On the way to my first ever middle school dance, I rubbed my sweaty hands on my legs and confessed to my father that I was nervous. And just then, he gave me the best advice I have ever gotten. He said, "Just get out there and dance, whether you're good or bad. If you can dance, people will be impressed. If you can't, they'll respect you because you aren't afraid to try." Wise words from a man who I have seen dance fewer times than I can count on one hand.
While I have my father to thank for the sweet moves I have today, his advice has impacted more than my ability to cut a mean rug. Parents have an uncanny ability to teach us lessons that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives, without us even knowing it. And my father's urging to test my rhythm actually influences how I approach my career to this day.
Take the first step
First experiences in your career will always be filled with uncertainty – even more so than the thought of potentially humiliating yourself in front of your teenage peers. Whether it's starting your first job or taking on a new client, nobody enjoys walking into the unknown. Being fearless enough to tackle the strange and unfamiliar, without fear of failure, makes it infinitely easier to take that first step.
Showing initiative when you're young is more important than being successful. Everyone has made mistakes in their career, but mistakes yield learning. Passion, though, is hard to teach. The first time I made a mistake, I was devastated. My boss – sensing my frustration – sat me down and told me it happens to everyone. More meaningful than his understanding was that he let me handle the next project that came my way because he could tell how much I cared. Let your passion lead you when you take on a project for the first time, and it will propel you forward until you reach the next new experience.
Embrace every opportunity
Passion will keep you motivated, but it's only half of the equation. The other half is learning… like how I quickly learned that I loved dancing, but that "the sprinkler" should not be my go to dance move. Taking everything you can away from every opportunity is the only way to learn the ins and the outs of the industry and your discipline.
Think of it this way: at some point, with your wealth of passion and experience, you'll be in a position where you are a leader and decision-maker. And how are you supposed to make well-informed decisions if you haven't experienced as much as you possibly can? Personally, taking on new challenges in the digital space has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, but has helped me to be better informed as I've progressed in my career.
Find your style
As you learn more about what's out there, take note of the projects that make you happiest in your job. When you find what you love, go after it. It will keep your passion alive and you'll begin to define where you want to go in your career. By being true to what makes me happy, I've landed in a role where I have the opportunity to regularly discover new reasons to love my job. Like dancing, finding what you love won't always be pretty or perfect, but you'll come away with a style all your own (turns out my work style is MUCH better than my dancing).
What I've also uncovered is that one of aspect of my job I care most about is helping others find what they love. So you can trust that I'm not leading you off track when I tell you to be passionate. Soak up every experience. Gravitate toward what makes you happy. And when you find yourself loving what you do, let me know and I can thank my father for you.
About the Author
Zach Smith is an Associate Strategy Director at MediaCom. Since joining the team in 2010, Zach has helped lead strategic planning for key clients that include VW, Audi, and Shell. In addition to his day-to-day client responsibilities, he actively works to attract and cultivate a strong talent base at MediaCom.
Prior to joining MediaCom, Zach spent time on the new business team at Optimedia, focusing on pharmaceutical, finance, alcohol/spirits, and technology categories. He also spent time on the planning team for Richemont, a family of luxury watch and jewelry companies including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and IWC.
Zach is a graduate of Penn State University with a degree in advertising. In his free time, Zach spends his time writing and watching films.