What a successful young professional looks like in 2018

For decades, even centuries, we have striven for success. But as our society has changed, so has our definition of success. Even in the middle of the 20th century, “making it” professionally meant having a high-paying job and being a homeowner. However, in the last few decades we’ve sought personal fulfillment to a much greater degree, and as millennials we’re known for valuing flexibility in the workplace and employers who encourage our professional development.

So, how does that translate to being a young professional in today’s workplace? Specifically, what does it mean to be a successful young professional in 2018?

Traits of successful people

Regardless a person’s age, there are some habits, beliefs, and mindsets of successful people that are consistent across the board. These are four of the most common traits that successful people and young professionals have.

1. Growth-oriented

Most successful people and high achievers have a growth mindset, meaning that as people they believe they can fundamentally grow, change, and evolve over the course of their life. Their skills and abilities are not limited and defined based on who they are now, or who they were when they were born. This mindset paves the way for a person to be more successful because they feel empowered in their own life.

If you’re just keeping your head down at work, just doing your tasks and not engaging, this becomes habitual and you stop learning as much as you can be. Someone who is growth-oriented will be more likely to seek out new opportunities like picking up a new hobby, finding fulfilment in extracurriculars, participating in professional development organizations, or volunteering. By focusing on the immediate (the tasks at your job) and the periphery (how you can expand your skill set), you’ll show that you’re a dedicated, engaged employee.

2. Seek like-minded community

People who are successful rarely operate in a vacuum. When I interned with American Family Insurance, I noticed that many young professionals who were successful with the company attended networking events, volunteered, and surrounded themselves with like-minded, positive colleagues. Not only did being surrounded by this community give them the emotional support to keep moving forward, but they were inspired by the new ideas and perspectives that their colleagues offered.

3. Self-aware

Because we all make mistakes, it’s important that we learn from our errors in judgment or execution to be successful in the long term. Being self-aware is the first step to recognizing when we make mistakes, and it basically means that we’re conscious of our own character traits, feelings, motivations, and desires. It is the starting point for compassion, honest communication, and humble leadership.

Without self-awareness, we’ll keep making the same decisions over and over again, and we won’t be as tuned into our strengths and our weaknesses. For this reason, it’s important for us as young professionals to cultivate self-awareness. Though it may not be an instinctive habit, like anything, it gets easier with practice.

4. Confident

In today’s multigenerational workforce, millennial and Gen Z employees bring important, necessary, and unique skills sets to the workplace (like being comfortable with new tech), and it’s important that we feel comfortable sharing those skills with our team members and questioning outmoded ways of doing things, when necessary. Confidence is a common trait of successful people, because it encourages people to be more ambitious and be less indecisive, and gives them the courage and vision to try again even after they may fail.

One note: Don’t confuse confidence and arrogance. Confident people are comfortable with vulnerability and know where they excel and where they don’t, so they often still ask for guidance and advice and are respectful of their peers and colleagues.

For example, we encourage respectfully having a dialogue with a senior consultant about new trends you’ve seen in the industry, and it’s okay to pull out your phone and research a question they have or to verify an opinion they’ve shared. But confident people celebrate the successes of others and of their teams, so belaboring the point until your colleague finally admits you’re right is not okay.



Ways to become more successful

Because we are constantly growing and evolving, it’s possible for us to become more successful by becoming more self-aware, more confident, and more growth-oriented. Here are a few concrete ways for anyone to cultivate these traits of the successful young professional in 2018.

1. Get involved.

Finding organizations where you can get involved serves two purposes. First, you begin to develop a community of like-minded people who can help you find emotional support but can also help open doors for you. Second, you’ll be learning new things, gaining broader, more diverse experiences, which will make you more well-rounded in your job and workplace.

You can get involved in a number of ways, whether that’s attending social and networking events with the local chamber of commerce, participating in a group for young professionals, volunteering with a local nonprofit, or even starting a group on Meetup. The only thing limiting you is your creativity.

2. Find ways to keep learning.

While you’ll have new experiences and can learn a lot simply from getting involved with other organizations, there are other ways you can keep learning, too. Podcasts, blogs, and business publications are a great way to keep an eye on industry news, but they’re also a great way to learn things that challenge and inspire you. For example, in the May 2018 issue of In Business magazine, the author talks about the repeal of net neutrality regulations. This article explains what is happening and challenges readers not only to identify what this regulation change means in their lives but also to ensure they don’t overreact.

Blogs are another place that provide unique opportunities for growth. There are thousands of blogs out there devoted to expressing unique perspectives. Incorporating those other perspectives with your own is a wonderful avenue for continuous learning. For many blogs, you can subscribe to their weekly or monthly newsletter to receive the latest or most relevant updates. Don’t feel like you need to subscribe to every publication, blog, and podcast available (frankly, it’s impossible), but even having two or three regular subscriptions will keep you more informed about your industry or learning more about other people’s perspectives on life.

3. Keep an open mind.

Another thing that most successful young professionals do is keep an open mind. Not only does an open mind make you more open to accepting criticism gracefully and being open to learning new ways of doing things, it also makes you more likely to pursue new opportunities.

Similar to a growth mindset, having an open mind means you probably have some humility and that you can be flexible. Truly being open minded can be challenging, but stepping outside your comfort zone, talking to a neutral party, and practicing mindfulness can all help you develop long-term patterns of openness.

4. Figure out who you are.

After college, many of us go right into the workforce and learn about ourselves in our first job or two, but that’s not the path for everyone. Internships, travel (especially internationally), extra schooling, and starting a business can all help you uncover who you are and what your life path is. Taking the time to learn who you are as an adult, a young citizen of the world, and not just as a student will help give you better self-awareness than just staying comfortably in your own little niche, and it will make you a more effective employee, business leader, or consultant. Like many businesses, those are the people we like to hire to join our team, and those are the people who end up changing the world.

Jonathan Taylor, MBA, is the business manager for CrossGen Solutions, a business transformation consulting firm in Madison.

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