Irreverent Career Advice for Up-and-Comers

Last Updated Dec 15, 2010 2:03 PM EST

Career Advice for Up-and-Comers When it comes to learning from the past, there's got to be a damn good reason to look back since you're probably better off just living in the present. Still, post mortems are certainly valuable exercises for learning from the past and determining what to do differently next go 'round.

So, today I got to thinking, if I could go back to when I was a young up-and-comer in the working world, what would I tell that early version of me, knowing what I know now? On second thought, I was so full of myself back then that I probably wouldn't listen.

Still, I'm hoping that at least some of you and your proteges are less pigheaded than I was and might benefit from this heartfelt but hard-hitting Irreverent Advice for Young Up-and-Comers:

Brains will only get you so far in the real world. While you may very well be as smart as you think you are, your intelligence will only be marginally useful in the real world. As time goes on, you'll come to rely less and less on your smarts and more and more on the wisdom, self-confidence, and strength that comes from experience. That's the foundation your future success will be built upon.

Don't take yourself so damn seriously. The sooner you get over yourself, the better. The sooner you grow up and stop thinking you're special; the sooner you realize that you're just another guy trying to carve his own path in the world; the sooner you fall down, get up, dust yourself off, and realize that wasn't so bad; the better. Because that's what it takes to do what comes next --

Take big risks -- now! It gets much harder as you get older and begin to "acquire" things you don't want to risk losing. What do you hope to achieve by taking big risks when you're young?
  • Opportunity and visibility. When you start out, you're essentially invisible. You want to change that as soon as possible. The more visible you become the more options you'll have, the more opportunities to learn and grow, the bigger your network will become, etc. Success doesn't happen in a vacuum.
  • Find your passion. If you don't think you've found it yet, then you haven't. You'll know when you have. Everything will get easier. You'll become driven and self-motivated. Climbing the corporate ladder and increasing responsibility and accountability will come naturally. If you're good at it and the market cooperates, you'll be successful.
  • Succeed and fail .. a lot. It's not important whether you succeed or fail early on, just that you do one or the other many times and get a solid feedback loop going. You'll achieve confidence from success and wisdom from failure. It's all good, it's all information, it's all experience, and it all builds a strong foundation.
Don't forget to live. You'll get all sorts of advice about work/life balance; here's a story that may help: Sometime in the future you'll meet someone, fall in love, and marry her. And when the opportunity arises to build a distributor network for your company in Europe, you'll take her with you, rent a car, and travel all over the place. Some of the time the two of you will explore and have fun, the rest of the time you'll do your business. Try to model your work/life balance after that trip. It works pretty well.

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Image courtesy Flickr user Charles Haynes

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