This year I sat on a panel of young professionals that were asked to give our best pieces of advice to our summer interns. Daunted by the task of giving any young, ambitious college co-ed advice (and honestly, trying to make my best boss lady impression) I asked myself, “what’s one thing that I wish someone had told me at their age?”
Turns out it was simple: life is not a pie.
Now don’t get me wrong, pie is delicious and it serves a purpose, especially when it’s à la mode, but it truly should have no place in your career. To put it simply, just because someone gets something does not mean that there is less for you to have. There is room for us to support one another and lift each other up as we build our empires. If life is a pie, then that means there is a finite amount of opportunity to grow, and that could not be farther from the truth. We are often bred in corporate environments to compete and to strive for more and better. I personally have no problem with either of those things; I enjoy competition and trying to find the best new way to improve myself, as long as I keep that simple rule in mind: life is not a pie.
I don’t mean this as just some lofty mantra that helps you grin and bear it through the rough parts of the week; it has practical and tangible effects on your career:
You will have a stronger, more loyal team
Let’s be honest, we all have a favorite manager. They may not be ours, but we know who they are. They are the leaders who make you feel like they are in the trenches with you. The people who you are willing to stay a little bit later for, because you know at the end of the day that they have your back. Those managers understand that they will do what it takes to nurture and develop you; to get you where you need to be. In return, we dedicate ourselves to the work, and we try our best to prove them right about how great we are and we cherish their feedback. Maybe not always in the moment, but eventually. That type of leader is fostering an environment where there is not a finite amount of opportunity that needs to be competed for. Instead, it is a constructive place where you can fail fast, learn from your mistakes, and continue to get ahead. I mean, I want to work for that person! Strike that, I want to be that person.
I celebrate my team and my colleagues on their victories. I make my own path, not by waiting for someone else to give me an opportunity, but by identifying a need and making one up for myself.
You will prove you are a positive leader with your mind on company growth
We need to remember that we have an opportunity as young professionals to dictate the culture that we work in. This is an opportunity to take ownership not only of our careers, but the products that we produce, and to instill a sense of pride in that work amongst our teams. By inspiring the people around us to continue to find ways to grow and proving that their successes will be celebrated rather than envied, we can foster a commitment to work that we are doing. As we each achieve things, it will only make the work better. By opening doors for the people around us, listening to their ideas, and providing them with the support that they need in order to achieve more, we create new opportunities for ourselves as well.
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You will never forget about your own shine
I want to be very clear that what I am not saying here is that you should stop fighting for yourself and what you want. On the contrary, you should use that precious, rowdy, take-no-prisoners voice of yours at every opportunity you get. You are bright and bold, and at the end of the day, you are the only person who can ensure that everyone else around you sees that as well. Acknowledge those bright and bold things in the people that surround you, and know that even if someone else is burning brightly, your own shine can never be diminished.
It is inevitable that there will be days when that thing you have been working for – a promotion, a new project, a pat on the back – will go to someone else. The best leaders recognize this as an opportunity. It is a chance to create something new for yourself. Sometimes that will mean talking to your mentor to see if you can identify new goals, or collaborating with a teammate to take on a different project. Other times it will mean you need to venture out into something new. What will make you great is when you can recognize that setbacks have not limited the amount that you can accomplish. Your limits cannot be dictated by what other people achieve.
This, in my experience, is how we make real change in our workplaces; this is how we end those disturbing patriarchal stereotypes of how women work together and what they can achieve. We lift each other up and lead by this example, because supporting other people is not a weakness — it is a strength. I am a Black woman who works for a large corporate tech company, so trust me when I say that very often life feels like a pie. When I feel that way, I remind myself that I am not small, and the scope of what I am capable of cannot be confined by someone else’s tacky pie tin — and neither can yours!
So, I celebrate my team and my colleagues on their victories. I make my own path, not by waiting for someone else to give me an opportunity, but by identifying a need and making one up for myself. I find my support system; I prioritize ensuring that those around me receive the exposure and resources that they need; and I know that there is so much to go around — because life is not a … well, you get it. I prefer ice cream anyway.