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Congratulations to the members of class of 2020 who are newly embarking on a journey into the workforce! This marks an important phase in your lives as you transition from the academic world into the corporate world.

In my 32-year long career, I have had the privilege of guiding and observing many interns and young professionals. From a leadership perspective, it is deeply satisfying to witness the journey of a 20-something college grad grow into a seasoned professional with a rich, fulfilling career. In fact, we have many such team members at Cadence.

My daughter is a new graduate like you—excited and apprehensive about the next phase in her life. What helped her succeed so far may or may not work going forward. It is a journey of discovery that all those entering the work force will have to go through.

Here is the advice that I gave to my daughter. I hope it will help all of you who are starting out your careers.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know

Our universe of knowledge, irrespective of age, consists of three buckets:

  • You know what you know
  • You know what you don’t know
  • You don’t know what you don’t know

The first two buckets constitute around 10% of your lifetime of knowledge. The biggest opportunity for growth, satisfaction and fulfillment is in the third bucket. Proactively expanding your horizons past your comfort zone opens new worlds to be explored.

It might seem daunting, but I believe everyone can do this if they commit. How? Simple—do more things! Go beyond your assigned tasks at work. Show initiative and raise your hand for projects. Say yes to things more often than you say no. And when you do take on new projects, be humble about learning whatever you can.

This simple maxim of doing more things will give you opportunities to meet different people, discover enriching experiences, have stimulating conversations and be exposed to inspiring ideas. This will keep the excitement going throughout your career, ensuring that your job (and life) never becomes mundane.

It will also help you uncover your true passion and purpose, enabling you to live your Ikigai. More about Ikigai in a bit.

2. Stoke curiosity

Throughout your career, keeping a curious and inquisitive mindset will prove to be an invaluable and differentiating asset, especially when coupled with raising your hand for more projects. To do this, I always advise junior employees to actively ask questions. Show interest in what other teams are doing. Have lunch with people outside your team.

That said, I understand not everyone is outgoing and this might be uncomfortable or out of character. If you have a reserved nature, you can work to overcome your shyness by being deliberate in your actions. Make a plan and know what you want to ask. Being reserved does not need to hold you back. You will learn more about your organization, industry, community and the world around you, and your life and career will be infinitely richer and more nuanced for it.

3. The power of short-term goals

While having clear long-term goals is laudable, at best, they point you in the direction you want to go. In fact, the pandemic has forced us to re-look at the definition of “long-term” altogether. Instead, having a long-term roadmap with meaningful short-term goals is what I advise for early-stage professionals.

It’s incredibly important to have meaningful short-term goals that facilitate learning and opening your mind to different experiences. Being able to achieve these goals ensures continued growth and keeps you motivated to try new things. Additionally, these goals serve as guideposts along your journey and provide you with a rewarding sense of driving toward your true purpose.

4. Pursue excellence, not perfection

Aiming for perfection is not only stressful, but it isn’t even possible. However, you can aim for excellence in everything you do, irrespective of constraints like deadlines, financial limitations, organization-related challenges and social pressures, to name a few.

Just like artists sign their work, be proud to put your unique stamp of excellence on everything you do. For you to gain true benefit, the level of excellence you deliver can’t be selective based on how you feel that day or the nature of the task. You must pursue excellence consistently, so that it becomes a lifelong habit. It’s a lifelong journey as well, since the goal post of excellence keeps moving based on your own mastery of skill, experience and learnings that you gather along the way.

Not only will a track record of excellence open the doors of new opportunities, but you will also find it deeply satisfying and richly rewarding . This is true not just for your career but for your personal interests as well.

5. Finding your Ikigai

All of the things I have mentioned up to now—expanding your horizons, stoking curiosity, setting short-term goals, and pursuing excellence—lead to one powerful and life-changing concept: Ikigai.

Ikigai is a Japanese term that describes the sweet spot that is the intersection of what you love doing, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. It is a way to evaluate what makes you tick and what you can contribute to your organization and to society, while keeping in mind the practical aspect of having enough money in the bank.

It’s not easy to find your Ikigai; in fact, many people never find it. But if you take time to understand the concept and make an effort to try and find what your Ikigai is, you can experience a happier, more fulfilling and purposeful career and life.

Your first job is unforgettable for so many reasons. It will always hold a special place in your career journey. And if you apply these five pieces of advice, these early years will set you on the best path forward.


Jaswinder Ahuja, Corporate Vice President and Managing Director at Cadence Design Systems

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