Written By: Ryan Cody, Domain Computer Services Inc.
Technology, globalization, a rapidly changing economy, an uncertain and often unstable market, the evolving landscape of how, where, and when we work, and job insecurity present a unique set of challenges to today’s young professional. With these challenges, however, comes great opportunity. In order to excel and as young professional, and put your career on a positive trajectory you need to be doing the following 10 things:
1. Set SMART Goals
If you’re going to do anything meaningful and significant with your career (and life for that matter) you need to set goals. Without goals you’ll just be wondering aimlessly, chasing after every shiny object you see. You’ll be spinning your wheels, and ultimately fall short of what you want for your career, and life.
Don’t leave your future to chance. Set your goals. Here’s the kicker, they need to be SMART goals.
Specific: Determine what exactly you want.
Measurable: You need to be able to measure your progress.
Attainable: Your goal needs to be attainable and realistic.
Relevant: Your goals need to have deep meaning and significance to you.
Time-bound: You can’t leave your goals hanging out there indefinitely. Tomorrow’s not promised for anyone. Your progress and attainment need to happen within a given amount of time.
2. Be a giver
In Adam Gran’s book “Give and Take, Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”, he describes three types of reciprocity styles: takers, givers, and matchers. Takers are out for themselves. They are selfish and self-centered individuals. Their needs come before everyone else’s. In the business world they will stop at nothing to promote their own agenda and get what they want. They can be successful but it comes at a high price – a tarnished reputation and a trail of broken relationships and ill will. They employ a scorched earth policy. To them success is a zero sum game. They win and you lose.
Matchers (Grant suggests must people are matchers) reciprocate the way they are treated. If you’re good to a matcher they will be good to you. If you treat a matcher poorly they will treat you poorly. Matchers seek to help givers and punish takers.
Givers give without expectation but, in the long run are rewarded for their actions. They build strong, healthy, and long lasting relationships with the colleagues. They have impeccable reputations. They are always looking to find ways to help their coworkers and add value to the group as a whole. They are generous with their time (this doesn’t mean they waste time – you can be a giver and an essentialist – more on essentialism later). They don’t need or want to be the center of attention or take all the credit. They invest in others and want to see them succeed. People are routing for them to win, and that’s why it is easy for them to do so.
One of Grant’s major findings in his book is that givers occupy the top and the bottom sections of the success ladder. Grant contends, there is a smart way to be a giver and a not so smart way to be a giver. Grant classifies these different types of givers as “smart givers” (pretty obvious) and “chumps”. You can imagine who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom. Grant gives valuable advice on how to be a smart give and avoid being taken advantage of like a chump. Read Give and Take this year along with Essentialism (discussed below)
3. Become an Essentialist
How many things truly matter in life? Becoming an essentialist, as Greg McKeown puts it in his book “Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, is about focusing on the “vital few” instead of the “trivial many”. The overarching theme of essentialism is “less but better”. Do less but actually accomplish more.
Today we have so many options and are constantly pulled in a myriad of directions. Essentialism is about blocking out the noise and distractions and focusing on what really matters in order reach your highest level of contribution. May people fall in to the trap of “making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.” They lack focus and clairity and think they can do it all, be it all, and have it all. The essentialist knows this kind of thinking is a fool’s trap. The essentialist focuses on making “enormous progress in a few meaningful directions.” Don’t spread yourself too thin. You become and essentialist by reducing, simplifying, and focusing on what is absolutely essential. Read the book. It will change your life.
4. Have an accountability group
You are the company you keep. You need peers in your life that are as ambitious as you are. Get a group of friends together that bring out the best in you. Make your goals public to the group and meet periodically to check in on each other’s progress.
The best analogy I can think of is having a gym buddy. When you’re working out by yourself it’s very easy to skip a day, a set, a rep, or give a half-hearted effort. When you’re working out with a buddy or a group of friends it’s much harder to skip and not to give 100%. They’ll push you when you’re down. You’ll push them when they’re down. You’ll keep each other accountable, and you’ll both/all be better off for it.
