Our mission at BusinessDictionary.com is to help people succeed in their careers. As founder and CEO I'm frequently asked for career advice, so I thought it was worth compiling some wisdom I've gained over the years, things I wish I had known when I first started the company, to help you avoid mistakes I made and achieve more success in your own career. Here they are; I hope you find them useful.
1. Work by design, not by default.
Many people choose a career with minimal knowledge of what skills are needed, what the day-to-day work involves, and whether it'll make them happy. Some start down one path, pulled toward one of the careers that recruit the hardest, where corporate profits are highest but employees are least satisfied. Then inertia and circumstance dictate which direction their career goes. In effect, they let their career choose them, rather than the reverse. Instead, be proactive. Decide what direction you want to go, and then start moving in that direction, today.
2. Take responsibility for your career
The days of working at one company for a lifetime and relying on a pension and social security are long gone. Have an internal locus of control: you are in charge of your career and your life. Design your own career, because if you don't, others will.
3. Have frames of mind that serve you.
Success is much easier with the right frames of mind, mental attitudes that color how you think about things. Here are a few that will serve you well: 1. Be optimistic: Expect great things to happen, and be enthusiastic about the path you're on. 2. Have an abundance mentality: The more you give, the more you'll get back. 3. Act with confidence: Believe that you can achieve what you want. 4. Free yourself from limiting beliefs: Don't accept negative frames of mind that constrain you. 5. Feel gratitude: Learn to see your experience of work as a privilege, a chance to utilize your unique talents in service of something bigger than yourself. 6. Make work fun: You'll enjoy it more and you'll be the type of employee that others want to work with.
4. Know yourself.
People are bad at predicting what will make them happy. Too many people devote years or even decades to climbing the career ladder and reach the top only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Decide what you want out of life, then do your research. Which careers tend to bring people the most money, happiness, fulfillment, or whatever you're looking for? Then examine yourself. Do you have what it takes, based on your test scores, strengths and weaknesses, personality, and willingness to put in whatever effort is required? Also talk to some people who have achieved what you want to achieve, to see if it brought them the rewards you're expecting.
5.Have a career aligned with who you are or want to become.
What are your values? What do you care about? The answers to these questions say a lot about who you are, and this should guide you in a career choice. If you value justice, honesty, fairness, or integrity, factor that in to your career choice. If you want to make a positive impact on the world, do something that helps others. Whatever course you choose, be guided by authenticity, by who you are at your core.
6. Decide what a career is for.
There's much talk about a work/life balance, as if work isn't part of life, as if work is the stuff you have to do and life is the stuff you want to do. This is a false dichotomy. Making a living is part of making a life. Your career should be aligned with you who are at a fundamental level no less than any other aspect of your life is. My personal goal is to maximize happiness, pleasure and meaning, in both myself and others, and I try to do this when I'm at work no less than when I'm at play. Figure out what you want out of life and then figure out what role your career can play in making it happen.
7. Have a healthy attitude toward money.
Many people let money dictate the direction their career goes. Either they take the highest paying job they can get now, or the one that will give them the skills they need to get the highest paying job they can get in the future. Money should certainly be a consideration, but not the only one. In our culture of consumption, it's easy to forget that money is a means, not an end, and that promotions and raises don't always lead to lasting happiness. The truly scarce resource is time, but too many people value money over time when they should be doing the reverse. Having said all that, if you are currently in debt or living paycheck to paycheck, do whatever you can to become financially independent as soon as possible. This opens up more choices in your career and your life, allowing you to focus on things other than money, think longer-term, and take more intelligent risks.
8. Be guided by your passions.
What are you passionate about? What do you look forward to when you get up in the morning? Expressing yourself? Creating something? Helping others? Whatever it is, find a career that lets you cultivate and share those passions with the world. Passion is a powerful source of inspiration and motivation, and the most successful people tend to be the ones who are passionate about what they work on.
9. Think big.
It's amazing what a few people can do by thinking big and working hard. UPS was founded by two teenagers with one bicycle and $100 borrowed from a friend. Others have achieved greatness by thinking big, and you can too. The higher you aim, the more you'll achieve, even if you don't hit your mark. Don't be too quick to settle for less than what you want. The system will occasionally present you with the opportunity to sell out, and take money now in exchange for selling a piece of your dream. Resist the temptation, because if you do it once it becomes harder not to do it next time. The best way to think big is to be guided by passion, authenticity and optimism, not money.
10. Be less afraid.
Thinking big is the first step, but to actually make it big, you'll need to fight fear. Fear takes on many forms in careers as in life, and many of them are counterproductive. Fear of making mistakes leads to a perfectionism that reduces productivity and stifles creativity. Fear of getting rejected causes people to ask for less and therefore get less. Fear of criticism keeps people from speaking up and sharing their ideas. Fear of failure holds people back from even trying. Comfort is comfortable. But it's not the route to success. Get out of your comfort zone. Move toward challenges, not away from them. And ask for more, even if it means getting turned down more. Remember that it's not the batting average that counts, it's the number of hits.
11. Set smart goals.
Dreams don't make themselves happen. You'll need structure and discipline to have the career you want. Intelligent goal setting is an essential step. The best goals are aggressive but achievable. Work with a sense of urgency and monitor your progress, to make sure you're moving in the direction of your goals. Don't be satisfied with things staying the same and just not getting worse; try to make everything in your life a little better every month. The mantra at Apple is "plus it": even when something seems finished, keep asking yourself, is there some way I could make it even better? Also be sure to write down your goals, with deadlines. And wherever possible, make them quantifiable; only that which gets measured gets improved.
