Although I’ve been out of college for a few years, I didn’t fully grasp the challenges young professionals are having until the last year or two.
After chatting with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, it has become very clear that young professionals are living in a different world than their parents did.
The world we live in offers up new challenges, but it also offers up new opportunities — ones that too many young people are overlooking and not capitalizing on.
Throughout the past few years, I’ve worked for Fortune 100 companies, startups, non-profits and launched multiple businesses.
Throughout all of this, I’ve learned many lessons from mentors and colleagues, while also learning lessons from my own mistakes and failures. These lessons helped me turn a side hustle into a main hustle and create a thriving business.
In a competitive job market at a time when life can be more confusing than straightforward, young professionals are forced to juggle a wide range of roles and wear multiple hats.
As they say, the life of a young professional is a wild ride. My hope is that this article will help you on your ride as I share a few of the things I’ve learned throughout the last few years.
Here are 11 things every young professional should know about life and business that I wish someone told me when I graduated:
1. Time is all you have; optimize and automate.
Contrary to popular belief, money can buy you time. If you pay a laundry service to do your laundry, you’ve just bought two hours of time to spend with your family or work on a project you've been putting off.
If you pay for a bookkeeper, you're buying time so you can focus on things beyond financial statements.
Outsource the tedious tasks in your life and business, and you’ve just bought time to invest in your career and other activities.
Time is the most precious anyone can give you and it's the most precious thing any of us have. Use it wisely and spend it doing things that will help you get closer to the life of your dreams — or at least doing things you enjoy.
Use systems that withdraw your savings from each paycheck. Use apps like Mint.com to keep tracking of odd spending.
2. Never be afraid to ask a question.
It was one of my first meetings with a client, and I hadn’t spent a lot of time with anyone in this meeting before.
I was thinking to myself about how important it is to keep in mind that this client's audience was mainly women, as they were the ones who made the purchasing decisions in this industry.
Being new to the game and lacking the confidence to speak up, I just sat there quietly and kept it to myself. Ten minutes had passed and someone else brought up my exact point. Next month that person got a promotion.
Ask questions, raise points and contribute to the conversation. It’s better to say something to show you’re actually engaged than to sit there and add little to no value to the existing conversation.
3. Be humble.
You're not Jay Z.
Our generation is called narcissistic, egotistic and self-entitled. And, while some of the claims are supported by instances that reinforce this naïve thinking, it’s not true of the entire generation.
That said, it’s not a stereotype we can shake tomorrow. For that reason, young professionals need to understand the importance of self-awareness.
It’s also important to realize that all of your accomplishments in high school and college mean nothing if you don't create value today. You are good as your last project. You are as good as your last pitch. You are as good as your last review. And with every day that passes, that project, pitch or review loses its wonder.
Understanding your skill set and having the ability to truly know your value to an industry or employer is key.
Not all employers are open about pay scale within a company, and this can lead to further frustration, as it’s an ongoing guessing game.
While I hate the idea of employers keeping this information locked away in a drawer, it’s the reality of the world we live in.
Talk to others in the industry and don’t feel guilty when you go down an interview process to find out how much competitors are paying.
4. Fail fast. Learn faster.
As a young professional, you’re most likely coming into an industry filled with veterans and experts. Most young professionals aren’t tied down with responsibilities, like kids, for the first couple years of their careers.
As such, you have the time to work late and put in the hours to take on new challenges and projects that will force you out of your comfort zone.
When you do this, you’ll be able to learn more, as you’ll fail at times and be able to regard that failure as a lesson.
The key to failure isn’t to get caught up on the act, but instead, to get caught up on the lesson. When you don’t make a deadline, ask yourself why you didn’t reach it.
When a client doesn’t like your work, ask yourself why he or she didn’t buy into it. Learning as you go isn’t a bad thing. If you can learn faster than your colleagues and learn about things they’re resisting, you the an opportunity to stand out.
5. Watch your bank account weekly.
When was the last time you looked at your bank statement? And by look, I don’t mean simply look at the balance and called it a day.
It’s important that you know where your money is going and from where your money is coming. Money management isn’t really taught in high school or college, but it’s extremely important for young professionals to understand.
Money is important. Stop pretending it isn’t and accept the fact that you need to look at your finances.
A study by Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University found that couples who fight about money once a week are 30 percent more likely to end up divorced than those who disagree over money only a few times a month.
Mr. Dew also measured the link between consumer debt and a couple’s likelihood for divorce. He says,
"Every 10 fold increase in consumer debt was associated with a 7 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce. So people who had $1,000 of debt versus $100 would be 7 percent more likely to divorce."
Get your money in order for not only your own sanity, but also the sanity of your future partner.
6. Build relationships and reputation.
My business partner, Findlay, brought this concept to my attention on his blog, Caffeine & Copy, and it’s so true. Since joining the corporate world, I’ve never been asked how well I did in my marketing classes or how well I did in psychology.
