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An open letter to young professionals in Detroit

After many years of urging young professionals to remain in the city — as opposed to fleeing to supposedly cooler places for opportunity — Detroit is set up for major impact with a substantial connection to young professionals thanks to countless organizations and dedicated people. As someone who is in his early 30’s and still considers himself to be a younger professional in Detroit, there were moments in my career that I wish I could have prepared my younger self for.

During a recent lunch meeting, I had a conversation with someone I respect tremendously. Bridget Hurd is the Director of Community Responsibility at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. With an impressive and extensive background in public and community relations, Bridget has a tremendous eye for detail and strategic implementation.

As we discussed several topics, we began to speak about what it means to be a young professional. Yes, there are some tremendous challenges and advantages that we will eventually experience, but how we handle those situations is key to our development. I remember when I finished undergrad at Oakland University, I thought I had it all figured out. Yes, my time at OU was great and I learned a lot, but as a 23 year old, I didn’t realize I still needed to pay my dues within the corporate world, and that there was still so much to learn.

Well unfortunately, my parents didn’t name me Marty McFly, and I don’t own a DeLorean that can take me back to past experiences, but what I can do is share the points that Bridget and I discussed during our lunch.

Make it Happen? – What’s unique about our generation is that we witnessed the birth of the microwave and the internet which has fed us the idea of instant gratification. I remember early in my career on my first day, my manager immediately threw me into the fire. I hadn’t received any training and his way of operating was basically, “make it happen.”  The great part about that experience is that I was able to respond without having access to resources, but after years of reflecting, I had adopted that same mindset and I realized that it was difficult for me to explain process and strategy. I knew how to do the work and do it well, but I couldn’t explain it well.

Fundamental Learning – To move away from the “Make it Happen” approach, there must be a fundamental learning period. It’s OK for us to reflect on our experiences and create solutions out of nothingness, but for professional growth we also should be able to understand and assess where the gaps are and more importantly identify solutions. It is the knowledge of those details that separates and allows us to either ascend or make us irrelevant within our careers.

Stay True and Stay Humble – Have any of us ever had those moments, when we hear that unknown voice telling ourselves to not take a certain job? Well, I’ll speak for myself and say “Yes.” What we should be mindful of is paying attention to that voice and not just that potential earning salary. Most times I didn’t recognize that the voice I was hearing was very my own, and when I did, it was too late. In the future, if a position is offered and you believe it won’t be a good fit for you, it’s OK to decline.   A few months ago, I received an offer that seemed amazing, but for some reason I just felt as though it wouldn’t be a great fit for me. I had the hardest time declining the offer because I wrestled with trying to convince myself that I would be crazy for turning down the position. Even though the salary was good and the perks seemed too hard to turn down, I needed to be true to myself.

We all have dreams and aspirations, but sometimes our plans may get derailed because life simply happens. Just because we experience some type of unexpected turn, it doesn’t mean we won’t bounce back. As a matter of fact, it makes the road trip more scenic because we’ve experienced it.

Stefen J. Welch
Stefen J. Welch is the Assistant Director, Corporate Philanthropy at Wayne State University. A native of Detroit and believer in the city’s future, Welch is an active community engager and spends much of his time dedicated to various community organizations. An alum of Oakland University, Stefen is also an instructor within the Department of Communication and Journalism. Currently he sits on the Board of Directors at Black Family Development, Inc. and Community Health And Social Services (CHASS). He also holds a Master's in Community Development from the University of Detroit Mercy and is graduate of Leadership Detroit. Follow him @stefenj.