5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Career

The crucial lessons that every graduate needs to know to be successful

Every year, over 10 million hungry and ambitious college students graduate college and enter the workforce eager to start their careers.

But as many of us know, the first few years of your career aren’t always the most glamorous. It’s filled with a lot of hard work, and a lot of uncertainties.

It’s also a crucial time in your life, as you have a lot of big decisions to make and a career to build.

Looking back, I wish I would have done a lot of things differently. I wish I knew the things I do now, but I didn’t.

Hopefully, however, you can take these lessons and apply them yourself, saving you some of the pain I went through.

Here are my top 5 pieces of advice to my younger, not so brighter self:

1. Learning doesn’t end with school.

The day I graduated college, I was so excited to finally get out of the classroom and start my professional career. Armed with a job (thankfully), I burned all of my textbooks (figuratively speaking of course) and got to work. While I would never use any of those specific classroom textbooks again, I wish my mindset had been different.

My arrogant belief was: With 18 years of education behind me, I don’t need to “learn” anymore.

At the time, learning was:

  • …buying expensive textbooks
  • …sitting in a classroom (trying not to fall asleep),
  • …and being taught at.

I thought this was the only way to learn.

Unfortunately, this mindset is way too common in our education system. The system is designed for you to focus on the results of what education creates, not learning for the sake of growth.

Once I realized that I could learn outside of the classroom, I began picking up books, listening to podcasts, going to conferences, investing in myself like I’d never done before.

All it took was an emotional connection to a subject to light a fire. If you haven’t found that topic yet, start exploring because learning never stops. Just to put it into perspective, the average CEO reads 4–5 books per month. Time to get busy!

2. Never outshine the “master”

Whether you work in a corporate environment or you are an entrepreneur, you inevitably report to someone. Like it or not, we all report to someone — stockholders, customers, bosses, etc.

Knowing this, it’s critical to live by the old philosophy that “the customer is always right”. Or to put it another way: “The boss is always right”.

This principle, taken from the First Law of Power in Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, is something that I wish I would have known early on.

The idea of “Never Outshining the Master” means always making your boss (or customers) look good. And by making your “masters” or your boss appear more brilliant than they actually are, you can achieve all of your career goals.

In this law of power, there are two situations that you must be hyper aware of (I sure wish I had):

  1. I am naturally a light hearted guy and like to make jokes. One time, however, I made a joke at my boss’s expense in front of our entire team. Let’s just say it didn’t go over very well. Be yourself, but be careful. If you don’t follow this rule, you could easily lose rapport or worse: your job.
  2. . No matter how well you get along with your boss, if you threaten their job or security, best of luck getting anywhere in your career. Having a great relationship with your boss is important, but make sure that your past successes don’t go to your head.

3. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know”.

First starting out in my career, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. I had worked (and partied) my butt off in college and wanted to make my parents proud. Instead of seeking feedback and asking for help, I thought I could do it all on my own. Instead of finding solutions to problems, I tried to bullshit my way through.

It took me about a year into my career before I realized that I needed help. I started to let go of my ego because it was taking me nowhere. So instead of bullshitting my way through life, I began to say, “I don’t know.”

A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul.”

This one mind shift changed a lot for me. Every sales call felt like I wasn’t selling but being a consultant, seeking out information to help the customer through a problem. Every meeting or interaction I had with my boss was about developing myself and continually seeking feedback.

Seeking feedback is crucial to success at any point in your career. Some of the best CEOs in the world are the ones who aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know or don’t understand.

4. Money is a brilliant tool.

One of the biggest blows I had early on was not learning how to properly manage and grow my finances. I was fortunate enough to land a good job with solid benefits and compensation, but I still spent more than I made. It doesn’t matter how much you make if you spend more.

Trust me, the math doesn’t add up.

While I desperately wish that I could erase all my built up credit card debt and the useless purchases I made in the first few years of my career, I now know exactly why money management is so important.

5. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

Instant gratification is now the norm. You can video chat with people from all over the world and even lock down a date on Tinder while sitting in a meeting. But the truth is that we are digital nomads living in an analog world.

We want our careers to keep up with the other areas of our lives, like technology, but that’s not how careers work. They require time to build. It takes practice, patience, and time.

Those sound fun, right? Definitely not what I wanted when I first started my career. I wanted quick results and regularly scheduled promotions. Looking back, I would advise my 21-year-old self to just enjoy the process.

Start Now

With all of the countless mistakes I made, I don’t regret any of them. You have made plenty of mistakes in your career as well, or you are about to. But that doesn’t mean they have to be the same mistakes. Learn from mine and make your own.

You can either continue to look back in the past and wish things were different or start changing today.

As the Chinese proverb goes,

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.”

Originally published at www.scottabradley.com on January 31, 2017.