Although I’ve been out of University for a few years, I didn’t fully grasp the challenges that young professionals are having until the last year or two. After chatting with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, it has become very clear that young professionals are living in a different world than their parents.
As such, the world we live in offers up new challenges but additionally, it offers up new opportunities. Opportunities that too many young people are overlooking and not capitalizing on.
Over the last few years I’ve worked for Crown Corporations, private companies, non-profits and ran my own businesses. Throughout all of this, I’ve learned many lessons from mentors and colleagues while also learning lessons from my own mistakes and failures. These lessons have helped me turn my side hustle into a main hustle and do work I’m passionate about on a daily basis.
In a competitive job market and at a time when life can be more confusing than straight forward, young professionals are forced to juggle a wide range of roles and wear multiple hats. As they say, the life of a young professional is a wild ride. My hope is that this blog post will help you on your ride as I share a few of the things I’ve learned over the last couple years.
Here are 14 things every young professional should know about life and business:
Time is All You Have. Optimize & Automate.
Contrary to popular belief, money can buy you time. If you pay a laundry service to do your laundry, then you’ve just bought two hours of time to spend with your family. Outsource the tedious tasks in your life and business and you’ve just bought time to invest in your career and other activities. Time is the most precious thing anyone can give you and is the most precious thing that any of us have. Use it wisely and spend it doing things that will help you get closer to the life of your dreams or doing things that you enjoy.
Use systems that withdraw your savings from each paycheck. Use systems that save you time like Hootsuite or BufferApp as it relates to managing your social media accounts. Invest in a good cell phone that will make your quality of life better with an efficient data plan and unlimited texting. Don’t use stupid ring-tones, you shouldn’t have time to keep it up to date. Ring, Ring, Ring will do the trick.
Another very simple yet powerful “life hack” that has offered optimization in both my diet and reducing the likelihood decision fatigue is fasting. Intermittent fasting is when you adjust your window of not eating over a given period each day. There is tons of evidence that shows intermittent fasting can be effective for weight management and longevity. It’s been a game changer for me. I typically fast between 7PM and 12PM every day and have even embraced the 72 hour fast once to see the impact.
Never Be Afraid to Ask a Question
It was one of my first meetings with a client and I hadn’t spent a lot of time with anyone in this meeting before. I was thinking to myself how important it is to keep in mind that this clients audience wasn’t guys as women were the ones who made the purchasing decisions within this industry. Being new to the game and lacking the confidence to speak up, I just sat there quiet and kept it to myself. Ten minutes had passed and someone else brought up my exact point. Next month they got a promotion.
Ask questions, raise points and contribute to the conversation. It’s better to say something to show you’re actually engaged than to sit there and add little to no value to the existing conversation.
Realize You’re Not Jay Z. Be Humble.
We’re a generation that is called narcissistic, egotistic and self-entitled. And while some of the claims can be supported by instances that reinforce this naive thinking, it’s not true of the entire generation. That said, it’s not going to be a stereotype that we can shake tomorrow. For that reason, young professionals need to understand the importance of self-awareness.
It’s also important to realize that all of your accomplishments in High School and College mean nothing if you’re not creating value today. You are good as your last project. You are as good as your last pitch. You are as good as your last review. And with every day, that project, pitch or review is losing its wonder.
Understanding your skillset and having the ability to truly know your value to an industry or employer is key. Not all employers are open about pay scale within a company and this can lead to further frustration as it’s an ongoing guessing game. While I hate the idea of employers keeping this information locked away in a drawer, it’s the reality of the world we live in. Thus, talk to others in the industry and don’t feel guilty when you go down an interview process to find out how much competitors are paying.
Fail Fast. Learn Faster.
As a young professional, you’re most likely coming into an industry filled with veterans and experts. Most young professionals aren’t tied down with responsibilities like kids for the first couple years of their career. As such, you have the time to work late and put in the hours to take on new challenges and projects that will force you out of your comfort zone. When you do this, you’re able to learn more as you’ll fail at times and be able to look at that failure as a lesson.
The key to failure isn’t to get caught up on the act but instead to get caught up on the lesson. When you don’t make a deadline, ask yourself why you didn’t reach it. When a client doesn’t like your work, ask yourself why they didn’t buy into it. Learning as you go isn’t a bad thing. If you can learn faster than your colleagues and learn about things they’re resisting, you have an opportunity to stand out.
