I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences. I may be 21 going on 22 this year, but I was a determined little cookie growing up. I started working at age 13. Growing up I had other interests,  I wasn’t so keen on focusing on age appropriate things like partying. I grew wanting more from life than what my teenager years granted me. I grew up wanting a career or more so an identity that I could earn myself.

We go through life often being given identities, and very little of us hold identities that are solely of our making. We sort of let life define us in a way.

Over my years of ‘working’ I’ve gone through several situations that have done far more than shape my career, they have gone so far as to change my personality. I placed my own development above everything else.

Here is what I have learned (so far):

1. Professional friendships are important but they are not to substitute other friendships

People you meet in your industry are important for your own development. They are also on the same journey, and they take the role of friends. You see them everyday, you experience half your day with them, and you’re put in stressful situations with them. But they should not and cannot replace your other friendships.

2. It’s okay to question your path every now and then

You could work for years and suddenly realize that whatever you’ve been doing isn’t what you want to continue to do for the rest of your life. When you grow into your own person, you start to think of your career values. Sometimes your work doesn’t fulfill your needs anymore.

3. Your work is part of who you are but it does not define you

Like I said, I have always wanted to earn my own identity. Just because you consider your career a huge part of who you are does not mean your career constitutes WHO YOU ARE. It is part of who you are and that is important to remember as much when you succeed as when you fail. When you come home, you are who you choose to be. You aren’t a banker, researcher, writer or engineer. You are yourself stripped of everything your work restricts you to.

4. You can work and be a student

For most of my academic life, I have been working. Right now, I have two part-time jobs and I am in my last semester in college. Your life isn’t limited to your studies. Your studies are important, very important in fact, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have other activities. Your work doesn’t have to reflect your major.

5. You shouldn’t wait for others recognition

You must be competent enough to measure your own success and your own achievements. Don’t wait on recognition from your boss or your friends or even your family. You must be in a position to realize when you make progress.

6. People don’t have to understand your path

You don’t owe anything to anyone. No one has to understand why you do what you do. You’re the only person who reserves the right to question your path.

7. Be the person who you say you are in job interviews

Usually, in job interviews, one has to over exaggerate their positive qualities as to earn the respect of the interviewer. Funny thing is who you are in the office is how all your employers will remember you. Become the person you say you are in interviews because word travels fast. There would be instances where I had only landed an opportunity because someone I used to work with recommended me to my employer.

8. Stop being in a competition with anyone but yourself

It’s so easy to get caught up in silly competition. However, worrying about someone else’s progress instead of your own will distract you from what is important. Your own progress is important to measure against yourself not against that of others.