Wish I knew then what I know now.
You hear that sort of thing all the time; a lament to the wisdom that seems to come too late in life, or at least later than we’d like it to.
The current generation of up-and-comers certainly has its opportunities and its challenges. Having grown up with high-tech, they’re probably best suited to thrive in the brave new connected world. And I happen to think the digital revolution has only just begun.
On the other hand, the world is in the midst of cultural and economic upheaval. Perhaps that’s nothing new, but it is challenging, to say the least. There’s so much information, so many choices, so much distraction, just those things alone present more complexity than any generation has ever had to deal with.
That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the wisdom that comes from real-world experience applies to anyone in any generation. At least, that’s the theory.
Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned that I suspect will prove useful to the current generation of up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business leaders.
If you want to achieve great things, you have to do great work. If your goal is to just skate by in life, you can probably pull that off without much effort. But if you want to accomplish some great things that give your life meaning, you’ll have to do great work. You only get out of this life what you put into it.
Take big risks. Roll the dice. Dive into the deep end of the pool. Throw caution to the wind. Be fearless. Success in business and your career are a function of your willingness to face your fears and take chances. That simple but powerful truth is probably the most important piece of advice anyone can give you.
Always seek to broaden your experience. Perhaps the best decision I ever made was to spend the first decade of my career with large companies that trained and groomed me and opened my eyes to a world of disciplines, markets, and opportunities. That, I believe, improved my odds of success in the startup world immensely.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a certain time factor related to all goals, strategies, and achievements. The bigger the objective, the bolder the strategy, the more rewarding the accomplishment, the longer it takes, generally speaking. That runs contrary to our attention deficit culture and our growing addiction to instant gratification. You need to fight that real-time tug to achieve long-term results.
There’s a certain balance to the equation of life. In school, you learn that there’s symmetry in the world. Every force has an equal and opposite reaction. Chemical equations must balance. Supply and demand are intimately related. Life is no different. It’s full of tradeoffs and cause and effect relationships. You’ll never get something for nothing. Everything has a price. First you do the work, then you get rewarded. You give, then you get. Those equations appear throughout your career, your life, the business world, everything.
You probably take yourself too seriously. Children have enormous egos. They think everything revolves around them. That self-centered worldview is essential to survival. But in adulthood, it can be a real problem. Maturity is very much about developing empathy for others, about understanding their needs and wants, what drives and motivates them. It’s also key to effective business and working relationships.
Don’t make self-limiting assumptions based on limited experience. When you’re young, there’s a temptation to be headstrong, to make sweeping decisions based on limited information. For example, it’s popular these days to romanticize entrepreneurship, but it’s not for everyone. Keep your options open.
Don’t confuse freedom with entitlement. You’re actually entitled to very little in life, but it should be enough. America’s founding fathers were brilliant. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is phrased that way for a reason. With those basic building blocks, you’re free to pursue what you will. The rest is entirely up to you. Your happiness and success are in your hands–and only your hands.
Real success takes real relationships in the real world. The Internet definitely leveled the business playing field. And social networks enable you to connect with virtually anyone. As a result, you can make a few bucks generating Twitter followers for Lady Gaga or Honey Boo Boo by sitting at your computer at home. But if you have higher aspirations than that, you’ll need to develop real relationships with real people in real time.
Have faith that things will work out for you. Steve Jobs said it best in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, “You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
One more thing. I wouldn’t think of depriving you all of learning these lessons in your own good time. If you want to throw caution to the wind as I suggested earlier, go ahead and hit “delete.” Be my guest. But there’s an old expression that I think still applies in our information society: “Forewarned is forearmed.” And, after all, you can never go back.
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