I was recently interviewed by a university putting together materials for their students to help them at the end of their study with finding a job. They were particularly interested in my perspective on how to go about identifying and using your skills across industries and not thinking there is only one industry for you. I did my best to be as helpful as possible. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it later. In retrospect, here is what I wish I had said.

So you’ve survived several years of cramming, sweat-inducing exam panic, and so many assignment drafts your typing wrists hurt to think about it. Now you’ve worn your flat hat with the tassly thing and you’ve gowned up and you’re now the proud recipient of a fancy piece of paper with your name on it. What now? You may be wondering. When do I suddenly transform into the thing it says I am on my piece of paper? Well, the answer my friend, is that you may never… and that is perfectly okay. You don’t even know what you are truly capable of yet. Stop jumping the gun.

I was a gun jumper. I wanted to be a writer and I thought the path to get there was through a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Journalism and English Literature, followed by a journalism cadetship at a daily paper, then I’d move on to a lucrative span as a freelance feature writer, win an award for my outstanding contribution to my field and then I would write a novel that would instantly be a best seller, buy a mansion and live happily ever after. Boy did that go out the window quickly when I hit the real world.

Now I may have a small author credit to my name, but it’s certainly not for the type of literature I thought it would be for, and I couldn’t be happier.

That piece of paper is just one piece of a much bigger jigsaw puzzle that is you – it’s an important piece of course but it is by no means the only piece. The magical thing about you and what makes you employable is soooo much more than just your qualification. It is every fantastical, eccentric, closet-nerdy, guilty-pleasure thing about you that makes you totally and absolutely unique and a potential asset to an employer. The power of your qualification does not sit in the qualification alone, it sits in the knowledge, ideas and skills you wove together in the years you immersed in it. The things you learnt about yourself while you toiled at it. Those are the jigsaw pieces that start to form your unique picture.

I have a degree in Journalism and English Literature, I also love to draw and make things by hand. I love people watching – fascinating creatures. I grew up in the country where people respect each other’s personal space and they listen for as long as it takes, they aren’t just waiting for their turn to speak. My Mum was a fierce believer that if you work hard you can achieve whatever you set your mind too, my Dad has always believed that a job worth doing is a job worth doing right. Why am I telling you all of this? Because I bring all of these things to my work every day. I am a complete package of all of these things. And my complete package looks different to yours and to everyone else around me. This picture of me wasn’t completed when I graduated, that was just the start, I have been putting this jigsaw puzzle together for 36 years now and I’m nowhere near done. In fact, I hope to never be done.

This is a hard puzzle to build too, there is no picture on the box! It doesn’t even tell you the dimensions or the number of pieces. You have to work out how each piece fits and that may not be immediately obvious. The pleasure in the puzzle is to be found in the process, you see, regardless of the image that emerges.

The absolutely incredible part is that you make the jigsaw of you bigger and more interesting the more pieces you add to it. Every interest you pique, every skill you invest in, every job you ‘have a go at’, every interest you pursue adds depth and colour to your jigsaw. Your future employer is not just interested in the ‘skills’ pieces, they are interested in your unique perspective, how you think, your imagination, your sense of humour. This richness counts.

You do not need to know the full picture, but like any jigsaw, you need to start somewhere and its often said its easiest to start with the corners.

Top left corner, that is your passion. Don’t ignore this piece. Pay attention to the stuff that lights a fire inside you and hunt it down. Find ways to bring it into your life every day. Feed on it. I am fuelled by story, especially a great story brought to life with colourful imagery and characters. The more I sought this every day, the more I found it. I tried a bunch of jobs and skills, I wrote press releases and crisis communications, I wrote business plans and I illustrated them with nothing but graphs and gant charts generated in excel (ahh the horror). I now know that stuff isn’t my bag, but I don’t regret one second of giving it a go and learning the skills, it all helped illuminate the parts of the path where my passion could be found and I am thankful for that.

Top right corner, curiosity. This is a critical corner. You will accumulate a multitude of other useful pieces if you come at life from a place of curiosity. Be curious with everything! Dare to wonder how stuff works. Dare to suspend your judgement and enjoy a situation or an idea just for the sheer pleasure of curious exploration. If you are always curious you will always learn and learning is food for the soul.

