START FROM THE BOTTOM? NO THANKS
When I was 19 years old, I got my first new car. My best friend and I were cruising along when she said “You have to drive it really hard and fast when you first get it, so that it will be able to go fast. Otherwise, it will get stuck and be a slow car.” I was very confused, because I didn’t understand why it would be necessary to drive my brand new car hard and fast at the beginning for it to be capable of such performance in the future. But since bestie said it, I did it. We revved up that baby and put the pedal to the metal. Vroom vroom. I guess she was right, because for years to come that car was fast and powerful, and dare I say, it even out-performed others.
How many times have well-meaning persons given you their two-cents, stating “You have to start from the bottom and work your way up”? Too many I’m sure. If forced to choose, I prefer the more generic version, “Well you have to start somewhere”. Although this too smells of “bottom-starting” resignation. Yes, it’s true, you have to start somewhere. But where? That my friend, is up to you. I finally understand what my friend meant. Your beginnings set the tone. Whether we’re talking cars or careers.
When I first started applying for my first real law job, I felt as if I sent out millions of applications. As the rejections piled up so did my frustrations. The most baffling times were when I would be rejected after an interview. I couldn’t believe they didn’t want me! After many months of rejections, the two-cents started pouring in. Undeniably, the worst hit to my ego and sensibilities was when someone suggested that I stop applying to the big name firms and companies, and start small. Little did they know I was not their intended audience for such gibberish, because although I am fully in favor of taking a lesser-than job before starving, this was not what they meant. What they actually meant was that, as a general rule, you should start from the bottom. They spouted it like a philosophy, a trophy even. As if there were actually honor in aiming to start from the bottom to make the long hike upwards. Wrong.
Listen carefully. The bottom is just that. The lowest point. The place where you start as a last resort when something better has not yet worked out for you. This is honorable when you have to do it to survive. Otherwise, just as driving my new car hard and fast trained it to go hard, so too does aiming high in your career at the very beginning and at every stage. Apply for that big name company even if you didn’t go to an Ivy league school or graduate at the top of your class. Submit yourself for consideration for that position that may be just a little more advanced than you are. The truth is, you are probably underestimating yourself anyway, so your new general rule should be that if you think you can do the job, then you can do the darn job. Take a chance!
Show up for yourself
I once had a law professor who told our class that when he applied for his first law job at a big firm, they required courtroom experience. He checked it off, like “Yep, I got that”. He told us that he had been to a courtroom once as an intern, sat in the corner and didn’t say a word. Ha! I’m sorry, but that is hilarious. I’m not advocating dishonesty. I am advocating you. Show up for yourself. Take yourself seriously when it comes to your career and aim high from the start. Paint your experience in the best light, and talk it up, as long as you can sincerely justify it. Never talk it down, don’t let humility or fear keep you at the bottom.
Make no mistake, when it comes to your career, you can get stuck on a certain level for a long time. That is often why people have to change companies in order to rise to the next level. This is why you must go hard and fast at the beginning. Set the pace early and consistently push for bigger and better. Because just like my little car so many years ago, with your career, at first, you have to drive it hard and fast to put it on the right track. That is what will make you successful. By the way, I did end up getting my big name company to start my career. Me, start at the bottom? No way. Vroom vroom.