How to Successfully Transition From Getting an Education to Building a Career

A Need to Shift from a Solo Grade Mindset to Collaborative Team Success

Consider for a moment what high school graduation represents. An exciting and celebratory time, yes. But the revelry that surrounds this annual happening isn’t just an outward recognition of a life milestone with family gatherings and friends’ parties. But a time to acknowledge a life transition and the possibilities it represents.

Once the balloons, confetti, and food remnants are cleared, the work of achieving our next milestones begins. Many people decide to head to college. Some take a gap year to learn more about their passions, motivations, and personal desires. And others decide to head straight to the workforce.

Regardless of the path, eventually, everyone needs to transition from completing clearly defined assignments mindset in school to an accomplishing goals mindset in the workforce.

To successfully maneuver this transformation, we need to understand some notable differences between how we succeed in an academic setting versus our careers.

First, school is primarily a solo activity. We’ll talk about team projects in a minute, but our individual abilities are predominately judged and graded during our school years. We set about achieving high marks by understanding our teachers’ and professors’ expectations of what needs to be produced to ensure we learn and acquire the technical job skills of our selected profession. We often are provided with a clear set of steps to guide us on how to complete these learning assignments.

At work, our contributions to our team’s and company’s success outweigh our individual abilities. Work today requires extreme collaboration, with everyone contributing to completing projects, eliminating our customer’s problems, or somehow improving their lives. In other words, work is about achieving goals. Although our job’s technical requirement expertise is a performance metric, how we go about getting our work done has a more significant impact on our job success and happiness.

Mindshift #1: From a focus on solo abilities measurement to a team contribution measurement.

 Second, project assignments move from a limited-time engagement to a permanent situation. Practically everything we do in our jobs impacts others in the company. And our teammates’ responsibilities impact our ability to get our job done.

These interdependencies require us to work effectively with our teammates beyond a 6-week to 3-month time period. We need to effectively collaborate (even with individuals who seem to know how to push our buttons) in every job for as long as we are in the workforce. That’s a pretty long time for most of us. Our success metric moves from our intellect and abilities to how our contributions improve the entire team’s output. To effectively work together, we need to invest time to get to know our colleagues’ work styles, attitudes, belief systems, motivations, what they need from us to help them complete their responsibilities, and more. And as social beings, building these long-term relationships has the more significant benefit of boosting our mental health and well-being.

Mindshift #2: From limited-time project teamwork to ongoing job responsibilities teamwork.

The most significant transition we need to make when moving from a school assignment work environment to a career work environment is to focus on achieving goals, not completing assignments. This shift in our thinking is challenging because there is rarely a defined step-by-step process to accomplishing a goal. A great aspect of work is that we have the freedom to determine how we believe we can achieve our goals. Our employers hunger for us to take ownership of defining how to achieve a goal and eagerly anticipate our recommendations to developing new ways of doing things. They entrust us to define strategies and demonstrate how these approaches will achieve a defined goal. Businesses and organizations expect their employees to continually analyze how we can ensure our responsibilities and “to-do” list contribute to the organization’s broader mission or purpose.

Mindshift #3: From knowing the steps to get an A to defining the steps to achieve a goal.

With a goal-oriented mindset, we can also transition from a one-and-done feedback process to an iterative process. We complete assignments and then wait to receive a grade during our school years — a one-and-done process. At work, we don’t need to complete a task fully before getting feedback. Work is an iterative process of continuous improvement. Now, at some point, projects, reports, tasks, potential customer sales all need to be completed, but we have more than one chance to produce good work.

The key to successfully making this transition is to know we can start small. Once you understand what you are to do or how it contributes to achieving a larger company goal, you can begin to form your ideas, suggestions, and strategies for how you believe you can effectively complete your responsibilities. Once you have a foundational concept of an approach, you can and should ask for feedback. Share your idea with others, including how you believe it will achieve its defined purpose or goal. Then take in their reactions and input and analyze if and how you need to adjust your original thoughts.

Before you dive into every task or “to-do” list item at work, remind yourself of its goal or purpose to ensure you have the best context to determine your actions and decisions.

Mindshift #4: From one and done feedback to an iterative feedback process.

And finally, our focus on accountability extends from self-accountability to also being accountable to our colleagues. By now, you clearly understand that success in our career is a team sport. The core element of effective collaboration is to do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. In other words, be trustworthy. Because our colleagues’ success is intertwined with our responsibilities, we have an obligation to our larger organization to hold ourselves and colleagues accountable and respect when our teammates hold us accountable.

 Mindshift #5: Self-accountability to also being accountable to our teammates.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can transition from a school environment to a work environment successfully, subscribe to Brize and review the Effective Collaboration, Building Relationships, and Problem-Solving content modules. You’ll learn how to identify and define strategies to achieve goals in Problem-Solving.