Don’t listen to your parents.

3 things I learned during my first few years in the corporate world.

I’ve got a long way to go. Literally, like 40+ more years to go before I’m filing for retirement benefits from the SSA. Hopefully this means I’ll learn a lot more in the next few decades, but to date there are some things that I know for sure that some people wont learn in half that time. Here’s to hoping I remember these lessons and that they do some good for you as well.

“NEVER BE THE SMARTEST ONE IN THE ROOM” IS A MYTH.

Growing up, my parents told me to never be the smartest one in the room, and to never have the most expensive house on the block. Good concept, and in real estate that may be true. In business the concept doesn’t hold water.

Here’s why: all things are relative. To succeed in anything (ever) you need to know your value and why that value resonates with people. In other words, know when you’re a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, and play to those strengths either way.

Let’s say you’re a big fish in a small pond (read: smartest one in the room). You have the opportunity to greatly and consistently surpass expectations time and time again. The world is your oyster — make your change to establish credibility in order to move up the ladder.

Now, let’s say you’re a small fish in a big pond (read: you listened to your parents). You have the opportunity to learn from the big fish and use the space to better understand your value. Figure out where you can make change, and use the opportunity to right-size your pond in order to get ahead.

I’m not saying it’s smart or enjoyable to surround yourself with dumb people, but it is smart and it’s definitely enjoyable to understand how your unique value can work to your advantage no matter the size of your pond.

SOCIAL EQUITY IS SOMETIMES ALL THAT MATTERS.

As a proud introvert (INFJ), I’d thrive in a world made for small social circles. But that’s not the world we live in. As much as I’m hesitant to learn this lesson, I know that trust and relationships are the only things keeping the wheels turning in the business world. Think your coworker got promoted because of the high CTR he achieved on his first campaign? Think again.

Despite my occasional preference to curl up with a book or stick in some headphones and tune out distractions, I can map back every one of my professional successes — big or small — to a personal relationship rather than a metric or an outcome I’ve achieved. I suppose they tell you this in school, but I think I was wearing headphones at the time.

YOU TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO THINK OF YOU.

When I was growing up, my mom would tell me, “think of yourself the way you want others to think of you.” It’s great advice but it didn’t become real to me until I saw it work.

People are naturally reactive, and will respond to your cues in order to create a first impression of you. However these first impressions are made from mostly subconscious factors, so the truth will become quickly transparent if you don’t believe the message you’re telling other people. Find confidence to at least believe in your own potential to become the person you want to be.

I’ve learned this lesson time and time again in different ways, but every time I only realize it in retrospect. It starts with the classic feeling of imposter syndrome, only to realize that I succeeded solely because of the (sometimes small) amount of confidence I was able to muster around my potential. To harken back to great advice from my mom, “someone has to be President, it might as well be you.”

The moral of the story
It’s funny to me the number of times I learn these lessons again and again. I may learn them (for real) eventually, and kudos to you if you already have. Maybe you’re the guy that got promoted.