Career Advice for My Younger Self

Two interesting things have happened to me in the past week.

First, I was asked the question, "What advice would you give your younger self?" Second, I attended my high school reunion.

Needless to say, both moments made me think about the past and the advice I would give a young person today.

First and foremost, I'd tell myself – and any other young person listening – to focus on your strengths. As you grow up, people will strongly emphasize the importance of being well rounded and equally good at everything. As a result, we spend so much time trying to better the skills we struggle with. However, it's the things we're good at that make us special. You will go much farther if you pour your time into an area where you excel instead of stumbling around in an area at which you're not so great. Worry less about your weaknesses; celebrate your gifts instead.

Second, I'd say you should listen to your gut. People with good intentions will try to guide you along the way. They may be parents, teachers, or friends. Some of their advice may be helpful, but some may not be. It's your job to sort the good from the bad.

Do a gut check with yourself before you make big decisions. Remember: Most people are best at giving advice for one specific area. Seek out mentors to help with specific decisions rather than all areas of your life. If you begin to head down a path that doesn't feel right, take a step back and reassess.

Similarly, if you're on a path that you are sure about and are receiving negative feedback from those who may not be in a place to advise you, take your time before switching paths. When I made the decision to move from Oklahoma to upstate New York to study engineering, I received some negative feedback, but I'm glad I stayed focused on my mission. It was the best choice I could have made.

Lastly, know that your path may not be straight – and that's okay. Today, it's common for professionals to change their career paths many times over the course of their lives. There's a good chance you will change roles, industries, or fields more than once. Each change will take you closer and closer to your ultimate destination.

Be prepared for these changes. They're not failures. Don't dwell too long if something isn't working. Adjust your path and continue to move forward in a new direction. That's where you will find your success.

One of the most important elements of finding your way is staying informed and prepared for change. It's not always possible to predict what will happen next, but change itself is inventible. Being nimble, aware of your strengths, and willing to listen to your intuition will take you far.

This is the advice I'd give to the younger me, and in today's ever-changing job market, it's the advice I'd give the young people of today, too.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.