5. Get a Mentor(s)
“A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believe it can be obtained.” – Shawn Hitchcock
There is no lack of people that are willing to invest time in assisting you with your professional development. If you don’t know anyone off the top of your head ask around, you’ll find someone. When given the opportunity to help or assist others, most people will. They remember what it was like to be young and just starting out. Meet and communicate with them regularly. A good mentor’s insight is priceless. If they are a mover and shaker (which they should be, or you wouldn’t want them as a mentor in the first place) they’ll be well connected and will open up their network to you.
6. Get out of your comfort zone.
If you ever want to achieve real progress in your career you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You need to take on and accept new challenges and new opportunities. You need to continuously push yourself and push the limits of what you believe you are capable of. When getting out of your comfort zone you need to realize that success or failure doesn’t matter as much as your effort does. If you give it all you’ve got, learn from your mistakes, and make incremental and steady progress towards where you want to be, you’ll eventually get there.
7. Commit to lifelong learning and become an expert in your chosen field.
Education and learning do not end once you’re out of school. To the contrary, you’re real education begins in the real world. You’ve probably notices that you learned more in your first year as a professional than you did in your last 10 years of formal schooling. Whatever it is you choose to do make a commitment to be an expert in your field. Become a student of your industry. Go the extra mile to educate yourself in your chosen field. This is the information age. It is now easier than ever to access information that will help make you a top notch professional.
8. Take care of your body and mind.
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha
In order to perform at your best and truly reach your potential you need to take care of your body and your mind. I don’t claim to be an expert in exercise, nutrition, or meditation but it doesn’t take a genius to know how to treat your body and mind so you can function at a high level on a daily basis. The fundamentals have to do with getting enough sleep, eating a healthy and balanced diet, staying hydrated throughout the day, exercising, having healthy and nurturing relationships, practicing mindfulness, setting aside time for reflection, prayer, meditation (or whatever forces you to go inwards and find a place of peace and tranquility), etc. Destructive behaviors will lead to destructive outcomes and will prevent you from reaching your full potential. To do great things you need to feel great. To feel great you need to take care of your body and your mind.
9. Look for and take advantage of opportunities.
CAUTION: You need to balance this one with being an essentialist. None essentialist think every opportunity is a good opportunity and end up doing a million things and getting nowhere. Good opportunities, however, are out there. You need to develop a keen sense of what a good opportunity is, and when it presents itself go at it full force. Is it in line with you goals, vision, and values? Do you have the time and resources to invest in it? What will you or others get out of it?
Being asked to write this blog (and give a talk following the blog post) was a great opportunity for me. When asked to do it I jumped at it. It was in line with my goals, vision and values. I had the time (kind of) and resources to invest in it. I got to practice something I’m passionate about and want to improve on, my writing. My hope is the readers will get a lot out of this.
10. Have a blast – enjoy the process.
I’m 33. I have a great career at Domain Computer Services, an awesome wife, and two amazing littles ones at home (JJ and Faith). But I do have one regret. Throughout college and early on in my professional career I was very anxious. I worried about my future too much and how things were going to turn out. Before a test, presentation, or sales call I would get all worked up. But time after time things would end up just fine. I was a hard worker, I was always prepared. So why did I have these negative, self-defeating emotions? The problem had everything to do with my mindset. Instead of focusing on how prepared I was, how much I knew, and how great I was going to do, my mind would fantasize about worse case scenarios. What if they ask me this? What if that happens? What if I’m not ready for something that’s thrown at me?
Uncertainty is a part of life, and is certainly part of being a young professional at this time and in this economy. You can’t prepare for every scenario. Things will happen that are completely out of your control. The only thing you can control is your effort, preparation, attitude, and how you respond to life’s surprises. Take the pressure off yourself of being perfect. Relax, work hard, be kind, and live in the moment. Don’t stress about the past or look to the future with anxiety. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy now. It’s all we really have.
Ryan Cody is the Director of Business Development at Domain Computer Services Inc. where he consults business owners, IT professionals, and C-Level executives on IT security best practices and enterprise IT support solutions. Domain is one of the largest managed IT service providers serving the NJ, NYC, and Philadelphia. Domain has designed, implemented and protected the technology infrastructure for over 500 businesses ranging from small law firms and community banks to Fortune 500 companies.