In fact, I haven’t been asked my GPA since I applied for an internship directly after school. What I have been asked is if I know this person, that person and another person.
Business is run on a web of relationships. You’re the combination of the people you spend the most time with, so find people who inspire you and push you to become and do better each and every day.
Spend time with people who challenge your thinking and will push you to do things that are outside of your comfort zone.
The relationships you build now will influence the career you someday look back on and remember. The relationships with your colleagues, employers, clients and acquaintances will all combine to be a representation of you and your stamp in the professional world.
Nurture these relationships and ensure that they are authentic and full of value. Strive to give more than you take and you'll win.
7. Your word. All you have is your word.
Your reputation is everything. Hold on to what you built to get the job and evolve that into something that allows you to stand out as a true leader in your profession.
It’s easy to work your way up the corporate ladder and forget about the things you did to get there. Instead of brushing off interns or appointments with sales reps, focus on keeping your promises.
If you schedule a meeting, be there for your meeting. It’s called respect. It’s how you get respect from others and it’s how you ensure those around you see you as a quality team member. No one respects someone who doesn’t give it to others.
8. Things won't just “work out.”
I’m not sure which phrase bugs me more: “Everything will work out in the end” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Both of these phrases are misused and misunderstood on a daily basis by 64 percent of North America's population.
First, no, everything will not always work out in the end. You have to do things to make them work. If you have a presentation tomorrow, going home early because you’re not interested in working late won't cut it.
It’s not just going to work out. That presentation could be better if you spent an extra hour prepping for it. That document could be better if you spent an extra 30 minutes proofreading it.
Yes, a conclusion will be made at the end of it all, but that conclusion won’t necessarily be the best possible outcome, which it could have been, had you made an extra sacrifice.
As for everything happening for a reason, it’s the same situation. Yes, everything happens for a reason, but you can influence what those things are. In fact, you can influence what the majority of those things are.
The fact that you’re late for a meeting isn’t because “of a reason”; you’re late because you didn’t manage your time properly. The fact that your company didn’t win that pitch isn’t because “of a reason,” it’s because you didn’t listen to the client's goals.
The fact that your girlfriend is leaving you isn’t because “of a reason,” it’s because you were inconsiderate and didn’t treat her with respect.
Look, if you’re privileged enough to be reading this on a laptop, computer, tablet or mobile phone, you’re more privileged than 70 percent of the world's population.
You control your fate, you control your time and you control your life. Doing things changes things. It's as simple as that.
9. Create multiple streams of revenue.
What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow? If you’re in the service industry, what would you do if you lost your biggest client? It would be the end of your biggest stream of revenue and what kept the lights on in your home and gas in your tank.
This is why it’s important to have more than one stream of revenue; it’s why it’s important to have a side hustle.
The economy isn’t exactly reliable and business today isn’t what it once was.
While the generations before mine may have had the liberty of working with the same employer for 20 plus years, that sense of security just doesn’t exist in today’s market.
The Internet is making it easier than ever to start a side hustle. You can rent out your home on sites like AirBnB, you can sell your services on sites like Elance or oDesk and you can even sell your homemade arts and crafts on sites like Etsy.
Start a side hustle and who knows? Maybe someday it could become your main hustle.
10. Set no expectations. Create your own story.
Society is filled with expectations. Specifically, there are expectations at every stage in our lives (i.e. go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, etc.). Forget that; there are no rules.
Focus on what you really want out of life and don’t let external forces influence what you want to do.
While my first suggestion is to pay off your student debt, it’s still a choice that you have to make based on what’s important to you.
Depression and anxiety run deep among young professionals. This is largely because many young professionals feel as though they aren’t where they need to be in life or where they want to be in life.
Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, take a deep breath and spend some time looking at the person in the mirror. Now, set some goals.
Make the short-term goals tangible accomplishments that will help you get closer to achieving those long-term goals. For every short-term goal you achieve, you should feel one step closer to a long-term goal.
11. Manage your brain.
It’s not something I talk about often in my writing, but it’s something that needs to be said: I honestly believe that managing your brain is among the biggest challenges each of us faces every single day.
Look at your brain for what it is — an organ — and like any other organ, it requires nutrients and exercise to stay healthy.
I use writing in a journal, working out and doing crazy things like Skydiving to keep myself sane. Accept the fact that you have flaws and that nothing is perfect.
Understand that it’s okay to be depressed and it’s okay to talk about it. Understand that everyone goes through ups and downs and that it’s just the way life works.
At the same time, don’t let it own you; own it. Own your mental health and seek out professional help if you need it.
Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to have a support system in place to keep you grounded, but some people aren’t as fortunate. Focus on your sanity. Focus on what makes you happy. Focus on you.
Ross Simmonds writes at RossSimmonds.com, where he shares a research-backed studies and his personal perspective on entrepreneurship, life, communications and technology.
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This article was originally published on RossSimmonds.com.