Study hard and get good grades. Everything else will fall into place. That’s what we were taught to believe about our professional life. A lot of us have internalized this advice and probably realized that that’s not really how things work.
You can achieve a stellar GPA and graduate from one the best universities and still find yourself unprepared for the real world. That’s because some lessons aren’t taught in classrooms and knowing them early on can make a huge difference in our careers.
If you’re reading this, it’s not too late. Here are some important career lessons you can benefit from now.
a. Success is not linear. Most of us have an idea of the path to follow in order to reach our career goals. The traditional view of success looks like this:
1. Go to a good school
2. Graduate with a stellar GPA
3. Get a good job and do well
4. Get promoted
5. Go back to school
6. Climb up the ladder
7. Live happily ever after
Sounds simple right? In reality, we don’t arrive at our goals by following a straight path. More often than not, we take detours (in the form of breaks, setbacks, moments of regression etc.) and figure out how to get back on track.
Take Chris Sacca, American venture investor for example. He turned down the opportunity to invest in Airbnb and Dropbox, thinking they wouldn’t be successful in the long run. Seeing how these companies went big, many would consider these moves to be a failure. Yet, Chris is now a billionaire with investments in Twitter, Uber, Instagram, Kickstarter etc. He’s the perfect reminder that you shouldn’t let your mistakes define you. You don’t need to have it all figured out from the start. There are external forces that will often interfere with your trajectory. Fret not. You can always recover from a setback. What is important is developing an attitude that embraced change and knows how to turn “failures” into learning opportunities.
b. Your career is what you make of it. No one is going to give you anything unless you earn it. As an intern, you may get hired if you show you’re a team player and hard worker. Want that promotion or raise? Make sure you’ve exceeded your supervisor’s expectations and continue to align yourself with the company’s goals. Some things may be outside your control, but you have a say over your performance and the amount of work you do – which ultimately will bring you closer to your goals.
It’s important to remember not to get comfortable and let your growth become stagnant. If you hit a wall at your job, find a better opportunity (only after attempting to fix that, though). Want to make a career transition? Start doing your research and network with industry insiders. Hate the thought of working for someone and dream of starting a business? Do it while you don’t have a mortgage or a family to feed. Or, spend all your free time on executing your idea until you make enough money to be able to quit.
c. You can create your own opportunities. When it comes to making moves in our career, we tend to wait for permission. We wait for a job to get experience instead of acquiring that experience on our own. We wait to get a raise instead of diversifying our income and becoming less dependent on that in the first place. We wait until “the universe gives us a sign” to after the very things that make our heart beat.
It’s a trap we so easily fall into when in reality, we are the only ones who can give ourselves permission to do something. You can go make videos on your own and hone your editing skills. You can take a photography class and start shooting your friend’s engagement. You can enroll in a coding course to move to the next phase of your career. Be proactive when it comes to your personal and professional development. You can accomplish much more in a team than by yourself of course, but do not let the absence of help handicap you.
d. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. I was at an event a few weeks ago and wrote down a very powerful piece of advice. One of the panelists said, “The answer to the questions you never ask is always no.”
A lot of us don’t get what we want because we don’t know how to ask. Or rather, we’re too afraid of rejection. It’s cliche, but the worst case-scenario is hearing no, then you just find someone else to say yes. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to go to people and express what you need help with. Together is better than alone. Of course don’t be one of those people who only know how to take. Make sure you’re contributing to them just as much as they are contributing to you. But do not let your pride get in the way of your progress. You’d be surprised how people are open to sharing their experience and giving advice.
e. You should always update your skills. Whether you’re an intern or a senior executive, your education never stops. Your dedication to learning will be the difference between you staying stagnant and you moving up the corporate ladder.Think of yourself like a smartphone. Upgrades maximize your performance. Don’t get comfortable with a job that you forget to make yourself marketable. Nowadays, job security is obsolete. Technology is disrupting the workplace, replacing jobs and creating careers. I wouldn’t be surprised if robots eventually replace bank tellers just like self-driving cars will replace bus or taxi drivers. You can’t afford to be left behind. Always think about learning new skills and adapting to current times. Like Robert Kiyosaki from Rich Dad Poor Dad would advise, invest in yourself so that you stay ahead of the market.