Every graduate who dons a cap and gown this month to walk across a stage and accept their college diploma believes they are one in a million. And they are. But perhaps not in quite the same way as they think.
This month, more than 1.6 million young people who make up the graduating class of 2016 will find themselves suddenly on the precipice of their work careers—entering a dramatically improved but still crowded, chaotic and volatile job market.
Particularly in the fields of marketing and communications, the perspectives and insights of young people are at a premium. But with the U.S. on track to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, there are more talented candidates for employers to choose from than ever.
So how can you set yourself apart in ways that not only distinguish you from other young job seekers, but also set you on the right track for a rewarding and meaningful career? Because the real trick is achieving both.
Those of you about to enter agency life will soon come to understand the risks and downsides of over-servicing. So the answer is not stretching yourself to the breaking point, working insane hours for little pay. Instead—for you and your future employer alike—I recommend following what I call “The Four Ps.”
These simple principles can profoundly guide not only your decisions, from large to day-to-day, but will also help ensure you are contributing in ways that are valuable, meaningful and focused.
The Four Ps are: Purpose, Path, Passion and Personal Boundaries. They have been the cornerstones of my career, and I have watched countless young employees make incredible contributions to their own careers and their companies when they applied them.
You need to see something bigger in the work that you do. If you don’t, you will lose interest, and everything you do will require greater effort. Don’t wait until you are in your 40s or 50s to look back and think, “What have I done that is meaningful? How have I used my gifts and talents to make a difference?” Instead, ask yourself those questions every day. Get involved in a non-profit organization and charity work early, and make a commitment to helping those who are less fortunate. It will make you better at what you do, and you will see the power of your talent in new and totally unexpected ways. Secondly, seek and see the bigger picture in the work you are asked to do at your job. You may have to dig to find it, but if you focus on the people and the lives that are touched by your work, a sense of purpose and focus will flow naturally from it.
You must choose, follow and measure your own path. Everybody’s is different. That’s why it is so important to avoid judging yours against somebody else’s. When you compare yourself to others, you limit yourself and fail to recognize your own potential. If you think you are doing better, you will probably start to coast a little bit. (And if you find yourself coasting, it’s a pretty good sign that you are going downhill.) If you compare and think you are doing worse, you easily overlook the small personal wins and leaps that accumulate into major success. Follow your own path, and measure your own progress.
If you have to constantly overthink ways to get excited about what you are doing, you probably aren’t in the right job. Passion is critical—but it is often totally misunderstood. True passion comes from within, and it comes from an ability to find and appreciate your role in things. Praise, recognition, compensation and compliments may help. But if you find yourself becoming dependent on them to feel good about what you are doing, that’s not passion. That’s ego. Self-absorption needs constant affirmation. Passion, on the other hand, does just the opposite—it allows you to become lost in the work, while remaining totally energized and focused. Tap into your passion and let it lead you to new ways of seeing and exceeding the challenges all around you.
There will always be one more thing you can do before leaving each night. One more call to take. One more email or text to respond to. I encourage you to find those things in your personal life that you are just as compelled to complete—and protect. It is easy, later in life, when you have a family, to see those responsibilities as a clear delineation. But what about before then? Assess your life for those things that are truly meaningful to you—and fight for their value. But fight for your own values as well. I have never met a truly great businessperson who does not have a deep and strong sense of integrity. Develop yours now.
Let me just say congratulations on getting to this point. This is great and the perfect time to celebrate what you have accomplished and what lies ahead. It is also an incredible opportunity to learn who you are, where you are going, what you believe and what you stand for. Achieving that understanding is every bit as important as any professional achievement—and often what makes success possible in the first place.
So spend a little time defining what The Four Ps mean to you. Trust me, if you convey passion, purpose and the grounded confidence of someone who knows what they want and value, you will truly stand apart. Not just in that important job interview, either—but over the course of your entire career.