The path to success is rarely a straight line, and the journey, as well as the destination, often looks vastly different than we thought it would when we first started mapping it out.
This spring, Seeds from the New York City area had a chance to hear from a few young alumni about their Seeds of Peace experience and how it has, and continues to, influence them in their professional lives.
The alumni included Alexa (2012 American Seed), a reporter at NBC; Billy (2002 American Seed), manager of creative development at Pearl Studio; Caroline (2011 American Seed), chief of constituent affairs for the City of Hoboken, New Jersey; and Sarika (2005 American Seed), who defends immigrant rights as a lawyer at the public defender’s office in Brooklyn.
Whether you’re heading to college, beginning your career, or contemplating the next chapter of your life, here are 10 lessons our alumni learned that helped them, and might help you, thrive in the working world.
1. Trust your instincts
Sometimes all it takes is one blow to make us question everything we’ve been working toward, but it’s often important to take rejection with a grain of salt. Alexa was crushed after a well-respected leader, whom she had asked to be an advisor on her college thesis, dismissed her ideas and refused to be associated with the project. But after speaking to other trusted advisors who helped her realize that the rejection probably had very little to do with her, she continued to pursue her thesis despite the notable naysayer. “There will be people who will not see the value in what you do. There may even be people really high up in positions of power who tell you you’re an idiot, but don’t let that dissuade you. In the end, I did receive an A, but more importantly, I learned to trust my gut.”
2. Your goals may change, but hold onto your dreams
When Sarika graduated college, she had two degrees: one in politics, and one in theater. “I wanted to be a human-rights actress, my dad joked that I was going to be unemployed,” Sarika said with a laugh. “When you graduate you have all these ideas, and that’s not wrong. Hold on to them because they will inform what you ultimately decide to do in the long run. It may take a while to get where you’re going, but every step of the way is going to have meaning when you look back on it.”
3. Your dream job might not be the one you’re pining to have—yet
Caroline spent most of her college years with her sights set on working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. After graduation, she applied for job after job with HUD, until finally meeting someone who worked in the organization. “She basically told me that for what I wanted to do, HUD was not the answer, and suggested that I work for a senator,” Caroline said. “I had a misunderstanding not about what I wanted, but what I thought could facilitate what I wanted. It was the best counsel I could have gotten.”
4. Your career path may take a lot of twists and turns
Sarika applied to Teach for America after graduation, but when she received an offer, she panicked and turned it down. For the first time, she stepped off the path that she thought she was meant to follow, and instead worked at her university for a year. “It was completely unrelated to anything that I do now, but I made so many friendships and connections that I still draw from today, and it’s all come full circle. So even if it feels like it’s all headed for disaster, just stay calm. In the future it’s going to make sense ”
5. What you do and say today will matter tomorrow
It’s not wrong to have strong opinions or to disagree, but it’s important to present them in a way that you would want to be remembered for 10 years down the road. “It’s a small world and you’re going to meet people and engage with them now in ways you never thought you would. And you’re going to run into those people years later in places you never thought you would,” Caroline said.
6. Pay forward your empathy
Like going through any life-changing experience, many of our Seeds said they initially found it difficult to identify with people back home who hadn’t shared the same transformational experience. It takes some work, but this is an opportunity to practice your new-found skills. “It really helps to offer that same openness, respect, and empathy that you gave to your fellow campers to the people who haven’t had the opportunity to go through what you did,” Alexa said.
7. Invest in your relationships
Despite all the ways we have to stay connected, it’s can be incredibly difficult to maintain, and to begin, relationships with people in our lives. Building relationships like the ones Seeds build over three weeks at Camp can take years in the real world, but it’s worth the effort to try, bit by bit. “It’s a struggle because there are so many distractions today, but sometimes it’s just finding little moments where neither of you have your phones, and you’re working out, going to get coffee,” Alexa said. “It’s expressing openness, finding things you have in common and putting out your own vulnerabilities so that they feel safe to do the same.”
“Having patience is key,” Sarika added, “and being available to people—even in shallow ways—and being reliable will slowly gain their trust and ultimately break down that barrier.”
8. Success may take longer than you think—be patient with yourself
Some of the best advice Alexa received was to think of her career like rock climbing: While individual steps might not feel like much progress, each one is getting you closer to the top. The point, Billy added, is to keep going. “There won’t ever be an end to the things you should be doing or could be doing, and the thing that that most often causes us to back down is our own selves. You will at some point (or points) hit a wall, but don’t stop. It’s ok to try something new, see how it goes, and if you like it, keep going. If not, try something else. Know that this is a path that you’ll be on for the rest of your life, so be patient and kind to yourself.”
9. Turn frustration into fuel
“I remember coming back from Camp still really inspired by the people I met and conversations I had, and feeling the need to do something and see change in the world,” Billy said. “But the world is a complicated place, and I felt deflated that I couldn’t do more right away. Fifteen years after my Camp experience, some issues are better, some are not. You can’t let this frustrate you. Instead of feeling bad because things around you aren’t moving at the pace you want, try to look at it as fuel for what you’re going to do next, and why you’re going to remain engaged. It’s a lifelong thing.”
10. If you’re looking to change the world, start with kindness
When we think about making a difference or creating change, we often think big-picture: Ending poverty; saving the environment; transforming societies. We need to keep thinking about those things, but in the meantime, don’t overlook the power of simple acts of humanity.
For example, one of the younger Seeds, who is Jewish, said a fellow camper who was Muslim reached out to her after the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and they continued to support one another when a mosque in New Zealand was attacked. The two girls hadn’t been very close before, but they just wanted to show kindness however they could, even if only a through a WhatsApp message.
“There’s something so profound about that, and people forget that kindness is just profound,” Sarika said to the Seed. “Patience and willingness to be understanding just doesn’t happen when people are busy and tired and focused on work. But taking time to reach out to someone who you may not speak to every day, that kind of is changing the world.”