Career Advice I’d Give My 20-Year-Old Self

I don’t have a time machine, but if I did, here is the career advice I would go back in time and tell 20-year-old Emma. Many of the things I’m about to talk about are things I also look for when I’m interviewing for new positions at our companies. So they don’t just apply to 20-year-olds either.

Be Passionate.

It’s easy to be passionate when you get to work at your dream job, but what about all the other jobs on the way there? I would recommend being passionate at those jobs too. And if you can help it, just be passionate about life! The word “passionate” can have a few different definitions, so more specifically you should aim to be an excited and enthusiastic person at work (and again, generally, if you can). And here’s the good news—you are 100% in control of your attitude. You might not yet have that dream job you want, but you do have control over how passionately you live. Because here’s the thing—if you are excited and enthusiastic at work you are probably WAY more fun to work with than someone who doesn’t care or gives off the vibe that they are just there for the paycheck. You will probably have more fun at work if you are passionate and I promise anyone who has to work around you will prefer a passionate, enthusiastic person over the alternative. Plus, you can learn skills. I can teach almost anyone new skills they might lack for a job. But what I cannot teach is how to be passionate, and that’s because your attitude is entirely up to you, not your boss or manager.

If you want to stand out at an interview (especially one where you might be slightly under qualified), be passionate. If you want to be a joy to work with, be excited to be there. If you want to learn and get everything you can out of your current job, whether you love it or not, be enthusiastic. This doesn’t mean you have to show up to work yelling about how happy you are to learn Excel that day. Your outward expression of being passionate about work/life is going to look unique to you. It’s all about your inner attitude.

Stay Curious.

The goal here is to never stop learning; learning about your role, the company, how things work, how they could be better, and so on. Curious people are the ones who innovate. Curiosity also shows that you actually care about what you do. It’s good to do your job exactly as you were trained to. That’s good. But you know what’s great? Learning how to do your job better than you were trained to. And that’s not possible unless you stay curious and engaged with your work. It might be as simple and learning to get stubborn stains out of a client’s laundry (I used to clean houses as a job years ago) or you might figure out a way to save the big business you work at thousands of dollars a year. (And if you do, at your next evaluation I would certainly bring it up and ask for a raise.)

I totally get that not every job is as interesting as others, but there is almost always something new to learn. This pushes us to grow. This can help us stand out from our peers at work. And if you own a small business like me, then you know that you HAVE to accept the fact that things will change every single year and if you don’t change too, eventually your business may struggle or even die. Curiosity is key to growth and it’s a good mindset habit to cultivate at any age.

Broaden Your Interests.

I think this piece of advice is especially important for those who are just starting out in their careers or even if they aren’t totally sure what they want to do yet. If you are looking to start a business, I do think getting specific in a niche can help. But if you are just trying to figure out what to do or what you might be good at or enjoy, then I would cast a wide net! I think I started off in my career being way too specific in what I wanted to do (you can read more about that here). A better approach would have been to try a lot of different things. Pay attention to the types of environments you work well in (Do you like to work on a team or independently?). Pay attention to what motivates you to achieve more (Do you like teamwork or do you like to compete with others or yourself?). Eventually finding a job that you enjoy as well as pays your bills (which to me is the very definition of a dream job) might be a long road. It might have a lot of twists and turns. Try to accept these are part of the learning process and the journey. If you are too specific in what you think your dream job should be, you might miss out on something even better! xo. Emma

P.S. You can also read more about What I Learned From My First Jobs or How to Be Decisive!

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo: Janae Hardy.
  • Loved this article. The last section hit me because I’m at an age (23) where I’ve been too harsh on myself for something so specific since I was 15 and now I’m burnt from it. It’s not my dream job and unfortunately people in the Industry I work in are more concerned about each other than the reason we’re there. It’s just become a toxic area of work and now I feel even worse.

    But now I’m hitting a point where I need to be pushing myself and broaden my interests. I just need to figure out where and this read was a tiny push. Thank you <3

  • If you are given an assignment that really should go to someone else do not say “that’s not my job” but instead say “it would not be appropriate for me to do this”. Do not be afraid to ask questions, be honest on your resume. Do not accept responsibility that is not yours but be a full member of the team willing to accept the responsibility for new tasks if appropriate. Dress well, yes when interviewing to hire appearance was part of the package I evaluated candidates on. Remember interviewing requires skill, apply for jobs you don’t want, jobs you will never get. Interviews nourishe your interview savvy, then when the right one comes along you are a practiced interviewee. There were over 100 candidates applying for each of my last two jobs, 12 and 21 years respectively.

  • This was was so inspirational, Emma! I loved that you owned and embraced those changes. I guess I would have told my younger self to drown out all the voices in my head of self-doubt. You can waste a lot of time on self-doubt. This really resonated with me 🙂

    – Laurali Star

  • These are great tips, Emma! It’s not always easy to stay interested and curious in certain jobs, but it’s definitely the only way to grow and stay motivated.

    Dee ~ Vanilla Papers

  • I love these Life posts most of all.
    And another gorgeous photo. Is this America’s Next Top Model?

    • Wow, you just really lifted my spirits today. 🙂

      Glad you like the life posts. They are pretty random but feels nice to share personal stuff now and again (along with our favs: crafts, decor, recipes, etc.)

      • just wanted to second that I also love these posts, Emma! thanks for sharing your insights into the biz stuff, keep doing it!

  • I have a very different POV, maybe because of being even older. I was all those things–passionate, curious, eager to try out new things. While it was good for me, it wasn’t always good for my career. I worked too much and picked up slack left by others because I was so passionate. I wish I had been more laid-back, less Type A. However, I wish I had also been more assertive about setting limits, refusing to do extra work, negotiating raises. I would tell my 20-year-old self to be less modest, to take credit for successes because otherwise someone else will. My bosses liked having someone who, when they said jump, would jump higher than they could imagine and who would do it simply out of passion, without expecting a raise or promotion, just an attagirl. I would tell my 20-year-old self, you are worth more than attagirls.

    • I agree. I wish I’d been more assertive but I think my first piece of advice would be take care of yourself First. I’m now retired and our generation of boomers was raised to be nose-to-the-grindstone and we will be rewarded. Not true.

    • Excellent advice Taste of France. I am older and wiser too, and I agree that being “passionate” and being eager to please have a bit too much overlap. It is far too easy to focus on getting that positive feedback “Atta Girl” and then overlook other opportunities that might accelerate your career, or at least move it in a direction that is optimal for you.

  • Things I wish I knew at 20 years old too! Great post! ❤️✨

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

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