You know those high-level executives you see constantly getting interviewed on the news? Chances are, they once had to start at the bottom and work their way up. In fact, most seasoned professionals get to where they are by facing challenges head-on and working through them.

That was definitely the case for me, as well as for some colleagues at The Motley Fool. Here are some of the greatest hurdles we had to contend with -- and how we ultimately came out stronger.

Stressed-out woman on laptop


Going back to school

Selena Maranjian: Back when I was rather young and several years into a job as a low-level college administrator, I realized that if I wanted to climb the career ladder at the university in order to earn more, it would take a long time. I would probably have to slowly move from one slightly bigger job to the next, over many years. After all, I presented as a young person without much experience in higher-education management and without much training in it, either.

So I went back to school. I was in my mid-20s and already had a master's in teaching, but that wasn't going to be of great use in a university administration setting. (I had been a high-school teacher earlier, but schools were cutting jobs in those days, rather than hiring many new teachers.) I decided to go to business school, and I earned an MBA -- figuring that it would be widely applicable to lots of jobs, at universities and elsewhere.

It turned out to be a good move. It didn't prove easy to jump from working in the nonprofit world to working at MBA-level jobs in the for-profit arena, but by being open to a wide range of possible jobs, I ended up working for The Motley Fool, where my background turned out to be a great fit. I had a teaching and writing background, which helped me write articles explaining financial matters to readers, and I had a business degree, too, giving me greater insight into how companies work. More school isn't what everyone needs to get ahead careerwise, but it's an option many might consider.

Getting back on track

Daniel B. Kline: Before my now-13-year-old son was born, I knew that the life of being a newspaper editor did not mesh well with being a new father. Because of that, I took an intentional detour into my family business selling and renting ladders, scaffolding, and related equipment. The problem was, while I thoroughly enjoyed my four years working at that company, followed by two years running a very large toy and hobby shop, I had always intended to get back to being a journalist.

When it came time to do that, I was six years out of a rapidly changing profession living near Hartford, Connecticut -- not exactly a hotbed for journalists. My prospects were somewhat bleak, as work-from-home jobs were rare and my salary needs had grown beyond the pay scale for most editorial jobs in the area.

It was a daunting challenge, so I tackled it in pieces. I quit my job and began working half-time doing public relations for a statewide nonprofit. That's not quite journalism, but PR at least involves writing and contacting the media, so it's journalism-adjacent.

While that paid at least some of the bills, I began taking on freelance assignments. Those included everything from actual writing to helping a company that put on rock-band camps for adults and kids decide whether it should publish books. I said yes as often as I could. Eventually, my skills were more current, and my most recent resume made me look like a journalist who had taken a career break for parenting reasons.

That eventually led me to an interview at a major technology company for a work-from-home position on a fledgling, but potentially massive, news project. It was a long road back, but it was a journey ultimately worth taking: I came out better at (and more appreciative of) my chosen profession.

Convincing older colleagues to take me seriously

Maurie Backman: I got hired at a hedge fund right out of college, and though I started out as a trading assistant, that role rapidly evolved into one where I was managing a trading desk. I'd proven to my boss that I could handle the intensity and responsibilities that position entailed, but many of my other colleagues needed more convincing -- and a big reason was the fact that I was considerably younger than the rest of them.

Now I'd imagine it's not easy being a trader in your 30s or 40s and having to take orders from a 23-year-old with seemingly limited experience. Still, some of the traders were downright rude to me. A few told me point-blank that while they liked me as a person and found me reasonably intelligent, they just didn't think I was equipped to handle the job.

Ultimately, I gained almost everyone's respect in that office, and I did so by closing trades like nobody's business and proving that I was more than capable of not only managing the workload, but holding my own in a sea of businessfolk 10 to 20 years my senior. It wasn't easy, but over time, some of my formerly discourteous colleagues not only stopped treating me poorly, but started going out of their way to be helpful. One or two even apologized for having doubted me earlier on. The experience taught me that hard work and confidence can go a long way toward building a name for yourself, and ultimately gaining the respect you deserve.

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