Learn What the Veterans Resist
When I graduated, a friend of mine expressed concern that marketing was an over-saturated industry. In that moment, I realized it was important for me to figure out how I could stand out in an industry filled with creative , client service and brand experts. My obsession with technology and the web was originally nothing more than a passion. Yet, when I realized that it was something that the seasoned veterans didn’t quite get or weren’t willing to educate themselves about, I saw an opportunity.
Look closely at what trends are changing your profession. Most likely, there are a handful of Veterans who are sitting back getting ready for retirement and paying no attention to these trends. Instead of joining them on the sidelines, head out to center field and pick up the ball and run with it. These trends could be what differentiates you from being disposable or not.
Watch Your Bank Account Weekly
When was the last time you looked at your bank statement? And by look, I don’t mean simply look at the balance and call it a day. It’s important that you know where your money is going and where your money is coming from. Money management is something that isn’t really taught in High School or University but it’s something that is extremely important for young professionals to understand.
Money is important. Stop pretending it isn’t and accept the fact that you need to look at your finances. A study by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that couples who fight about money once a week are 30% more likely to end up divorced than those who disagree over money only a few times a month.
Mr. Dew also measured the link between consumer debt and a couple’s likelihood for divorce. “Every 10 fold increase in consumer debt was associated with a 7% increase in the likelihood of divorce,” he says. “So people who had $1,000 of debt versus $100 would be 7% more likely to divorce.” Get your money in order for not only your own sanity but also the sanity of your future partner.
Disregard Grades. Build Relationships & Reputation.
My friend Findlay brought this concept to my attention on his blog, Caffeine & Copy and it’s so true. Since joining the corporate world I’ve never been asked how well I did in my marketing classes or how well I did in psychology. In fact, I haven’t been asked my GPA since I applied for an internship directly after school. What I have been asked is if I know this person, that person and another person.
Business is run on a web of relationships. Furthermore, you’re the combination of the people you spend the most time with. Find people who inspire you and push you to become and do better each and every day. Spend time with people who challenge your thinking and will push you to do things that are outside of your comfort zone.
As time goes on, the relationships you build no will influence the career you someday look back at and remember. The relationships with your colleagues, employers, clients and acquaintances will all combine to be a representation of you and your stamp in the professional world. Nurture these relationships and ensure that they are authentic and pure. Strive to give more than you take.
Don’t Emulate Kanye West
Stop telling people how great you are. It’s okay to self-promote. It’s not okay to make outrageous claims like “I’m the Steve Jobs of this generation.” Let your actions do the talking along with your work ethic. Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.
If you’re actually driving results and offering up clear value through your work – Well done. That’s the goal. But it’s also your job. Don’t forget that. It’s your job to create value. It’s your job to do something right. It’s your job to meet deadlines. When you go above and beyond, take note of the humble brag or letting someone else do the talking for you.
Be Patient. But not Naive.
I know a lot of people stuck in dead end jobs wasting their life away doing work they hate. That’s not the way to live. It’s important to be patient in an industry you love especially if you’re happy but it’s not necessary to be patient if you’re like a hamster running on a wheel.
Do you see your next step within this existing employer? Is it clearly identified? Do you know how long it will take to get there? Have you had the same title for the last three years? Well, if you’re actually providing value to the company and feel you’re getting nowhere in your career – it’s probably time to look elsewhere. And don’t think of it as being disloyal. Think of it as knowing your worth and going somewhere to be compensated for just that.
Your Word. All You Have Is Your Word.
Your reputation is everything. Hold on to what you built to get the job and evolve that into something that allows you to stand out as a true leader in your profession. It’s easy to work your way up the corporate ladder and forget about the things you did to get there. Instead of brushing off interns or appointments with sales reps, focus on keeping your promises.
If you schedule a meeting, be there for your meeting. It’s called respect. It’s how you get respect from others and it’s how you ensure that you’re seen as a quality team member by those around you. No one respects someone who doesn’t give it to others. If you make a promise to deliver something, bend your back to deliver it. If you make a promise to meet someone, bend your back to meet with them. As Scarface once said, you have two things in this world, your word and your balls. Don’t break’em for anyone.
