The sooner we understand that organisations don’t owe us anything, the sooner we start making a real contribution in the working world.

I have been working for 16 years. I started at the delicate age of 17, fresh out of high school, looking for work because I didn’t have the money to pursue a full-time tertiary qualification. (It broke my heart because the dream of full-time university study was one I had to forfeit.)

I knew that I could write well, so I went to our local newspaper’s office to see if I could submit any articles on a freelance basis. Turned out the editor was looking for a journalist, so I began my first job before I turned 18.

Needless to say, navigating my naivety within a working environment without any real life experience beneath my belt was tricky. The editor’s husband told me about the option of doing my degree part-time and suggested that I study Communications. That seemed like a good idea and three and a half years later, I graduated from Unisa.

I was 22.

If you had to ask me at that time what I wanted to do with my life, I would have given you a blank look. No one really knows what they want to do at that age. Although my career developed without any clear intention on my side, I now love what I do. My career evolved in direct proportion to my personal growth.

Since my first job in 1998, I have worked in 10 positions at nine different organisations – and the most important lesson I have learnt during my working career?

Organisations don’t owe you anything.

I have made many mistakes along the way (especially during the time that I was trying to establish my own business). Yet I have gained invaluable experience at each company I worked for, broadening my skills set and helping me grow in maturity.

I could not have known when I was 20 years old – writing donor newsletters for the South African National Blood Service – that I would be preparing for my ‘second career’ as an academic fundraiser in my early thirties.

I now see that all the work that I have put my hands to in the past has prepared me tremendously for the work that I am doing now – and loving every minute of!

I see all the anxious young adults stressing about their future. I know how that feels but my message to them is this:

  • Understand that organisations don’t owe you anything: Stop looking at the people around you and focus on the tasks you have been given. Once you start excelling in the little things, new doors of opportunity will begin to open up for you.
  • Life is not linear: It might look that way on your cv but there are many twists and turns along your specific path. Trust the process. Things will look much clearer in hindsight.
  • Seek out your purpose: The more you understand your purpose – what you feel you were born to do or what you feel passionate about – the greater your clarity will be with regards to the type of work you do. When I started out, all I knew is that I had the ability to write well. I slowly began to discover that I was motivated by inspiring people towards personal growth. That basic understanding has been my ‘golden thread’: purpose is found where passion and motivation meet.
  • Trust your inner voice: Don’t do what people say will bring you money. If you hate the work you do, you will either end up becoming a bitter, negative employee or looking for a way of going back to what you love.
  • Career excellence takes time: Don’t chase money; chase opportunities that will grow your skills set and stretch your capabilities. Building integrity and character should be an ongoing focus.

Ultimately  its not about gaining status or growing salary packages. The true test of our lives will be:  “What have we done with what we have been given?”