It’s graduation season, kids. We all know what that means: time to go to work!

That’s right, the party’s over, it’s responsibility time, the “real world” is knocking on your door, it’s time to get serious about life. I’d go on, but I only made it through one semester of guidance counselor-ese, myself.

It’s become a bad college movie trope, the reminiscent, middle-aged father telling his child how college was the best time of his life, how it’s all downhill after graduation. But what this old cliché fails to point out is that the career on your horizon spans the bulk of the rest of your life the journey you’re about to embark upon could very well be your greatest adventure.

What you do for a living will come to define your life. Your successes, failures and landmark moments (not counting marriage, kids, etc.) will mostly be at work from now on. Of course, some of us strike out on our own, becoming entrepreneurs or otherwise independent of organizational work. For you guys, there’s an entirely different framework.)

Obviously, before anything else happens, you’ve got to get a job. That’s why universities have job placement programs and they set up internships and whatnot. And that’s great! But do they ever teach you how to work? Do we ever get to learn anything about how life in an organization really is? Does anyone tell you what it’s going to be like or what you should do once you get the job?

Perhaps our educational institutions assume that that actual work part is self-explanatory. And in some ways, I’d agree with that assessment but there’s plenty about prospering that goes beyond common sense. Allow me to introduce you to THEE’s Career Development framework. (Of course, some of us strike out on our own, becoming entrepreneurs or otherwise independent of organizational work. For you guys, there’s an entirely different framework.)

Once you’ve figured out how to do the job well, then what? You could stop there and still be a model employee, endeavoring away at whatever it is you do. But if you want to take it a step further, learn how the power structure works and how you can make it work for you.

This is the delicate dance between gaining respect within your organization without alienating the powers-that-be. This means being firm but not overbearing, outspoken but not antagonistic, bold yet humble. It’s a bit of an art form, but it is not at all impossible. And if I may add my two cents, try your best to be authentic and sincere throughout. Simply “playing the game” might be helpful for a time, but cannot be overlooked for long.

Let’s say you’ve mastered the pecking order. By now, we’re probably several years into your employment. But at some point, you’ve got to distinguish yourself from the pack. The best way to do this is by becoming a specialist. I wrote an entire blog on this a while back. But it’s worth mentioning again. Let’s say, for example, you work for a public relations firm. You might make it so you’re the best press release writer they’ve got.

Things like that often require some extra effort on your part. Maybe you’ll need to take a night class or do quite a bit of outside reading. But somehow or another, you’ve got to make yourself indispensable. 

Let’s go one more level. If you’ve become a specialist and made it through the first three steps in your career development, chances are you will have been promoted to a position of some authority. This is where you stop making it about you and start achieving for your team and the organization as a whole. In a sense, you’ve been doing that the entire time—or they would have fired you. But now, consider it your mission to foster cooperation, develop consensus and, among other things, be of service to not only your own department, but others as well.

THEE outlines three, more, steps in its career development framework, but we’ll stop here for now. It’s probably not that useful to tell you how you should approach your career in 15-20 years from now. But I would encourage you to revisit the framework as time goes by. I’ve only merely outlined the basic premise of each step and only you will be able to judge how each step applies in your particular context.

On a final note, and in the grand scheme of things, I know the anxiety and uncertainty facing many graduates these days. Will there be jobs? How will I pay my loans? What if I don’t like my job and what I’m doing? Well… I don’t know. But if only by virtue of the fact that you’ve made it this far, it’s evident that you are a creative person capable of finishing what you set out to do. Facing the next great adventure in life with the same enthusiasm, courage and positivity that brought you to this state is a great start.

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