Our Thoughts

Lessons Learned: 5 Must-Dos to Jump Start Your Career

By: Jon Ludwig

“If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently and why?”

As a recent college graduate with a year of work under my belt, I often get this question from students who are eagerly beginning their careers.

Here are 5 key lessons I learned that helped me get my career started on a path to success:

#1: Do What Makes You Passionate

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” This is a powerful quote from one of the largest self-made billionaires, Oprah Winfrey.  So why is Oprah so adamant about being passionate? Here’s why:  

  1. Passion helps intensify focus. 
  2. It enables you to become creative and innovative. 
  3. Passion for work enhances the desire to pursue excellence. 
  4. You feel more satisfied and less stressed. 
  5. Working more does not become a ‘workload.’

Here is a common problem: You begin your career energized and then later you lose your initial passion. Things change, motivations alter, and values in life adjust as you grow older. A few tips that may overcome this obstacle are: Understand your impact, embrace the adventure, do not be afraid to take risks, and surround yourself by other passionate professionals. 

The toughest part about this process is to figure out what motivates YOU. Once you learn this, the money and the career will follow. You might be thinking, “How do I figure out what I am passionate about?” You can discover your passion through trial and errorby being curious and asking questions. 

#2: Be Curious & Ask Questions

How do I do this better? How did this person become so successful? What else is out there?  These are all examples of how a successful young professional can improve themselves through curiosity.


Curiosity has many benefits, especially when advancing in your career. Asking questions can unlock new information that may have not been previously available, which in turn may be able to be used to perform better at a task, overcome a roadblock, enter newer unchartered territories, etc.  

Walt Disney once said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths,” and he was totally right. If you fail to continue to ask questions, you’ve become paralyzed.  You can ask questions both internally by revisiting your personal values and goals, but also externally by seeking advice and information from other successful professionals, especially a mentor.

#3: Find a Mentor

One of the biggest pieces of advice I received when I started my first job is to learn from the success of others. The best way to do that is to find a mentor you can connect with. This does not have to be someone you personally know, but someone who you hope to become. You may think, “I do not have a mentor… How do I find one?”

Here are a few tips:  

  1. Look for a mentor internally in your workplace by observing whose work you admire most; 
  2. Connect with an old professor, employer, or someone else who may be interesting to connect within your specific fieldand ask them for career advice; 
  3. Use LinkedIn to expand your network. If you have a mutual connection, ask for an introduction to pick the brain of someone new;  
  4. If all else fails, there are formal career counseling services that can connect you with people in your field.

The key here is connecting. To have a proper mentorship, you should be building a relationship with someone to bounce ideas off each other.

#4: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is your safety net. Unfortunately, sometimes in order to advance in your career, you have to remove that safety net. Like the famous actor and business icon, Ashton Kutcher, once said, “I’m continually trying to make choices that put me against my own comfort zone. As long as you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re growing.” Let’s put a strong emphasis on the word GROWTH.  

By stepping out of your comfort zone you’ll be able to learn fast and fail faster. Why would I want to fail faster? If you’re not making mistakes and learning from them, you’re probably failing too slowly to make any real progress. Those individuals who are willing to fail faster in order to learn will ultimately sharpen their skills at a much more rapid rate. When you’re surrounded by the unfamiliar, you’re more likely to soak up new knowledge like a sponge and you’ll retain that information for far longer.  

Employers often look for professionals who step out of their comfort zones because they show willingness to adapt and go the extra mile. If you do this on a regular basis, you’ll be sure to get noticed and be put on track for a promotion. People with these qualities are well suited for lead or management roles.

#5: Continue Learning and Connect with Others

Professional organizations are great to meet new people and open your world to new opportunities. A good way to find organizations for your desired field can be found via Facebook groups or Linked In pages.  

Work-MentorsIf you want to become good at something, surround yourself by it. This can be done in various ways. A common practice, especially for young professionals beginning their careers, is to follow pages on Twitter and Instagram. These pages post new and trending topics on a regular basis to keep you current and knowledgeable. Magazines can also be a useful resource for when you’re lounging on the couch and want to flip through pages to feed your mind with popular information within your industry.  

An important way to expand your knowledge base is to obtain professional certifications. This immediately makes you appear more experienced and knowledgeable. If you do not have the time or do not have any applicable certifications associated with your specific industry, you can always further educate yourself via online classes on LinkedIn Learning or other free online courses.  

Commonly, the most successful individuals join various organizations and attend conferences. Typically, at these events, you will be able to connect with other individuals in similar same situations as you. This creates a great opportunity to build “peer groups”, which are a group of passionate individuals in the same field that meets on an occasional situation to discuss problems, breakthroughs, trends, best practices, new technologies, etc.   

With these 5 career tips, you will see yourself climbing the ladder in no time.

Connect with Jon on LinkedIn!