12. Get motivated.
Don't look for motivation from your employer, your boss, or anyone else. Be internally motivated. The most successful people in business (and life) are the ones who push themselves rather than waiting for someone to push them. Don't let inertia win. Motivation is easier when you're passionate about what you're doing, and when you have clear goals and a clear idea of why you want to achieve those goals. This will give you the energy you need to keep moving forward in good times and bad.
Obviously you need to learn in order to succeed in your career. But how you learn and what you learn are both essential factors. As for how you learn, having the right frame of mind can help you learn much faster. Have a natural curiosity about the world, let everything be your teacher, and don't limit yourself to learning only those things that are of immediate value to you. As for what to learn, this depends on your chosen career, so talk with some successful people in your desired field and ask what skills helped them succeed and how they developed those skills. Some skills are useful in nearly every field, including communication (listening, speaking, writing), teamwork, selling (your ideas, your opinions, yourself), negotiating, analytical and quantitative skills, leadership, and creativity. When learning, don't focus on diplomas, certifications and titles. Instead, focus on skill development, and transformation of mind and character.
14. Become an expert.
To have a truly brilliant career, and to have an impact on the world, you need to be exceptional. You need to bring something to your company or the world that it lacked. By becoming an expert and exercising your expertise, you're likely to be paid well and also to feel a high degree of job satisfaction. As a good first step, try to become noticeably more valuable to your employer with each passing month; within a few years you'll be essential, and your compensation will probably reflect it. Then remember to think big: once you're the office expert, try becoming the world's expert. What should you become an expert in? That's up to you. My suggestion is to find something that you're passionate about and that has a positive impact on the world.
15. Create real value.
The most successful people focus on the intersection of passion, skill, and value: something they're passionate about, and they're skilled at, and the world needs. Skill can usually be developed with enough passion, so the focus should be on passion and value. When measuring value, think not just about the value to your users, but also to the world overall. If you aren't sure what would create value for the world, ask what would create value for you. Many successful businesses have been started by a founder who was frustrated by something and developed a solution for themselves, only to find that many others were frustrated by the same thing. If you're not interested in entrepreneurship, there are still many ways to create value within a company; for example, by mentoring other employees to make them more valuable. Of course, your work doesn't have to be your life's primary value contribution to the world, but given how much time most people spend on their careers, to not create any value while at work is to miss a big opportunity to "make a dent in the universe."
The world is big and life is short. You can't know or do everything. In your career as in life, you need to focus, and to focus on the right things. Focus on the activities that will propel your career in the direction you want to take it. Don't let the urgent crowd out the important. Learn to say no to make time for yes. Simplify, prioritize, delegate, do whatever it takes to focus on what really matters.
17. Surround yourself with amazing people.
Rather than taking the job that pays the most, consider taking the job that will let you work with the smartest people you can find, people who will challenge you, give you objective feedback, and help you learn faster. In his early twenties Warren Buffett went to work for his idol Ben Graham without even knowing what his salary was until he received his first paycheck. That decision worked out pretty well for him. Also try to work with people you respect and whose company you enjoy. (For me, one of the most rewarding things about having started my own company has been the ability to build a team of awesome people I genuinely enjoy working with.) But don't limit your network to your office mates; some things can't be learned sitting at a desk. Get out of the building, be social, engage with the world, meet new people, and continue to expand your network of contacts.
18. Be open.
Flexibility is essential to career success and it comes in many forms. Be open to different viewpoints and to being shown to be wrong; it's the fastest way to learn. Be open to working independently and as a member of a team; most careers require both. Be open to change; the world keeps changing faster, and those who can't adapt get left behind. Be open to trying a lot of different things at work; by default people know less about what they'll enjoy and excel at than they think. As an extreme example, Robert Greene had eighty different jobs before he found his calling as an author. Despite the late start, his books have collectively sold over two million copies.
19. Develop and exercise power.
To change the world, you need power. Power assumes many forms. You can start your own company. You can manage a team. You can become an expert in something and develop a personal brand around it. You can influence people with your ideas. You can rally supporters around your cause with passion and charisma. I'm not advocating a Machiavellian power grab (although I do recommend studying those tactics so you can be alert to when others try to use them against you). But I am saying that to have a more impactful career, to change the world in positive ways, you will need to gradually build up your power and then utilize it.
20. Think like a company.
Companies have developed many techniques for achieving their goals. You can use a lot of the same techniques to achieve your goals. Companies think about the value proposition of their products; what is your value proposition, to your employer or to the world? Companies do competitive intelligence to see how their products differ from their competitors; what differentiates you from the other candidates a potential employer might consider hiring? Companies quantify nearly every aspect of their businesses in order to track and improve them; what metrics in your own career are you tracking and improving? Companies have mission statements that guide their growth; what is your mission statement for your career or your life? You can use these and many other business techniques to turbocharge your own career.
21 Don't give up.
There will be tough times, when you're tempted to give up, when you question whether it's worth the pain. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't; that's up to you. But determination is what sets winners apart. They persevere when others turn back. They are resilient, and don't allow challenges to be an excuse for settling. They follow the motto "I will find a way, or I will make one." You'll find it's easier to handle adversity like a champion if you love what you're doing, and if the work is aligned with who you are at a fundamental level. So find something you're passionate about, something you're confident will give you the happiness and meaning you desire, something the world needs, and then set aggressive goals, start pushing on them, and don't give up when times get tough, and I'm confident that you'll accomplish amazing things.