a division of Time Warner at the time. It wasn’t my dream position—not by a long shot. But I had a good feeling about it in my gut so I decided to run with that—and I mean run. While other employees were just clock-punching their 9-to-5 away, I learned my boss’s schedule and made sure my smiling face was the first thing on her radar every morning, and the last blip on her screen before the office door shut behind her each night. I looked for opportunities to take on new responsibilities—whether it was by enthusiastically accepting a task she threw at me or by keeping an eye out for gaps and making it my duty to fill them.

Before long, my job description outweighed my title, and I was on my way up — I eventually became the Circulation Sales Manager at Time Magazine. Not only did I flourish in this position, but I also learned that I loved sales, I was good at sales, and I had a future in sales. Now, 25 years later as founder and CEO of Hint Water, I can look back and say without question that my initial role as an executive assistant was crucial in preparing me for my future.

I had no idea at the time how much of an impact that first role would play in launching my career, which is why it’s crucial to look at every step of your journey as an opportunity. When you walk into an interview, remember that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Check in with your gut Do you get a good feeling about the company? Do you feel a connection with your potential boss? What’s the voice in the back of your head telling you? Logic may tell you a certain company would be the best place for you because it has an excellent reputation—but that’s no guarantee that it has what you need to thrive.

All areas of your professional life will benefit from this practice. Whether it be hiring, collaborating, negotiating deals, opening a brick and mortar—every step you choose on your path helps determine your future. At the rate the world is changing now, you are going to be faced with decisions you never dreamed of at the outset. And with technological advances making information overwhelmingly available, every voice and perspective has a platform, and the critics are certainly not in short supply. But this is your life and your future; the only voice that won’t lead you astray is your own.

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

Why millennials have the power to change the workplace — for good by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

Why passion may not be enough to build a successful career by Sarah Leary, co-founder and vice president of marketing and operations at Nextdoor.

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.