#CareerGoals: 8 Things I Wish I Knew in My 20s

Image by WOCinTech (CC BY)

Setting out for a successful career in business when you’re in your 20s can seem like a nightmare, especially if you’re a woman. But if you’re just starting, here are a few tips from those who were once where you are and made it.

1. Take risks now

If you want to have a successful career, your first priority in your 20s shouldn’t be making lots of money. Instead, try to learn the most you can about your craft and your industry. Spend your 20s getting on-the-ground experience: work with an amazing team, dig deep into an innovative product or hook yourself to a rocketship now, because this early experience will prove itself as important as your academic background (even if it means a lower paycheck for the time being). Besides, your 20s (and, many times, your early 30s) are the perfect time to take risks that might be more difficult later in life. As Jen Welter, the NFL’s first female coach, poignantly put it: “You have to follow your passion, not a paycheck.”

2. Be your best

theBoardlist’s founder Sukhinder Singh Cassidy recommends focusing on being your best, especially early on: “The most important message in year 1–5 is to focus on becoming the best leader you can in whatever field you’re in.” This is especially important if you want to be on a board. Cassidy continues, “Qualifications for a board start with being a great and reputable leader (operator) with a depth of expertise in one or two areas. So in other words, focus first on building a great career and getting your first board will be based largely on your qualifications as a leader in your day job — not something else.”

3. Be persistent

If you have a dream, be persistent. Don’t give up on it after the first obstacle. You shouldn’t expect to have it all figured out in your 20s! Follow the example of Suze Orman. Nowadays, she is known for her financial advice, but Suze actually acquired some bankruptcy knowledge of her own first hand. When she was young and still inexperienced in the field, she lost quite a bit of money on a broker’s scheme. Obviously, she’s made the most out of that bad experience and created a new career! And why? Because her goal was always having a business of her own.

4. But don’t plan too much

Sometimes, structuring an elaborate 5 year plan might not be a good idea. If you get too caught up in intricate plans to work at a given company, you will take considerably less risks. And some risks, like Marissa Mayer knows, pay off extremely well. She got an impressive 14 job offers after graduation — one of them was from Google, then a small startup company with less than 19 employees and no women on their staff. She accepted it, helped build Google and then transitioned to Yahoo as a CEO.

5. Find work you love

Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org explains, “When you believe in what you are doing, you can combine passion with contribution — and that is a true gift. Keep trying and you will find what you love to do… and once you do, you will crush it.”

6. Never let others decide your path

To be successful in business, you should never let others decide your path. If you’re in your 20s and just starting out your career, it’s perfectly normal to have doubts about which direction to choose. But it’s important to follow your instincts. Don’t let others’ opinions define what you should do, who you should be or how you should conduct your business. Shark Tanks’ Lori Greiner has great advice: “Your success will have everything to do with how you perceive yourself, because how you perceive yourself is how others will perceive you, too.”

7. Don’t isolate yourself

A lot of your success in the business world will depend on your networking skills. Remember: no one does business alone. You never know who could be a good business partner in the future. Connect with your peers to push yourself to do better work and to keep up to date with the latest trends. Attract potential investors. If you want to be successful, you need to get out of your bubble. Joanna McFarland, co-founder of HopSkipDrive says, “I don’t think women use their networks as well as men do. People really do want to help and when you reach out authentically, and when you pay it forward, your network is invaluable.”

8. Find your expertise

theBoardlist’s own Blair Christie, Former Cisco Senior Vice President & CMO and multiple board member, recommends using the early years to both build out your core skills and establish a desirable expertise: “Build strong expertise in core areas such as finance, product development, marketing and social media, and consumer segmentation. Build your operating experience, continually improve your networking and communication skills, get experience scaling businesses into new markets.”

Keep calm and carry on

No one expects you to be a billionaire in your 20s, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. There are so many things you can do early in your career to be successful in business throughout your life. Lay a solid foundation now that will serve you well into your next decade or more.