As a consultant-turned-CEO of her own company Plugify ánd pitching champion of the Netherlands, Eline Leijten knows all about pursuing a career that is driven by passion. Having achieved all this during her twenties, she figured out how to create a career path for herself that she loved. We talked to Eline about how she did it and the advice she has for young professionals that are ready to do the same.
How do you figure out what you want?
As we sit down with Eline to talk about how she got to this point in her career, she explains that it all starts with being aware of what you want. Awareness of what you want, out of your career and out of a particular job, is key. There are different ways to do this, and Eline suggests to use an approach inspired by the Japanese concept Ikigai.
Find your purpose with Ikigai
Ikigai means ‘a reason for being’ and can be achieved by finding a career/purpose that ticks four boxes:
- It’s something you love,
- It’s something you’re good at,
- It’s something the world needs,
- And last but not least it’s something you can be paid for.
“I’ve always had a passion for music. I spent my student years travelling with a band performing across Europe. Then, during my time working for a scale-up I learnt how to build and grow a company and absolutely loved it. That’s when I got the idea for Plugify.” Plugify started as a project made of two passions and is now the go-to platform to book live music in the easiest way possible.
Questions you should answer
Ikigai is a great way to become aware of what you want out of your career (a longer journey in which you learn and work), but doesn’t provide much guidance to understanding what you want out of a particular job. After all, you have to show up every day so you need to make sure that the practical things like work hours and salary meet your requirements. Eline suggests you ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you consider a good work environment?
- How many hours do you want to work?
- What amount of flexibility do you desire?
- What do you want to earn?
- Are you willing to make a sacrifice on (one of) these aspects early in your career, to gain experience in a particular environment, or for another reason?
- If so, until when are you willing to do so, and still – what are your personal boundaries?
After answering these questions you might come to the same conclusion Eline did. “I see young professionals often thinking of their career as a journey that should end in a certain role for a company they like. This makes sense. Interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” or “What is your dream job?”, spark this way of thinking. But should a career goal ultimately be defined as narrow as a role or a job title? I think a goal can also be something you contribute to the world or a certain impact you want to have. To me, my ultimate goal is to look back on my career and be able to say: what I did served society.”
After all, if for example wanting to contribute to fighting climate change is your ultimate goal, there are plenty of job positions that can help you achieve it. So there’s no need to limit your career goals to one certain role.
How do you create your ideal work environment?
Company culture defines the work environment and thus plays a big role in how fun it is to go to work every day. When applying to jobs you should make sure that the company culture fits with what you want. Some organisations have a friendly and collaborative culture, whereas others have a laser focus on results and yet others manage to combine all this. Now, what do you do when you work in a job that doesn’t have an ideal work environment?
You can make positive change happen
Eline explains how, in her experience, taking small steps can cause meaningful changes: “My advice would firstly be to accept that 100% “ideal” isn’t realistic. That doesn’t mean you automatically go with the flow and accept the status quo. But rather than turning into a bitter employee that despises the company you for, I would try to see friction as an opportunity to be the change you want to see, as Ghandi put it. If an issue you care deeply about arises – and it’s not a bad thing to choose your battles – it may sometimes not feel like it, but you always have the opportunity to address it. While doing so, I would recommend to unite with peers, and in my experience a little bit of (civilised) humour can do wonders in bringing people together”.
Keep in mind that although you may have just started your job, your colleagues and superiors do value your view on things. After all, there’s a reason they hired you.
There’s strength in numbers
Eline: “You can create positive change in the company you work for by exploring if your peers experience a certain cultural issue the same way you do. There is strength in numbers, so with the support of a group, your voice will be heard more easily. Change always needs a group of people to back it up. If nobody around you sees things like you, ask yourself whether this is the right work environment for you.”
If nothing changes, it can work to, rather than quitting directly, keep your eyes open for other opportunities within the company. If it’s a big company there may be other teams or departments within the company you work for that suit you better. To Eline, accepting that “ideal” isn’t realistic (no job has it all) means tolerating the downsides of the job to a certain extent as well as creating change where possible.
How do you grow in your career?
Reaching the goals you have in mind for your career requires growth. This sometimes scary, uncomfortable or unfamiliar process that forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and start something new. Interns become juniors, juniors become managers and employees become entrepreneurs. Every single day. Not only has Eline gone through this process herself, but she has also witnessed it among people around her. Here’s what she learned.
Don’t wait. Act!
With a clear vision of your career goal, it’s tempting to create a 10-year plan and wait for that to run its course. Don’t even start. Instead, keep that goal in mind and stay flexible. “Being flexible with your plans allows you to spot opportunities when they come your way. That’s because opportunities often don’t present themselves in ways that fit within strict plans and instead require more creativity.”
And once an opportunity does present itself? Eline: “Too often I see people waiting around. My advice would be to act. Don’t postpone applying for that awesome job until you meet 100% of the formal job requirements, get offered a promotion by your manager or feel like you are 100% ready for this step. You have to grab chances and claim your spot. Due to cultural norms, especially women tend to be less straightforward when it comes to claiming (or just asking) for what they’ve earned, e.g. a promotion or a salary increase. To them especially I would like to say: Be in the driver’s seat. Not the backseat.”
Find a mentor
Even with a clear career goal and the intention to make change happen, it can be challenging to decide on your next step. Eline recommends: “Find a mentor that you consider to be a role model. A person lets say 10 years ahead of you who can tell you about how he/she got there. Whether that’s within the company you work for or not doesn’t matter. Both variants have their merits and you can of course also have both.” Simplified into 3 steps:
- Find a role model whose footsteps you want to follow in. Again, that doesn’t have to be an exact match. Don’t strive for perfection, but look for people who inspire you.
- Ask this person to be your mentor (don’t worry about him/her saying no, many people love to give back and will be honoured by your request).
- Meet with your mentor every 3 months (or what works for you) to discuss your professional development and potential next career move.
Figuring out what you want is a fun challenge to some and a stressful nightmare to others (and a given since age six for a few lucky ones). Eline has taken away the pressure of picking the “right” career path by redefining what a successful career means. It doesn’t have to be a particular role or a job title. If you tick the four boxes of Ikigai, you’ll be in a good place.
So get rid of your 10-year plan that’s completed by a certain job position. Instead, pursue a career driven by your values and passion and stay flexible enough to spot (and grab) opportunities whenever they come your way. “A career you love is made of passion combined with action.”