Things Won’t Just “Work Out”
I’m not sure which phrase bugs me more… “Everything will work out in the end” or “Everything happens for a reason”. Both of these phrases are misused and misunderstood on a daily basis by 64% of North Americas population.
First, no, everything will not always work out in the end. You have to do things to make them work. If you have a presentation tomorrow, going home early because you’re not interested in working late – Isn’t going to cut it. It’s not just going to work out. That presentation could be better if you spent an extra hour prepping for it. That document could be better if you spent an extra thirty minutes proof-reading it or used a document creator. Yes, a conclusion will be made at the end of it all but that conclusion isn’t necessarily going to be the best possible outcome had you made a sacrifice.
As for everything happening for a reason. It’s the same situation. Yes, everything happens for a reason but you can influence what those things are. In fact, you can influence what the majority of those things are. The fact that you’re late for a meeting isn’t because “of a reason” you’re late because you don’t manage your time properly. The fact that your company didn’t win that pitch isn’t because “of a reason” it’s because you didn’t listen to what the goals were of the client. The fact that your girlfriend is leaving you isn’t because “of a reason” it’s because you were inconsiderate and didn’t treat her with respect.
Look. If you’re privileged enough to be reading this on a laptop, computer, tablet or mobile phone – You’re more privileged than 70% of the worlds population. Thus, you control your fate. you control your time, you control your life. Doing things, changes things. Simple as that.
Create Multiple Streams of Revenue
What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow? If you’re in the service industry, what would you do if you lost your biggest client? It would be the end of your biggest stream of revenue and what kept the lights on in your home and gas in your tank. Which is why it’s important to have more than one stream of revenue. It’s why it’s important to have a side-hustle.
The economy isn’t exactly reliable and business today isn’t what it once was. While the generations before mine may have had the liberty of working with the same employer for 20+ years, that sense of security just doesn’t exist in today’s market.
The internet is making it easier than ever to start a side hustle. You can rent your home on sites like AirBnB, you can sell your services on sites like Elance or Odesk, you can even sell your homemade arts and crafts on sites like Etsy. Start a side hustle and who knows, maybe someday it could become your main hustle!
Set No Expectations. Create Your Own Story.
Society is filled with expectations. Specifically, there are expectations at every stage in our lives. For example, this is how life is supposed to go after graduation:
- Get a job
- Buy a car
- Pay off student debt
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Begin saving for retirement
- Have/Adopt kids
- Have grandkids
Forget that noise. Focus on what you really want out of life and don’t let external forces influence what you want to do. While my first suggestion of all of these items is to pay off your student debt, it’s still a choice that you have to make based on what’s important to you.
Depression and anxiety runs deep among young professionals. It’s highly because of the fact that many young professionals feel as if they aren’t where they need to be in life or where they want to be in life. Instead of trying to keep up with the “Joneses” take a deep breath and spend some time looking at the person in the mirror. Now set some goals.
Short term & long term. Make the short term goals tangible accomplishments that will help you get closer to achieving those longer term goals. For every short term goal you achieve, you should feel one step closer to a long term goal. An example of how this would look is something like this:
Long Term Goals:
Short Term Goals:
Speak at an Industry Event
Be Mentioned in the Media
Read 10 Industry Books this Year
Train Colleagues & Co-Workers on Trends
Share 2 Articles/Blog Posts with Colleagues a Month
Have Coffee with Two Industry Leaders Bi-Monthly
Mental Health is No Joke. Manage Your Brain.
It’s not something I talk about often on my blog but it’s something that needs to be said. I honestly believe that managing your brain is the biggest challenges each of us face every single day. You need to look at your brain for what it is, an organ, and like any other organ, it requires nutrients and exercise to stay healthy.
For me, I use writing in a journal, working out and doing crazy things like Skydiving to keep myself sane. Accept the fact that you have flaws and that nothing is perfect. Understand that it’s okay to be depressed and it’s okay to talk about it. Understand that everyone goes through ups and downs and that it’s just the way life works.
At the same time, don’t let it own you. Own it. Own your mental health and seek out professional help if you need it. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have a support system in place to keep you grounded but some people aren’t that fortunate. Focus on your sanity. Focus on what makes you happy. Focus on you.