You don’t have to know what you want to do with your life at age 22- heck some of us don’t even have it all figured out by 30! Yet, it’s a worthwhile exercise to put together a plan and capture your thoughts at this specific moment in time.
For some (like me), at age 22, we’re just graduating college and heading back home to Mom and Dad’s for good home-cooked meals and an uncertain future. There will be a reunion with our high school friends. Fun times at the local, er, establishments — the ones we weren’t quite of age to visit during our college years. The creation of a resume, hundreds of applications to entry-level jobs and a few odd jobs in between.
Yes, age 22 is one heckuva time to be alive. It’s a defining time for those who just graduated college and a turning point for those who have worked for the previous four years since high school.
I’ve coached high school boys basketball for six years and helped mentor and follow the progress of many of these nascent young men in their years following high school. I’ve also served as a mentor to recent college graduates in the workplace, helping them acclimate to their new environs by providing them with coaching and empathetic guidance.
I know what it’s like to struggle in jobs that are poor fits and question what it is that I want, while still trying to have fun. At 22 most of us are trying to find our way in the world and figure out all the things about life that we surely didn’t learn from a school textbook.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was experiencing the emotions of doubt, fear and low self-confidence as I tried to assimilate into the workforce following my graduation from college. I remember these moments vividly because they served as valuable teaching points that helped me to pivot from an unsure novice to an experienced professional.
I benefited from mentors and managers who took the time to help me and teach me how to do my job. I steadfastly increased in emotional intelligence, tact and workplace efficiency.
Much of what I am today was cultivated through the experiences- both good and bad- during my career. Particularly, the first five-to-seven years of my professional career and graduate school. I can assure you, it’s not so-much the subject matter or knowledge of a particular industry or project that sticks with me.
Rather, it’s the life lessons, interpersonal skills, self-awareness and confidence that I earned through intellectually challenging moments and times of adversity.
This time of year serves as an annual renewal of the mind and spirit, as well as a period to reflect on the progress we’ve made since graduating high school, and for some of us, college and graduate school.
I read recently that some of the world’s most successful people always carry a notebook with them. Ever since I was in middle school, I have done the same thing. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I live by the great Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words:
“Thoughts rule the world.”
Thoughts, ideas and inspirational suggestions can pop into our minds at different intervals during the day. Many of us are so busy, we often concern ourselves with other tasks and forget a brilliant idea. There’s no way you’ll forget if you’re cognizant enough to write it down. Just make sure you don’t forget the notebook.
In an effort to help many recent graduates and those of you still looking to find your place in this great, big world, here is part one of a series of five lessons I wish I could tell my 22-year old self.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell my 22-year old self. He’s lost somewhere in the space-time continuum. These lessons are better suited for you anyway. Besides, I don’t have a DeLorean like Marty McFly did in Back To The Future. Oh, never mind. You may not get that reference.
Just remember, the 80s were awesome!
Lesson #1. Begin to Build Your Network
The age-old line, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is not all truth but, it does carry some weight. Dating back to my adolescent days, I observed through the selection of players for AAU basketball teams, Little League all-star teams and student government elections that talent- in any form- often did not matter as much as being “well-connected.”
When I got to college, midway through my sophomore year, I took part in an awesome networking experience with alumni from my school. It was called, “The Wall Street Experience,” and it gave me the opportunity to meet executives from Lehman Brothers (you won’t be able to work there!), Merrill Lynch and (my favorite) specialist firms from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
One of the alumni who I met, was an extraordinarily kind and generous man who worked for one of those specialist firms.
Several months later, in March of my sophomore year, I followed up with that man to express an interest in working on Wall Street. I didn’t even know what that meant. But I liked what I saw on the networking tour and I decided to find out. That conversation later led to another conversation- or should I say, a talk at the end of April. It went something like this:
Man: Hi, Chris. You got it.
Me: Hi, uh, Sir! Uh, huh?
Man: Yeah, we got you a gig this summer on the floor (of the NYSE). See you in a month (Click).
That man was calling with a gift: a summer internship that would pay $10 per hour and allow me exposure to the ground-level of financial transactions on the floor of the NYSE. It was a seminal experience, one that was far from earned.
Opportunity opened its lucrative doors to me because of the school I attended. I’ve taken that lesson with me everywhere that I’ve gone, by nurturing personal and business relationships at every turn.
I realized right there that building a network of friends and professional colleagues would help me, regardless of which direction I decided to go in. I remain a very active “networker” as I’m always trying to gain an advantage either in the form of a new idea or via someone who can help me advance my writing or coaching career.
I return the favor to young alumni, friends and business colleagues by passing along advice, guiding them to friends who can help and by sharing lessons learned from my career. It’s a reciprocal relationship. And as much as I’ve benefited from those who have given to me, as the Christmastime saying goes, “It’s better to give than to receive.”
Bottom Line- My advice to you, is this: Try your best to meet (in-person) the most successful people in the field or profession where you hope to work. Especially when you’re young, never pass up an opportunity to meet a person of influence for coffee or lunch. If it is too difficult to get an in-person meeting, strive to send an e-mail or make a phone call. Have the courage. It’s well worth it.
The information you learn or, the opportunity that presents itself could alter the course of your life.
What do you think?
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