The early years of your career are the hardest.
It’s inevitable that you’ll feel lost, confused and insecure.
But early career years are also the most important. It’s when you have the most to learn, find out how to operate as a professional, and you develop the platform that will springboard you into a rewarding career.
I wish I had a cheat sheet for my first job. So I put one together.
I took my own experience and spoke to 20+ professionals ranging from three years to 20+ years of experience. Read on to learn my top 13 takeaways on what you need to know as you set out to build your career.
Let’s dive in.
1. Adopt a solutions mindset
- Sales are down. Here’s the analysis we should do.
- Our manufacturing process is faulty. Here’s how we can fix it.
- There’s a customer complaint. Here’s what we can do.
There’s no problem without a proposed solution. Focus on driving a solution versus being frustrated with problems and finding something or someone to blame. This will build your idea muscle and make all the hurdles that come along in the future so much easier to clear.
Every time you encounter a problem, develop all the options you can think of to overcome the challenge and present them to your team. Default to this mindset.
2. Now would be the time to work hard
Working really hard in your early years affords you the opportunity for balance later because you can create leverage in the form of (a) knowledge, (b) capital and (c) people.
You have more time in the early stages of your career. This doesn’t mean you have to, but you might get a rude shock if you plan on doing it later when you have many other responsibilities to juggle.
3. Nothing (reasonable) is beneath you
You are now at the bottom of the totem pole. No task is beneath you. All that matters is the team wins. Sounds easy in theory, but it's pretty hard in practice. If you can keep this attitude, humility and focus, it will pay off.
Plus, most people hate messes and avoid them like the plague. But this is where the opportunity is. If you roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, you’ll learn more and develop a reputation. People you will work with will remember this.
4. Stay true to your commitments
If you make a commitment, see it through. Half-assed problem solving creates more work for everyone. It’s astonishing how quickly you can get ahead if you simply:
- Say you’re going to do something
- Do it
5. Be deliberate about how you create value
There are 2 paths to success:
- Be Top 1% in the world at 1 thing
- Be Top 25% in the world at 3 things
Top 25% is achievable by most people. The problem is most people focus on being Top 1%.
6. Spend time with people that are better than you
The quickest way to accelerate your personal growth is to surround yourself with people that are better than you. It's the fastest way to level up.
7. Building is 99% execution, 1% vision
We glamorize vision and foresight too much. The majority of any project is actually really boring. It's all about being present, consistent and giving it the right level of effort day-in and day-out.
This is deceptively hard.
8. Always put things on paper
Writing things down brings clarity to the thought process. It’s easy to talk about something and build castles in the sky. It’s a lot harder to distill, synthesize, pressure test and then communicate. Continue this discipline for the rest of your career. Trust me.
9. You don’t work on “strategy”
Few professionals ever truly work on strategy. Experienced professionals will see straight through it if you try to claim you’re a “strategist”. That’s not really a problem. What matters is that if you ever do want to do real strategy work it needs to be backed by and based on deep understanding of industries, markets and consumers.
This comes from diving into the details early in your career. Getting into the nuts-and-bolts of how things actually work and forming an understanding of the world you can use later.
To be a big picture thinker, you have to earn the respect, trust and credibility of your team first. The only way you can do this is through delivering tangible value.
10. Learn across disciplines
Know a lot about: (a) how the world works, (b) how your industry works and (c) how the business works. This will set up well against your peers.
Then learn a little about: (a) how other industries work and (b) how other businesses work and (c) how people work. This will set you apart from your peers.
Cross functional knowledge is underrated. Bringing ideas from different domains is super valuable. If you bring it to the table, you’ll be an asset anywhere you go.
11. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
If you get advice from enough people, the advice cancels out. You can find two smart people to take opposite sides of the argument on virtually every topic. Focus on developing your instincts and trusting your own intuition.
12. Don’t compare yourself to others
Here’s something that is guaranteed: you’ll do some amazing work and not get any credit. Someone you work with will do nothing of value, and get ahead. It doesn’t matter.
Play your game and focus on yourself.
13. The right time to start is yesterday
If you’re waiting for the right time, you’re assuming: (1) there is a “right time” and (2) you will recognize that right time. Think about that. Each of those individually are borderline impossible to diagnose, let alone both. Whatever you’re sitting on, just get started.
Hope these principles help, and enjoy the journey!