Time can be a great teacher. I often find myself looking back and wondering about the many sliding door moments and whether I picked the right doors.
Lots of people give you career advice – some good, some bad, some helpful, some life-changing. The following are a few things nobody told me when I was young. And it took a long time to work them out for myself.
- The only expert on your life is you
The world is full of people who will have an opinion on your life. Social media has given all of them a voice. The reality is there is only one true expert on your life – you. Ultimately you must be true to yourself, find your own path and set your own values. So many people waste so many of their years living the life that is expected of them rather than the life they choose for themselves. Most ultimately regret it. As John Lennon said: “There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes”.
- You need to make your own magic
I have a lot of conversations with people who lament that they are not getting ahead with their careers. In most cases they are waiting for something to happen.
For a long time, I was the same. I thought if I sat at my desk and worked hard, everything that I wanted to do would probably just happen one day. Like magic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
As soon as I became proactive, sought out business mentors and told the right people what I wanted to do, things happened quickly. You can’t wait for the magic. Ultimately you are the only person waking up in the morning thinking specifically about your life. You need to manage it and chase down what you want. You are the CEO of your life and it is the most important job you will ever have.
- You have two parallel careers
Everyone has their official career (what they do for a living) and then the other career. The other career is what you do in your unofficial corporate space.
This might include taking on an executive role in a networking or advocacy group, volunteering on a non-for-profit board or even being the person who organises a gathering of contacts. This can be as important as what you do in the office. In particular, it can be a way to get experience in a position of responsibility before your formal career reaches that point.
I always found it interesting as a kid that the people who ran the Lions Clubs, Apex, Scouts etc quite often were not in management (or even senior) roles in their day jobs. Much of their sense of prestige and pride came from the success they felt from their unofficial career.
- It’s okay to say no
Plenty of books have been written around saying no. Many successful people quote the ability to say no as one of the keys to their success. There is something in this. Saying no all the time won’t get you anywhere but, if you don’t take charge of our own priorities, somebody else will. When this happens you inevitably burn a lot of time doing things that are of low value.
Being polite and accommodating can be a very positive trait. Being too polite and accommodating can waste a lot of your life and career. It can also stretch you so thin that you become less effective and successful.
- Sometimes doing nothing is the best plan
In contemporary society, there is constant pressure to “do something”. As a result, every time something happens, we end up with more and more legislation and regulations to try to keep everybody happy. This develops an expectation that other people, particularly people in authority, are responsible for solving all our problems.
In corporate world an enormous amount of management time is spent “doing something” about every issue that gets raised by everybody. It takes many years to realise that quite a few issues work through and resolve without the need for a central process or symbolic action. This is certainly not always the case, but it pays to pause and question whether we really need to do something. There are plenty of times when doing something just makes things worse or more complicated.
Sometimes doing nothing (or at least delaying a response) can be the best tactic. Time can heal and sometimes enduring improvement comes from working through issues at the source rather than imposing a solution. The best solutions tend to be the ones we come up with ourselves.
- The past is gone. Learn from it and move on.
Lament is a very common emotion. Most of us beat ourselves up over things we didn’t do or poor decisions we made. If only we had bought the right shares or invested in the right real estate. If only we had studied a different degree.
The truth is the past is gone. You can’t go back. You can’t rewrite it. It is useful to learn from history but there is no upside in wasting a single moment lamenting it. What you can do is control the present and plan the future. There is no right time to start anything and, as long as you draw breath, it is never too late to start something.
Stan Lee was nearly 40 when he wrote his first comic. Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50, Colonel Sanders franchised KFC at age 62. Warren Buffett created nearly all of his wealth after he turned 50. There are no use-by dates on people. The future is still yours. It is quite a gift.
About Author: Shane Rodgers is National Head of Operations at Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and C level executive for over a decade