How I learned to be a successful young professional in my 20s (without faking it!)

By Brianna M. Grantley, Client Service Manager at Halbert Hargrove

Early on in your professional career (through tons of trial and error), you’ll learn success is all about attitude, commitment, and action.

When I first entered the workforce, my professionalism at work was relaxed – both my attitude and my attire. When it started to become apparent the company I’d been working for no longer fueled me – I knew I had to make some changes. I read the articles that said, “go above what’s expected” and “dress for the position I wanted.” I binge-watched “What I Wear to Work” videos of working women on YouTube, purchased a pair of pointed-toe pumps and a blazer, started a new job, and said yes to everything.

But I noticed, after a few weeks, I was dressing more professionally, I still didn’t feel like a “professional.” My shirt was still wrinkling during my commute, coffee spills seemed more frequent, and instead of thriving in my new wardrobe and go-getter mindset – I was burning out quickly each day. Overall, something felt out of place. Did the fact I couldn’t get things right indicate I had chosen the wrong profession? What would I need to do to help me feel like I truly belonged?

What follows are the answers I developed over time. Whether or not you’re new to the career world, I hope they can be helpful to you too.

Be honest with your mentor

If you have the privilege of working with a mentor, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with them. It’s easy to disregard your challenges when speaking with someone who has more experience. But they can’t deliver concrete advice on how to better yourself if you’re not completely open.

My mentor and I meet monthly to discuss what’s working (or not) and what my next steps should be. He helps put things into perspective and helps me understand our company culture. Our first few meetings did feel a little artificial – I mostly told him what I thought he wanted to hear, focusing on surface-level issues. One day, I decided to let down my wall and tell him all of the things that bothered me, and we worked through why I was feeling the way I did. It was a relief to know much of what I was experiencing was not unique, and I had someone to lean on.

Put the “work” into network events

I thought to say yes to every event was enough, but it wasn’t. I questioned why the networking events weren’t helping me progress in my career, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t actually networking. I was present at these events, but didn’t invest the time to talk to people I didn’t know. Typically, I stuck with people I already knew or mindlessly walked around. I realized that to build a strong professional network of connections, I had to leave my shy side at the door.

Address your bad habits

How can you grow if you don’t let go of habits holding you back? For some of us, acknowledging areas where we can improve can be tough. It means we must be accountable and take responsibility for ourselves through improvement.

I was still holding onto some bad habits from my college days, like adjusting my mornings so that I can show up to work ready to go and on time. I’m not naturally a morning person; I value being able to take my time and mentally prepare for my day. Setting my clock only a few minutes earlier was a huge improvement and helped me set the tone for the entire day.

Allow yourself to sit at the big kid’s table

Don’t be afraid to step away from your work friends during company events and network with upper management. This is an easy way to establish rapport with leaders at your company.

A few months into my new job, we all participated in a company-wide seminar. We were asked to reflect on our greatest fears and share with a peer. I happened to be seated next to our president; I was asked a few times if I wanted to sit with someone I was more familiar with. I decided to stay where I was. Hearing him share some of his stories helped me make an emotional connection—not only with him but also with the firm. I was able to understand what drives him, hear several of his challenges and his aspirations for the future of our company.

It’s okay to take a break during your workday when you need one

There’s a saying that goes: “Rest is for the weak.” Not so! Burn-out and mental fatigue are very real. They put a huge strain on your mental and physical health. You can’t expect to perform at your peak ability if you don’t give yourself a break!

Imagine yourself like a Ferrari. The engine allows you to drive really fast and that’s great! But when you go full throttle, the gas reservoir depletes pretty quickly. Burning out not only leaves you agitated, but it also strips away ambition.

Learning to take small breaks throughout the day has been so beneficial. When I feel like I’m tiring out after going full throttle all morning, taking a lap around the office or going for a walk outside allows me to take a breather and gather my thoughts. This has been especially important when I’m working on a big project or something of high importance.

Being the best working version of you that you can be

A professional image looks different for everyone. For me, feeling professional translates to being professional and showing up and being the best working version of me I can be. Although the articles I read had some great tips, my version of professional turned out to be far more than dressing a certain way.

For me, it meant setting goals and action plans with my mentor and creating valuable connections with my colleagues and upper management. It meant being capable of showing up to work ready to put my best foot forward – and taking care of my psyche while I’m doing it.

Everyone has their unique take on what their best looks like. Here’s to discovering yours!

How do you balance having the life you want to enjoy today with what you’re going to need in the future? Are you doing what it takes to enter your dream retirement? TAKE OUR QUIZ to find out.