Technology has simultaneously been the Millennial generation’s best friend and worst enemy. While they have grown up with social media and iPhones, they’ve also lived under the specter of Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Systrom, and Mike Krieger.
Seeing Facebook and Instagram make these twentysomethings into billionaires has upped the ante for what young people expect out of life—and their careers.
While many workers of this generation may anticipate an overnight success of their own, they’d be better off working their way up.
Back to the Future
Wait, working your way up—isn’t that how our grandparents wound up toiling away in the same companies for decades? That’s so 1950.
It’s easy for inexperienced professionals to get caught up in the Zuckerberg example—he didn’t finish college and didn’t spend 80 hours a week working his way up in a traditional corporation. With a lack of context, it’s tempting to believe we’re all destined to be exceptions on the level of Facebook.
That’s just it—these guys are exceptions and not the rule. Many things must coincide to be that lucky. I don’t mean these guys were lucky in that they had good ideas; with any good idea, timing and opportunity must meet. It’s dangerous, for young people especially, to think that’s the road to travel.
Magazines like to glamorize Hollywood stars’ career trajectories as if they were, well, straight out of a movie. The reality is that most actors work menial jobs, take endless acting classes, go on 10,000 auditions, and then finally land the role that opens the door to more work. The myth of their “overnight success” is exactly that: a myth.
Strategize Your Way Up
Your best bet—if you plan to have a career that spans more than 10 years—is to find your niche and strategize your vertical move from there. While you can make wildly zigzagging moves across industries, remember one thing: What you skip over is often what you need in order to be successful later.
I found success in the mattress industry, partly because I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing, and partly because I modelled myself after the most successful people I found. These moves were key to my upward trajectory:
- I learned the basics. I took people I emulated to lunch, and I replicated the basics of what they did. The basics are overlooked by many starting out, but they’re called basics for a reason. If you aren’t good at them, don’t plan on being talented at much else.
- I developed my own strategy. I tried to swim upstream whenever possible. While other trainers focused on the products they were selling, I took speaking classes because I wanted to be the most dynamic person in the room. My strategy was to give the salespeople a skill and help them make more money. They were teaching spec; I was educating them on sales, which is a skill that would benefit them no matter what industry they worked in.
- I had pure intentions. I genuinely wanted to help people – hence, my focus on developing people’s skills. If you’re trying to provide information, you’ll be somewhat successful. If your intention is to help people find a new approach to doing things, you’ll create ripples that last a lot longer.
- I put in the effort. Many people fail to follow through and end up disappointing those around them. If you say you’re going to call, pick up the phone. If you can learn from someone who works on Saturdays, use your day off to enhance your days on.
- I was memorable. You can be memorable for being the guy who never met a 3-hour lunch he didn’t want to take – or you can be memorable for doing things no one else does. Call a customer on his birthday, remember the names of his children, and send him a fishing article when it reminds you of him. He’ll remember you, simply for remembering him.
How do you know if these tools are paying off? First, you have to define what success is to you. It could be a salary, a certain position in a company, or some other personal measure. Once you know what your own success is, set goals to achieve those things, but be aggressive. You will know you have the right set of goals when they make you a little uncomfortable.
Hitting the Ceiling
These benchmarks are good gut checks to determine whether you’re actually finding success in your chosen field. But what do you do when it becomes apparent that you’re not meeting standards?
Being a success means being open to criticism. You take all of the good feedback you receive and let that fuel you; why don’t you let the negative critiques fuel you just as much? As I say to my Little League kids, you have to have a short memory. You are going to screw up. If you never screw up, you’re not trying hard enough.
Make sure you know what you did so you don’t repeat it, but go even more aggressively after goals than you did before. If you hit the ball three out of every 10 times you’re at bat, you’d make millions in the majors. That means you get to screw up seven times!
Not the Right Kind of Success
This sentiment may be cliché, but are you doing the work you love to do? Or are you just enduring the grind on your way to the top of an industry that doesn’t really fire you up? All the time, I see people walking the halls of companies who are just showing up for the paycheck.
When you look closer, there is no purpose in coming to work every day, and their approach to the job really lacks something. Most of the successful people I know love what they do and when I say “love,” I mean they are excited about getting to work every day. If you are reading this and can’t really relate to what I am writing, my guess is you might fit the unhappy category. People who love what they do inject passion into the work, which often means they succeed at higher levels.
A guy named Kevin cleans our offices, so I get to chat with him every day around 5pm. He loves what he does for a living, so I enjoy talking with him. Kevin is a huge success in life. Compare him to the guy in accounting, who makes twice the pay, but goes home every night completely unfulfilled. Kevin wins in my book, because if you are not enjoying the ride, get yourself a convertible and drive a different road.
Many Millennials have been told that they can be whatever they want. For the most part this is true—but do you want to be happy and good at whatever you want, or do you just stubbornly want to be whatever you want? There’s no shame in moving to another niche if you’re not passionate where you are. You can carry with you all the tools you’ve developed.
In the end, it’s your own opinion of your journey that determines your level of success. Stop comparing your path to that of Mark Zuckerberg. His success has nothing to do with yours—and your lack of “overnight” speed doesn’t make yours any less valuable.
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