The Fortune 500 Insider Network is our newest online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York, has answered the question: Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self about career development?
I am fortunate in my career in so many ways. I come to work every day at Deutsch — a company I truly love — and as a leader, I have opportunities to shape it and keep it going strong. But I didn’t arrive here by chance. I’m not “lucky.” I got to where I am after years of hard work and lots of tough decisions.
When I think back on the challenges and opportunities I was faced with when I was starting out in my career, the answers are much clearer to me now, and there are many insights I have gained over the years that would have made those decisions so much easier if I knew what I do now. Of course, that process of learning and growing is what life is all about, but if I had three pieces of career advice for my younger self, this is what they would be:
Passion + personality = career path
Finding the best career path is no small feat. Choosing a career takes time and patience to figure out what suits you best. It’s about finding a path that stimulates your mind and soul, and it’s anything but easy. It takes experimentation to see what you’re truly talented at and time to understand who you truly are as a person. Ask yourself what excites you. What motivates you? What type of role do you see yourself having in the future — whether it’s creative, sales or leadership — and is your personality suited to that kind of role? What kind of experience or education can you get right now that will get you started on a path toward fulfilling all of these things? It’s not easy to distill all of these factors down into one clear answer, but it’s important to think about them in a holistic way early in your career path.
Frame your opportunities in the long term
When I was in college, I was faced with the decision to either take a well-paying, three-week job, or go on a study trip to the Soviet Union. Accepting the job seemed more practical in the short term since I needed to make money — not spend it — but I followed my heart and chose to go on the trip. To this day, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The trip was one of my first global experiences, and it gave me a huge amount of insight into other cultures and different ways of thinking that I still carry with me now. I also met lots of incredible people, some of whom I still keep in contact with today. Enriching yourself intellectually and culturally, especially early in your career, is invaluable. When given the choice between money and meaning, take meaning every time.
Be more assertive
When you’re the lowest man on the totem pole, speaking up can be intimidating. However, the sooner you get over that fear, the better. Don’t miss a chance to show your value and your passion in the workplace. Look for situations where you can contribute in meaningful ways, even if it means stepping outside of your role a bit. Showing that you’re the kind of person who takes initiative and isn’t afraid to speak up is more important than not stepping on anyone’s toes. Opportunities don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who go after what they want.
Read all responses to the Fortune 500 Insider question: Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self about career development?
Here’s what you can do now to have a more successful career by Frans Hijkoop, chief human resources officer at MetLife.