Years ago, when I started working as a personal trainer, I told a few coworkers I wanted to be a fitness writer for magazines—and they are scoffed at me.
Three years later, with no previous writing experience, I was regularly writing for places like Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Journal, and more. I even used the same methods to go from no marketing experience to becoming a copywriter for top-selling international brands.
In this article, I’ll share the exact strategies that helped me grow faster than others in several different industries even though I had absolutely no experience. Many of them go against common career advice, but if you’re ready to try them, these tips will help you reach the top in record time.
1. Study people who are “street smart,” not “book smart”
There’s a huge difference between learning from a “book smart” business professor who’s never started a successful company versus learning from a “street smart” serial entrepreneur who founded numerous 8-and-9-figure businesses. One will take you to their “book smart” level; the other will help you grow faster than could’ve imagined.
Always study the people who’ve actually walked the walk and talked the talk because you need to learn what works best in the real world, not just in theory or academia.
By learning from people who’ve succeeded, you’ll get the actual lessons to help you reach their same level. Because even though they might not have had the best grades (or even a diploma), they created results time and time again.
For example, when I was a personal trainer, I met a lot of well-studied people who could name all the muscles in the human body, but couldn’t train a real human for shit (which was what we were actually getting paid for!).
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
— Mark Twain
No matter your industry, there are always people at the top with tons of practical experience. Find them and study their work. Read their articles. Watch their videos. Buy their books. Take their courses.
It’ll make a huge difference in your career.
2. Don’t be in a rush to get paid
Hear me out.
Yes, money is important. But the knowledge you gain at the beginning of your career can massively alter the trajectory for the rest of it. And taking just a few months to focus on real-world learning — instead of just going straight into “making money” — at the start can set you up for faster growth, fewer setbacks, and a much bigger salary in just a few years.
The reality is 3 months in a good internship with an expert in your industry can be worth as much as 3 years of experience at an entry-level job.
In fact, I did a 3-month unpaid internship when I joined the fitness industry and it taught me more than most trainers learn in a lifetime. But if I went straight to taking the first job I could find, I would’ve struggled.
Entry-level work only teaches you how to get good at entry-level work, and your knowledge will be limited by your environment, managers, coworkers, etc. But at an internship with an elite person, you’ll get hands-on experience and see how the masters do it. You’ll also learn powerful lessons that can save you precious time (and stupid mistakes) in the future.
And even though someone else might grab an entry-level job while you focus on learning, once you’ll start working, you’ll quickly pass them.
“A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.”
— Jonathan Swift
If you can’t find a formal internship program, do what I did and email them and ask if they’re open to an internship, coming by a few times a week to shadow them, or just to get some advice. You can also join a workshop or conference to put yourself in that environment and meet other driven, ambitious people as well.
I understand you need to pay the bills, but if you can get an incredible opportunity with an expert, it’ll pay for itself many times over in the long run.
3. Aim higher and think bigger than others
“Don’t join an easy crowd; you won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high.”
— Jim Rohn
If you really want to grow in any industry faster than others, set a higher target and raise your trajectory. Because while many people just want a low-stress job with good benefits (which is totally fine), I was able to grow my career at a faster pace was because I wanted to reach the highest levels.
Other trainers didn’t want to fly across the country to attend workshops. They didn’t spend their weekends studying fitness DVDs. They didn’t want to open their own gyms or coaching programs.
Few people are willing to squeeze the most out of their careers and, because of that, they won’t reach their highest potential. That’s why you can’t follow the example everyone else sets. You have to think, act, and learn differently so you can take the leaps in your career that most others won’t.
To grow much faster, you have to break traditional career rules, take huge leaps, and go beyond your comfort zone. Rather than starting at the bottom and slowly inching your way up, force your hand and do things before you feel 100% ready or meet all the qualifications.
Then, when you feel like you’ve learned everything there is to learn at your job, leave. Remember: What you learn and how far you’ll grow is limited by your environment. It might seem strange to leave a situation where you’re the “big fish in a small pond,” but if you want to grow faster in any industry, you need to prioritize growth.
4. Create the job you want
Long before I became a copywriter, I had a contract to write blog articles for a large company. Their website was hilariously bad and so, since I was already studying copywriting on the side, I made a few suggestions and offered to rewrite their site for a small trial project.
That was how I got my first copywriting job: I created it. Ultimately, I crushed it for them and the rest was history. But if I just stuck to writing articles, I would’ve missed out on an entire career—and I’d probably still be writing articles.
“Folks who never do any more than they get paid for, never get paid for any more than they do.”
― Elbert Hubbard
Always be proactive—that is how you can grow your career and advance faster than others. Rather than just doing the job I was told to do, I offered to do more. If you’re an employee, pitch an idea to your manager, explain how you can add value, and make it low-risk for them. Or try to find your own freelance clients and build a portfolio, get case studies, or create some samples of your work so you can show your skills.
That way, while others are focusing on the task at hand, you’re already taking on tasks at the next level—and leveling up as a result.
5. When you struggle, embrace it
The fact is very few people rapidly grow in their career on their first try. Most people at the highest level of any industry had to fail, make mistakes, and learn humbling lessons over and over again—but that’s a good thing.
The counterintuitive secret is that succeeding on your first try is actually a disadvantage because, when times get tough, you won’t have the mental strength, experience, or confidence to overcome it:
“Early success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.”
— Col. Chris Hadfield
But if you learn how to deal with setbacks, you build your “perseverance muscles” to handle challenges and seek new information.
That’s why I believe everyone should pay their dues to be successful in any field. It trains you to overcome adversity, it keeps you grounded, and it tests how badly you want to reach your goals.
No matter who you are, sometimes at work, you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to — just do it and don’t complain. For example, when I was doing that unpaid internship at a gym, I had to wash a lot of dishes, throw out the trash, mop floors, clean equipment, and much more.
But if the owners had to do it when they first started their gym, what made me think I was above it?
6. Put your head down and get to work
“No matter how hard you work, someone else is working harder.”
While this article is about growing your career as fast as possible, I’m not encouraging you to try to find “hacks” or “loopholes” to rise the ranks while putting in the least amount of work possible.
That is the wrong approach.
“Certainly, I myself wasted many chances to learn about how to improve my craft by instead asking people I admire for superficial hacks and career opportunities… there is a tendency to skip the slow and immeasurable creative process and go right to the tactics for getting attention or catching a break. They want tricks and tips for getting ahead, hacks for advancing their careers… No one pursuing an artistic career wants to hear what sits at the core of Seinfeld’s advice: Your work isn’t good enough.”
— Ryan Holiday
Yes, this article is to show you that there's a different path you can take to advance in your career. But to walk that path, it takes an incredible work ethic. Because even if you say all the right things and buy all the right books, you're still going to have to sit down, turn off all the distractions, and do a lot of deep, focused work.
For example, when I wrote my first article for a major magazine, I spent over 30 hours to write an 800-word piece. Why? Because I knew how important that opportunity was and that I couldn’t let it slip.
The reality is a career can be very competitive. If you’re applying for your dream job, chances are many other people are applying for it too. That’s why, if you want to rapidly grow your career, you have to work harder than others.
Just look at the people at the top of any industry whether it’s sports, acting, business, science, or writing. Sure, they’re probably talented, but the overwhelming odds are that their work ethic is what sets them apart.
Whether you want a better job, a promotion, or a new career, it takes effort. Are you willing to sit down and put in the work to make it happen? And if you are, are you willing to commit to it for several years to finally achieve your dreams?
Make shit happen. Now. That is my best advice.
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