The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What should every 20-something do to set themselves up for success? is written by Lisa Lambert, vice president of Intel Capital.
As someone who began my career as a software developer, but ended up as a venture capitalist, I would offer the following advice to young women:
Have a plan but be prepared to change it
Your plan will put you on a path of discovery, and what you uncover will either validate your plan or challenge you to change course. Case in point: I thought I would be a software engineer for my entire career. Although I enjoyed writing code, I realized after several years on the job that I didn’t want to do it forever. So, I raised my hand for a new assignment, which pointed me in the direction of business school. There I found that what I truly enjoyed was the business of technology. I wanted to work for a technology company in a general management role: making decisions, owning decisions, and watching them play out. The path to self-discovery was more important than sticking to my original plan; I’m happier and more successful because I allowed myself the journey.
Anticipate obstacles but focus on the long-term
Your career is going to last anywhere from 40 to 50 years, so don’t expect to be at the top of your game after the first five. You’re going to hit some rough patches, and when you do, keep going. There may be times in your life when you feel you’re making more progress outside of work (marriage, a baby, etc.) and that’s okay; zigs and zags are expected. I joined Intel as a product-marketing engineer, despite my aspirations to be in general management. Instead of feeling discouraged, I used the opportunity to strengthen my technical skills and expand my network. This position ultimately led to me to my dream job within Intel Capital. What could have been a setback actually helped land me right where I needed to be.
Build a community of colleagues along the way
Don’t wait until you need a new job to start making connections. From day one, build a network of professionals whose work you admire and opinions you respect. Ask for honest feedback – it will broaden your perspective and make you more valuable. Your career journey shouldn’t be a solo mission. Find fellow-travelers, make yourself known, and nurture these relationships. Your next job will likely come from this community.
Have inward and outward conviction
Don’t forget why you started this journey; and don’t forget the conviction you developed in pursuit of your goals. Conviction will give you confidence even when you’re operating outside of your comfort zone and give you the courage to speak up, demonstrate your knowledge, and get noticed. But expect to be challenged; people are going to have opinions about every decision you make. Practice, prepare, and learn your craft — then have the conviction to stand up and be counted.