I started my career when I was 18 years old. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, I went out and tried to start my own company. I got my education from the school of hard knocks, and learned invaluable lessons along the way.
The good news for me is, I learned my toughest lessons early on. That's not to say I'm done learning, but I can confidently say I won't make the same mistake twice.
As you begin your career, it's important to experience as much as you can. If you're unsure about the job you're at, apply for another one. If you don't like your current position, ask your boss to make a change. Most importantly, you need to learn as much as possible from the mistakes of others so you can position yourself for success. That said, here are six career lessons you need to learn early on if you want to be successful.
1. You only live once.
This phrase gets tossed around so much, you might not give it much thought anymore. But take a second to consider this. How about on a slightly smaller scale -- a week, for instance. There are 168 hours in a week; given that you sleep six to eight hours a night and you work 40 hours, that means you are in the office for almost 40 percent of the time you are awake each week, including weekends.
Don’t waste nearly half of your waking hours at a job you hate. It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern and convince yourself you have to stay at your job. But when you put it in these terms, is it really worth it?
2. Network, network, network.
Nobody is self-made. Success is all about the contacts you cultivate. Build rapport and trust with everyone you meet, and never burn a bridge. Jobs and even promotions aren’t given to the most qualified individuals; they are given to those who know how to play the game. And playing the game means knowing how to leverage your network to help you get to that next step.
3. Never have a bad day.
Okay, you are going to have some bad days. The key is to never let anyone know that you are having one. This goes hand-in-hand with networking. People are naturally drawn to those who are outwardly happy. If you are always a joy to work with, you will reap the benefits. Ten times out of 10, that promotion will go to the person who makes others around them feel good rather than the person who is better qualified but a pain to work with.
4. Never stop learning.
Not only is this a strategy to stay relevant at your current job, and keep you from getting replaced by tech-savvy youngsters, but it keeps things from getting dull. If you’ve been working at a job for 10 years, you have surely mastered your duties, and that means it's time to take on new responsibility. This will help grow your career and serve as motivation to stay engaged. Set some learning goals for yourself, take an online class and learn a new skill.
5. Step up.
Leadership coach Kristi Hedges says, "In chaos, there is opportunity. Most major career accelerations happen when someone steps into a mess and makes a difference." You must always look for your chance to step up, and offer that extra bit of help that will make a difference for you long term. Prepare yourself, and don’t hesitate when the time comes.
Having favors owed to you by your superiors is a good thing. Sometimes it may behoove you to delay your reward (overtime or a bonus) and tell your boss, “This one is on me,” in order to enjoy a bigger reward in the future.
6. Seek out mentors.
Mentors not only teach you, they can advocate for you as well. Many professionals like helping those who are newer to the company. Giving advice to an eager pupil makes them feel accomplished, and successful. So don't shy away, or think that getting advice is a one-way street.
Seek out an older, respectable employee and ask them questions about their career path and development. Associating yourself with a mentor gives you the added “benefit of proximity,” meaning you will gain some social capital just by being associated with an older respected member of the company.
Regardless of where you are in your career, you can always learn more. Always try to learn from those around you. Listen to their stories, adopt best practices and find value in every experience.