When I look back on the last twelve years of my life, they appear in thirds. It’s a simple visual really, since the first four make up my high school years, next four are dedicated to college, and the most previous four years were spent gaining the education that I cannot live without.
Ages 15 to 22 are first and foremost a time for physical growth. Our bodies and minds change rapidly through those formative years, as we are exposed to a wide world of influences in preparation for the next step. Whether your future includes higher education, the Military, professional sports, or even taking time off to travel, these years set a foundation for what is to come.
The highly impressionable young adult mind suddenly taught how to think on a global scale is entirely ready for the real world, right?
The most important education begins after the tassel is turned, with diploma in hand. If formal schooling is practice, the game has begun. As someone who didn’t have a plan coming out of the University of Delaware, I’d like to share some of the things I now understand that recently have become more useful than anything I ever absorbed in the classroom.
As you get older, habits become more difficult to kick.
This idea applies to everything from cigarettes to relationships. Doing something over and over again eventually becomes natural. Your subconscious takes over, and you will have to try much harder to change it if that eventually becomes your intent. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you begin to cultivate the habits that will mold you into the person you wish to become.
Every single person you meet has a story.
As the office hierarchy goes, chances are, the manager with 20 to 25 years of experience is going to have a lot to share. Well, the same goes for the peers you come across socially or otherwise. And the beauty of new interactions is that you never know what people have to offer or what you might have in common. It is important to engage people, asking questions that could shed some light onto why you crossed paths. Chemistry requires a catalyst. After all, everyone’s favorite subject is …themselves.
It’s okay not to have a plan, but remember to network.
There are those who grow up knowing they will one day become a doctor, lawyer or police officer. Likewise, there are others who cannot seem to put the pieces together when it comes to pursuing a career. There is nothing wrong with either direction, but it is important to maintain steady inward and outward communication throughout the process. Opportunities and epiphanies are born from a long string of ideas sewn together over time.
Most great things do not often happen overnight, so when you are searching for the next move, the least you can do is talk to people. It could be Uncle Jim the accountant, or a recruiter from the university-sponsored happy hour – the flow of information will keep the wheels spinning. If you confine yourself to a quiet, inactive box, you will quickly stall your momentum.
Don’t burn bridges.
Our freedom allows us to chase any career that we choose. With that in mind, there are those that fit into our life plan and those that do not. When jumping from place to place and industry to industry, do it professionally and responsibly. Even though you no longer work for a particular company, useful references come at a premium and your paths may cross again one day.
Do your future self a favor and prevent the awkward, uncomfortable situation of facing bridges burnt. We all make mistakes, but foresight is a very valuable skill to hone.
People want to work with problem solvers.
My friend Tim shared this tidbit of knowledge in casual conversation without the slightest idea it would have such a profound impact on my professional life. From entry level to expert, be ready on day one to use that brainpower to help solve issues of all sizes. Volunteer your services to tackle the daily organizational hurdles. Eventually, once confidence and knowledge builds, you may earn the chance to take on bigger challenges. From there, the possibilities are endless. Start with something small and watch it grow.
Taking risks is important, but have a contingency plan.
There will be opportunities to take risks in all avenues of life, but make sure they are somewhat calculated and include a plan in case it does not work out. Strive for success, but plan for the alternative. Valuable items in your life usually require insurance, right? The same concept applies to important intangible decisions.
Everything happens for a reason.
This idea has become seemingly more apparent each year since it became my mantra at age 17. While it bounces somewhere between prophetic and cliché, I find continual motivation to build on successes, dwell only briefly on failures, learn as much as humanly possible, help those in need, always be kind, and wake up each day with a sense of purpose – even if, at this present moment, I’m not quite sure what that is. In the end, the best life lessons are those that cannot fit on a transcript and surprise you in ways you never dreamed possible.