Business Advice: 14 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself at 25

Last Updated Aug 24, 2011 2:08 PM EDT

Stuff I wish I could have told the twenty-five year-old me (assuming I would have listened):

I probably should tell him about the hair too

  1. Everybody wants something. Almost everyone acts out of self interest (especially when they claim they don't.) Quid pro quo is the order of the day; in fact, the people most eager to volunteer advice or help tend to want the most in return. Assume all career or business assistance is part of an expected exchange, either now or in the future. Then you won't be disappointed. But keep in mind that occasionally...
  2. What a few people want is just to feel good about helping others. Rarely, but it does happen, someone likes to help simply because it makes them feel good. Those people are hard to find, though, because their names aren't listed as sponsors on event programs or plastered on the sides of b-school buildings. When you find one, make them a permanent part of your life.
  3. Everything before "but" is bull. "I don't meant to be critical, but..." "I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but..." "Please don't take this the wrong way, but..." Yes you do, yes you are, and yes I will. Disclaimers are anything but, indicating the true meaning behind what is said.
  4. Boring people win. The people who achieve the most do a lot more of the boring stuff. Routine, rigor, attention to detail, churning away day after day... that is how you will succeed. Every elite athlete, entertainer, and successful business person you will someday know has put in thousands of hours of practice and effort. They are successful mainly because they are willing to do what other people won't. Learn to enjoy the mundane and you will quickly outdistance the pack.
  5. Stop brainstorming and start borrowing. Most people try to be original -- and want to be perceived as original -- primarily out of ego. Results are all that matter. Stop trying to think of something new. Someday you'll spend two hours in a bottling plant and bring back more great productivity and quality ideas than you can implement in a year at your book plant. The store, the restaurant, the factory, the school... ideas you can borrow -- ideas that you can see actually work -- are everywhere. Borrow freely and often.
  6. The women you really want to meet don't care about the kind of car you drive. Darn it.
  7. Training is great; advice is not. Advice is what you ask for when you already know the answer but wish you didn't. Always ask, "How do I...?" because "how" leads to training and knowledge. Ask, "Should I..." and you get opinions often colored by individual perspectives. Always ask to be shown or taught. When you know how you can decide for yourself whether you should.
  8. Visibility is everything. The people who get promotions and opportunities are the people who are seen and noticed. Spend the majority of your time doing great things, but spend at least 10% of your time getting the attention of the people who matter. Customers, partners, media... no one will discover you on their own. You absolutely must help them find you.
  9. Always take out something. Initiatives, projects, decisions... you'll constantly be tempted to add one more thing to make them even better. Addition almost always results in subtraction. The more you eliminate the more you can focus on what remains, so the stuff you leave out is as important as the stuff you leave in.
  10. The people who say the least have the most to say. Bragging is a mask for insecurity. Truly confident people are quiet and unassuming. Hang around them. When they do speak you'll be glad you were listening.
  11. Your parents are a lot smarter than you think. And they only want the best for you. And they'll always be there for you. And they won't be around forever. So will it hurt you to call once in a while?
  12. Always learn on the fly. Waiting until you're ready means waiting forever. When you're "preparing" there are millions of reasons to delay a little longer. Trust yourself. Learn a little and then jump in. Make mistakes, adjust, adapt, and develop greater skill by doing. You'll save time and achieve more.
  13. Don't expect to get back what you give. Favors will not be returned. Sacrifices you make for others will not be rewarded. All the people you mentor, develop, promote, and work with will not call to see how you're doing when you are suddenly let go years from now. When you give, give because you want to give; then you'll never be disappointed.
  14. You will only regret what you decide not do. You won't regret broken bones from motorcycle racing; you will regret not taking a shot at a higher level of the sport. You won't regret taking a particularly crappy job; you will regret turning down what was probably a great job. When you look back you will only regret a few of the things you did. (The rest, even if they were mistakes, will help make you the person you become.) What you will regret are things you decide not to do due to lack of confidence or fear of the unknown -- like the businesses you should have started and the joint venture you turned down. Safe, in your life, will almost always equal sorry. Take intelligent business risks and trust you will be able to work through any challenges. If nothing else, you'll have more fun.
Related: Thumbnail courtesy flickr user gagilas, CC 2.0. Photo of me courtesy a momentary lack of judgment.
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.