Summer is intern season, and many companies are welcoming hundreds of new faces from some of the best schools in the country.
When I was an intern, I was eager to sort out my path and take advantage of opportunities in front of me. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of leading communications and marketing for some amazing brands—from innovative startups to some of the most well-known in the world. Whether you are facing the first or fifth or 10th step in your career, learning and growing should always be a goal.
Here’s what I’ve learned on my journey:
1. Find your passion.
A lot of people think they know what they want to be, only to get there and realize it’s not what they expected. That’s OK. The key is learning what you enjoy—or don’t enjoy.
I started taking basic business and administration courses in college. Within the first semester, I knew it wasn’t for me. Business was interesting, but it didn’t tap into my creative side. I changed to computer science but, frankly, didn’t like writing code, and it wasn’t creative enough for me. I switched to communication and stumbled into a script-writing class that changed the course of my career.
Storytelling came naturally, and I liked it so much that I doubled down on journalism and communications. Things really started to click. I loved telling stories, understanding them, shaping them and analyzing them.
I loved the work, but I had to go through trial and error to figure out what suited me best.
2. Take risks.
Start small, even if it means simply speaking up in a meeting. Or make a lateral move to learn new skills in another department or division in the same company. Raise your hand to contribute to a high-stakes project. Risks come in all shapes and sizes.
When Microsoft acquired a company I was working for, I considered staying in the Bay Area and looking for a new job. I had worked at startups, not big corporations. However, my husband encouraged me to take the risk and give it a shot, even if it was just for a couple of years. Working for an international brand with hundreds of thousands of employees and relocating my family? That felt like a big risk!
That short-term plan turned into 10 amazing years at Microsoft. It was one of my best decisions, but I had to go outside my comfort zone to figure that out.
3. Define your success.
For some, success means reaching the pinnacle of their field or leading big projects or getting recognition from their peers. For others, it’s making sure they can be at their kid’s school activities or landing a job where they travel all over the world. There is no right answer. There is only your answer.
For me, success meant having a seat at a table to see the big picture and contribute to it, leading and building teams of smart people and making an impact on the business.
That’s what I love about T-Mobile. Leadership decided early on they wanted communications to be a weapon in the marketing mix. Not only do we get to deliver on fun ideas like Slow Cooker Sunday or elaborate April Fools’ pranks—we play a role in how the company drives this business and the brand forward.
Add to that the fact that I’ve been able to build a team of PR and communication rock stars who compete and win against the larger wireless companies. That’s my success.
If you’re not sure how to define success, try thinking of your career as a movie. What does it look like when you sit down and watch it? What makes you happy?
Life is a how we write our story. It sounds cliché, but sometimes the truth is simple. The challenges we overcome, the failures we live, the triumphs we enjoy and transformations along the way make us who we are. These experiences help shape us as individuals.
The best thing you can do is be open-minded for what comes your way, then try to find the path that feels right to you.
Janice V. Kapner is the executive vice president of communications and community engagement at T-Mobile. You can follow her on Twitter @jvkap.