I meandered my way through a bunch of things. I wasn’t aimless though, I was learning. I worked for a large and respected corporate organisation and I felt completely blessed that so many opportunities were there for me to try my hand at. I’ve listened to some incredible speakers, I’ve sat in workshops with people so intelligent they blew my mind. I’ve stood in front of rooms and presented ideas with butterflies in my stomach. If someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘hey we have an opportunity over here we think you might be suited for’ I gave it a crack. I always felt that any second I was learning something, was time well spent. This allowed me to build a set of skills that I could never have plotted from my university desk. I started in Corporate Communication, I took a left turn into Learning and Development for several years. I took on an Organisational Change Manager role on a transformation project and then I took on a Designer role in an Innovation Lab. They sound so different but I worked out along the way that I love the people stuff and the stories that build us, bind us, propel us and break us. Knowing this and being curious has led me into all kinds of interesting places.

Bottom left corner, bravery. Fear is inevitable, you will never out run it. But whatever clever person it was that said ‘greatness happens on the other side of fear’ was so damn right. You must push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you must try things that scare the pants off you. You must back yourself. There is nothing in this world that will help you crystallise exactly who you are and assess what you are made of more than standing fast in the face of fear even if your legs or voice are shaking. Ask for the job, put your hand up for the public speaking spot, walk across that room and approach your idol, admit it when you stuff up.

I wasn’t good at this. I was more inclined to be quiet and shy at heart. But retrospectively I can see that my greatest moments happened on the other side of my fear. Several years ago, while working in that Change Manager role I took my bravest step, the one I am most thankful for. My love for visual storytelling was strong and I decided I wanted to seek out more of it, I wanted it to be a part of my every day. So I started Thoughts Drawn Out. I built myself a website, I updated my LinkedIn profile and I put it out to the universe that I had these skills I wished to share. I can clearly remember the first time I stood in front of a room full of people at a conference ready to scribe the day into a large cartoon poster. My hand was shaking as I held the pen above the paper, hyper-aware of the eyes in the room watching me. That first pen stroke was a wobbly one, but the poster at the end of the day was something I was immensely proud of and something my client was very happy with. I can’t count the number of posters I have live scribed now, but it started with that very first time I gave it a go.

Bottom right corner, discipline. Do the work. Just do the work. Don’t expect shortcuts. You need to knuckle down and work your butt off. Be prolific in what you do – whatever it is. If you want to write, then write every day. You are not working to achieve perfection, you are working because the act of working hard at something sharpens you. You are embedding skills and experience that you don’t even know are there. Work for free if you have to, and work without an end in mind, you are not working for reward, you are working for the sake of working hard at something. Do the work, be prolific now, and you will thank me later, I promise you.

I took every opportunity I could get my hands on, chasing every possible by-line when I graduated. I wrote music reviews for a street press in exchange for CDs, I wrote stories about interesting local characters for a regional weekly paper in exchange for the petrol money it took for me to drive around and meet them. When I started at that large corporate in an entry level job I wasn’t very good at, I submitted five or six articles for each addition of the staff magazine – I got maybe one published each time. When I started visual storytelling I scribed events in exchange for tickets because I wanted the practise and I wanted to hear the speakers. I would watch TED talks in my study and scribe them and add them to a pile no one ever saw. More recently I challenged myself to write and illustrate a blog post every week for six months on topics close to my heart – six months later I had a first draft of a book. It is so very true that the harder you work, the luckier you will become. I can’t tell you how many tears I shed throughout those times, how often I worked until my eye balls hurt. But for every tear and pain there has been a mountain of achievement. It honed me.

These four corners will hold the picture together but the rest of the picture will unfold for you as you move through life, and it may not look the way you thought it would look. You may feel like you aren’t on the path you want to be, or that you’re not as successful as you thought you should be at this point in your life, you might feel like progress is slow. Rubbish. Every single thing you do along the way is conjuring your picture to life. It is all adding valuable pieces to YOU that you can’t even appreciate yet. Your passions and hobbies outside of work and study are shaping you. The books you read, the company you keep, the travel you go on, the volunteering you undertake, the community group you are a part of. Even the Joe-job that you hate that is in an entirely different field to the one you studied – is contributing to the jigsaw of you. You are not exactly the same as every other graduate wielding the same piece of paper as you.

You can’t be closed-minded about achieving a particular dream job. You can have one in mind but you have to enjoy the long and winding path that leads there and you have to be open to the possibility that the gold at the end of your path may not be the goal you set out for. There’s a reason I didn’t use a ‘paving the foundations of your journey’ metaphor, that is because the journey is happening outside of you, to you, it is the necessary passage through which you will pass. The jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor is, to my mind, more powerful because it says what you are building is all you and you carry it inside you, you own it, it becomes you. You are so much more than any piece of paper says you are. If you focus on building YOU then you’ll tackle the journey with passion, curiosity, bravery and discipline and you’ll have one hell of a ride.

Now go forth and find your corners, let the rest reveal itself to you along the way.