It was the summer after college graduation, and my friends were in the throes of finding jobs. I can remember talking about what we wanted in our dream careers — feeling like we’re making an impact while also getting paid what we’re worth, waking up excited to go to the office and not feeling chained to a desk for the next 40 years.
That summer, a lot of my friends settled. They sent out hundreds of resumes and took the first job they could get.
And who can blame them? From kindergarten, there have been rules and structure for how to live your life. Now in the job market things were uncertain. We’re never taught the tools to build a meaningful career. We just have to stumble into them.
Building a career that’s meaningful, respected, and well-paying is a tough challenge to crack.
“I FOLLOWED ALL THE RULES”
In your career, it’s going to feel like there are rules. There aren’t.
Sure, gatekeepers and people in power want you to act a certain way. If you want to please them, act that way. There are plenty of times when you shouldn’t follow the herd, though.
In fact, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ll need to stand out. You’ll need to push limits and break rules. Any time you’re trying to build something new, people who like the old way are going to view you as a threat.
“I WENT TO COLLEGE AND GOT GOOD GRADES”
Once you’ve been working for a while, nobody will care where you went to college. And those good grades you got are only useful if you have some evidence that you’ve created something of value.
Just getting an A+ doesn’t help your career. Creating something of worth is what propels people through the ranks of major corporations. It’s also what makes an entrepreneur special. It applies to car mechanics, artists, and anybody else. Create something of worth. Something cool.
BIG TIP: Keep a copy of everything you produce. Stockpile your previous work so that you can show it off. A portfolio is super important. (If you’re in college or recently out, your projects and papers are a good foundation to your portfolio — use them)
I got a job offer out of college based on maps I made for a class I took. Portfolios demonstrate competence.
“I’M WILLING TO WORK HARD”
Are you willing to work consistently?
Discipline always wins. A career is a long game. There are big decisions. But it’s the little, everyday ones that matter most.
If you do something consistently, day in and day out, you will build something incredible with time. The law of compounding guarantees it.
Chances are, the first stuff you make — no matter how hard you work — will probably not be good. Keep working! You overestimate what you can accomplish in a day, but you underestimate what you can accomplish in a year.
“WHAT ABOUT THE SIX-FIGURE JOB? WHERE’S THAT?”
What’s the rush to six-figures? Or seven or eight? More money does not make you more happy.
You don’t need six figures. You probably need $75k in the US to be perfectly happy — Angus Deaton, Who Just Won Nobel Prize, Thinks A $75,000 Salary Makes You Happy
If you still want the money, see above about creating something valuable and getting good at a skill. When you have valuable skills, you get paid.
“I’M AN INTROVERT. I CAN’T NETWORK”
Knowing a lot of people is not as important as knowing the right people. If you surround yourself with a small group of smart people, you’ll go far.
You’re the average of the 5 people you most associate with.
I should know, I’m a proud introvert. I’ve found a way to build a tight network of people I trust. These people would go the extra mile to help me, and that’s more valuable than having hundreds of acquaintances.
This includes getting someone to mentor you. It’s so important. My mentors give me advice, contacts, warnings. If I wanted to change jobs or start a new venture I know they’d have my back.
“SO MUCH OF BUSINESS IS BS”
You’re not wrong.
This is a great thing though. You can separate yourself from the herd just by keeping things real and not accepting BS.
Don’t be an anti-bullshit vigilante. That’s a good way to make people upset. Don’t call somebody out just because you feel like it. Save your call-outs for when you need them most.
Don’t speak unless you need to. By staying thoughtful and only contributing when it’s important, you build credibility. I don’t speak often in meetings, but when I do people listen. I make sure I have something important to say.
Take your time. A career is a long time. If you don’t like something, try something else. Most of all, just don’t get stuck. Remember, you’re playing the game, not the other way around.
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