Focusing on opportunities, goals, and values can help you build toward your dream career

There are as many career paths as there are stars in the sky. Every person and situation is different. Some people set out with MBAs, while others don’t even have a university degree. Some have personalities that vault them into the boss’s favor, while others have to work hard to get noticed. Some spend their whole lives becoming masters of one specialty, while others change jobs again and again, thriving as generalists.

But one thing every career has in common is this: the things you learn from day to day impact the days to come. Education doesn’t end with a diploma.

Atoka Jo, an anchor of the investing show “INVESTORS” on the economics web TV platform NewsPicks, knows this all too well. With a background in public policy and global affairs, her job as an anchor is researching companies and pitching the most promising ones to her fellow investors on the show. That seems like a far cry from her dream of running a tuition-free school, but the business knowledge and research skills she’s picking up now are crucial building blocks for what she’ll need later.

If you sometimes feel like you’re spinning your wheels and making no progress building toward your dream career, Jo suggests realigning your perspective to focus on three things: opportunities, goals, and values.

Atoka Jo, who is building toward her dream career with steppingstone experiences
Ms. Atoka Jo, News Anchor at Newspicks

1. Reach for every opportunity—or make your own.

Sometimes you have to nurture your future in a present that seems a world apart. In Jo’s case, that means gleaning skills for running a school from a web TV series about investing. While she’s certainly learning a thing or two about analyzing businesses and pitching the results, she knew early on that she’d need more. So she’s taken on other positions to build project management experience and network.

To help her learn project management, she works as a coordinator for The Common Project, a platform that validates traveler records of COVID-19 lab results and vaccination records to secure easy border crossing between countries. To build her network, she consults for a foreign investment company. As a founding member of Himeji Girl’s High School’s Liberal Arts Summer Program, she’s gaining an insider look at how schools operate and learning to build educational programs from scratch. Finally, pursuing her vision for borderless education, she runs programs and writes content as the education program lead of a social enterprise called Tech Era. Tech Era is “a technology-based social enterprise in Ghana that is accelerating development towards an inclusive Africa.”

“I know what I want to achieve in the long term,” Jo says.  “I also know that my dream is big and requires many skills and networks. Nobody can do it for me.”

Don’t give up if you can’t jump into your dream right away. There is likely fertile ground for skill-building right in front of you.

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2. Weigh your options against your goals.

Originally, Jo was offered jobs at both NewsPicks and a well-known global financial company. She was interested in finance, but her childhood dream of becoming a news anchor made her think twice.

“A friend asked me, ‘Are you really going to take a job in finance immediately after graduating? Is that what you really want to do right now? Perhaps take a year to explore?’ It was a wake-up call for me.” Jo graduated from a prestigious university and graduate school that both prepared her for a number of career tracks. She realized she could always go back to a conventional career route—now was the time to take risks.

And the NewsPicks job was a risk. She didn’t have any career experience in media or investment. Right away, her assignment at NewsPicks’s “INVESTORS” proved to be a tough challenge. The show was created to generate public interest in investing, but Jo had never even seen a balance sheet prior to the show, let alone presented to others about stock growth potential. Worse still, there was no precedent to learn from.

Criticism was sometimes harsh. But Jo focuses on the critical feedback that helps her improve. And as she improves, she’s picking up invaluable business and financial knowledge she’ll need to create her school one day.

Jo’s future school may not need someone who knows the ins and outs of presenting at a web TV series about investing, but it will absolutely need a leader at the helm who can take criticism with grace. In fact, that’s a skill everyone needs.

Atoka Jo is building toward her dream career with side projects like supporting borderless education in Africa
Atoka Jo is building toward her dream career with side projects like supporting borderless education in Africa

3. Follow Your Values

In your career, whether you’re starting something new or building on something old, there will be times when your values will be tested—or even changed. It may be how you approach a project with a team member who behaves inappropriately, how you speak up against a campaign that excludes certain demographics, or something else entirely.

In Jo’s case, it’s how to make money—or rather, how to not make money.

Despite the breadth of profit opportunity from exclusive study programs and online education platforms, profiting from education is not for Jo. Scholarships hugely impacted her opportunities and quality of life as a student overseas, and she now wants to pay that forward.

“I just don’t feel good about earning money from an education job,” she says, and it’s a value she’s already practicing.

True to her word, she refuses remuneration for her educational duties at Himeji Girl’s High School and Tech Era. She thinks those resources should be used in different ways, such as funding the education of people who really need it.

It may sound counterintuitive, but by following her values of refusing payment, Jo has gained far more than she’s lost. At Tech Era and Himeji Girl’s High School, she’s tapped into a valuable network, learned new skills she’ll need for her school, and set an example.

The values you live by define how you shape your career and how others see you. The possibilities are endless for those who live and work with integrity.

Making Your Own Way

It’s never easy to feel stuck in a job that you know is just a steppingstone to where you want to be. You need to stay motivated when you’d rather be doing something (sometimes anything) else. Your coworkers may not get why you sometimes can’t keep up. And every day can feel like another wedge between you and your dream.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Any job offers opportunities that can support your goals and strengthen your values as you build toward your dream career. All you need to do is think creatively and seize opportunities when they come your way. Keep educating yourself, and with each lesson you’ll take one step closer to your dream.

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