THE BLOG
09/17/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

The Practical, High-Impact Social Change Job Tip

After barely graduating from high school with a 1.6 grade-point average, Whitney Smith was the first person in her family to go to college. "I was a terrible student in high school. I was a fat kid, bored, silly, but pretty smart, so I was labeled a geek. I was a punk rocker. Cut off my hair, dyed it blue, painted my face and wore black lipstick. I was just pissed a lot."

"I loved college. I loved the learning. I loved shedding who I used to be. I was a straight-A student."

Today Smith is the Founder and CEO of Girls for a Change, an organization that empowers teen girls who live in low-income communities. Like so many other social change activists, Smith thinks experience- learning matters most if you want to start your social entrepreneurial career.

"Getting on-the-ground work experience is so important early in your career. It's the one thing college graduates lack. I would much rather hire someone from a so-so university who has actually done field work versus someone with a degree from a great university with just a theory," she says.

In The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter, Meg Jay writes "Confidence is trusting yourself to get the job done...and that trust only comes from having gotten the job done many times before...confidence on the job only comes from doing well on the job -- but not all the time."

"For the most part, "naturals" are myths. People who are especially good at something may have some innate inclination, or some particular talent, but they have also spent about 10 thousand hours practicing or doing that thing."

In short, two women empowerment experts -- one with a PhD in psychology and one a seasoned nonprofit leader -- are telling you to get off your ass and get started. Internships, volunteer jobs, part-time work and even working at subpar jobs all build your skills.

Notes Meg Jay, "Sometimes it seems that the challenge of the twentysomething years is to figure out what to do, and then suddenly it will just start happening. We imagine we will show up at work and instantly add value or be taken seriously. This is not the case. Knowing you want to do something isn't the same as knowing how to do it, and even knowing how to do something isn't the same as actually doing it well."

Smith adds, "You have to gain some level of personal mastery to sit in rooms where you normally would not want to sit, but you don't have to give up who you are to do that. You have to learn what you are good at, learn what you need to get better at, and learn how to outsource what you are not going to get good at."

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