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As an undergraduate, you have a world of possibilities ahead of you. You may think you know exactly where you’re going and what you want to be, but at any moment life could get in the way and turn you in a completely different direction.
With the benefit of hindsight, here’s what Donna Cooper, La Trobe alumna and founder of Seed Value, would tell her undergraduate self.
Dear Undergraduate Donna,
I’ve got some bad news for you. When you graduate in 1992, it will be just in time for the recession we had to have.
You’ll be fresh out of your degree when they start closing schools, and you’ll be tempted to think that the whole thing was a waste of time. But it’s not. When you enter the workforce, you’ll realise how valuable all that knowledge is.
In fact, take my advice and start keeping a Journal of Wisdom now. Because that box of text books and lecture notes you dutifully pack away at the end of every semester isn’t going to be around in 15 years, and all that valuable knowledge will no longer be available to you.
Never stop persevering
You’re probably wondering what happens after university.
Well, you’ll decide that if you can’t follow your initial dream of becoming a teacher, then you’ll go and work for the biggest company you can find. One that is international and has a good reputation for looking after its people.
KPMG shows its appeal, so you’ll take a role as a general administration assistant. Within six months you’ll be promoted to executive assistant to one of the partners.
This is when you will realise you are passionate and motivated to pursue a career in IT consulting, but also that you’ll need another degree if you want to succeed in this field.
Continue to invest in yourself, Younger Donna, and complete that Bachelor of Business degree even if it will take you eight years part-time, while working full-time. Despite all the mayhem and challenges, it will be a fulfilling experience.
Set achievable goals
People who say, ‘My 10-year goal is…’ or, ‘My ultimate goal is…’ are kidding themselves, because you can’t control things that far ahead.
So learn to start setting annual goals. They don’t always have to be career related. Success is a wholesome accomplishment that brings you intrinsic reward to make you a better person year on year.
One year you set a goal to achieve a black belt in karate, the next year it will be to make manager, and another year it will be to start a family. One day soon, it will be your goal to travel and spend a ski season in Whistler, Canada.
You’ll love it, and you’re going to want to stay in Canada for a while at the end of the season, and maybe try out a few different careers there. Do it.
I gave in to the pressure to go back and pick up my ‘real’ career again, but I wish I hadn’t. It was only later I learned that there’s no need to rush anything.
Younger Donna, it’s okay to step off every now and again throughout your career.
Start thinking about ‘Brand Me’
The other thing I really want to tell you is to stop worrying so much about making mistakes and failing.
When something goes wrong – and there will be a few hairy moments, believe me – take what you can learn from it, then turn the page and move on.
Don’t waste energy and stress yourself out by agonising over it, because mistakes are just moments in time. They don’t define who you are.
You are the one who is in control of your story, so think about how your experiences and learnings are shaping ‘Brand Me’.
It’s important to start thinking about this early, because you’ll reach a point in your career where you’ll be relying on referrals to make your next move.
This is when you’ll need to know how to spin your previous experience and interactions in the business world to your advantage.
Enjoy the moment
I don’t know if you appreciate right now what a unique place university is. Where else would you find a group of knowledgeable people, with your best interests at heart, working hard to help you achieve great outcomes?
The moment you hit the corporate world, it’s dog eat dog. I know, because I spent a lot of time in it.
After you get your Bachelor of Business Administration, you will go on to have a really successful career as an IT consultant at Accenture, MYOB and ANZ.
While I can’t say that all of your career decisions will be well thought out, they’ll be what’s right at the time. And you’ll enjoy working with teams and for a purpose, and having goals and values to deliver on.
You’ll also love working with graduates and advocating for graduate programs across all the organisations you work in. This will eventually lead you to start Seed Value, an organisation that delivers business readiness training for graduates.
You’ll teach fresh graduates the important stuff, like understanding yourself, setting goals, how to communicate effectively in the workplace, what it means to work within teams in a corporate setting, financial literacy and selling and negotiation.
These are all things you’ll have to learn the hard way, Younger Donna, but don’t worry. You’ll love every minute of it.
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