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The Road Traveled Alone: How Millennials Can Find Motivation In Challenging Environments

Four steps to get support you need for strategic career trouble-shooting

(Image: Thinkstock)

So, you’re totally excited about a recent work-related accomplishment that you’d like to leverage for your next big career move. You run to tell your parents, hoping for insights on how to take that step, only to be met by a lackluster,”Oh, that’s nice. Keep up the great work.”

Or let’s try this scenario: You’ve hit a major roadblock in your career, and the moment you tell the grandparents who raised you, you’re met by blank stares and looks of confusion.

Worst yet, this scenario: Accomplishments aren’t even acknowledged or celebrated in your immediate environment, leaving you more than hesitant to even mention anything about your career to anyone in your household or neighborhood. You feel that whatever you say will either be over their heads or met with major hateration.

For some millennials of color, the concept of being able to internalize self-esteem, scholarship, ambition, and career longevity through the lens of an immediate, in-house mentor can be a foreign one. From the young Latina who has an almost from-the-womb knack with robotics, to the urban power woman who has become the first in her family to get an advanced degree, early navigation on the path to success and innovation can be lonely.

I’ve seen this on a small scale in my own life. My family is full of smart, hard-working people, so my siblings and I were always taught to do our best and be the best. This meant that my brother would graduate as valedictorian of our high school and become one of few brown faces in his college engineering program, and I would go on to become a media professional. My sister would serve in the armed forces and become a global missionary. (This would make us all double minorities, with my sister and I being in male-dominated fields, and my brother being among the disproportionate number of black males in STEM).

We’d all accomplished things not many in our immediate family had in terms of career and educational experiences, so sometimes, we’d have to be our own career advisers or mentors—learning things as we go—when it came to direct, industry-related trouble-shooting. True, we had major, macro-support along the way, but for that strategic troubleshooting in those early years, we were often on our own—or at least it felt that way.

So, what do you do when you need that extra, strategic support and it’s not something you can reach out and grab in your immediate environment? Try these four steps:

1. Build a strong sense of self-awareness and confidence. I’m a big fan of starting with the person in the mirror. Your environment may have contributed to the person you are today, but it does not have to totally define you—especially if it’s a toxic one. Know what you want out of life. Build up a hunger for research and planning ways to achieve whatever it is you want to accomplish despite any perceived roadblocks. Remind yourself every day of your greatness, your goals and where you are in your career journey.

2. Join organizations of people with like-minded goals in related industries. Sometimes, when you feel isolated trying to climb to the top, it’s best to open yourself up to connect with others who are dealing with the same challenges as you are. If there aren’t groups to join at your job, consider Meetups, volunteer organizations, sororities, fraternities or religious groups. These are not only great for networking, but you’ll be able to step out and find mentors organically by interacting with people in your industry who have similar professional passions and experiences.

3. Look into and apply for professional development courses, fellowships and other advancement resources. There are many organizations and institutions that offer support to adult learners and professionals. Check out your industry’s respective trade organizations and utilize the resource boards of local colleges and universities in terms of their continuing and professional studies departments. Ask your boss about the programs your company offers (or covers reimbursement for), and be sure to network with the people you meet along the way.

4. Tap into the professionals and leaders around you. Many of us overlook coworkers, former bosses and professors and entrepreneurs in our own communities (or those nearby). Find ways to connect with them. Step out of your comfort zone and visit neighboring locales where the environment is more inviting and encouraging. Spark up a conversation over coffee or drinks, and follow up to build long-lasting relationships. And, dare I say it, these people don’t all have to look like you (in terms of ethnicity, age, or career stage). You can glean so much by listening to industry and community leaders of diverse experiences.

Whether it’s because of they-don’t-mean-any-harm ignorance, generational gaps or low socioeconomic fallout, feelings of isolation in terms of career and educational advancement is something that many millennials of color face. I hope that these four steps will help you get started to find the support you need to take your boss moves to the next level.

As a millennial career climber, what challenges do you face in terms of strategic support? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

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  • Dennis Fischman

    Good advice for first-generation professionals of any age!