Now that I am in my early thirties, I think about the experiences that I had in my twenties. Proud of myself, yet I might prefer approaching some things quite differently.
I started my career professionally at the age of 19 years old. Simply determined to “make it” according to my plan and responding to my own expectations, I thought I knew better and didn’t always listen to what the elders were trying to teach me. I was always my own boss.
Now that I can look back on my experiences with a little more clarity, I see how I could have made things a lot easier for myself. I still believe I’m far from perfect and still consider my career and myself a work in progress. But I cringe a little when I think about where I was more than a decade ago—and the mistakes that I could have avoided. If I could jump into a time machine, here are the three things I would go back and do differently:
Ask Someone to Be My Mentor
I’ve worked with a lot of incredible people in my career who I look up to them and who I’ve gone to for advice numerous times over the years. I had shadowed them, observed and medialized them. But I never sat down any of them and said, “I really admire the career path you’re on, and it’s very similar to the plan I envision for myself—will you take me under your wing?” You know that old adage, “Ask and you shall receive?” There really is a switch that flips when you tell someone what you want from them and explain how they can help you.
My first lesson to be learned here: If you don’t ask someone to be your mentor, you’ll never know what doors it could have opened for you. Now, that more and more young professionals contact me asking for my mentoring, I see clearly what I have missed.
Negotiate for my comfort
If I had to choose one title to introduce myself, it will definitely be an entrepreneur. Yet, I have spent most of my energy and time believing in making a positive change in the world than making more money. I believe that money and power follow passion and devotion. I will never regret that. I owe every success I made in my heart and personal integrity. But, I think I underestimated myself many times when I had accepted less than what I deserve in the name of mutual vision and social impact. I should have considered negotiating and standing up for what my work worth rather than jumping into what seems appealing to my passion.
I remember a time when I accepted a job that seemed perfect for my life mission and values, but the job paid less money than I wanted, came with a title that was technically a step-down, and unfavorable conditions. Despite the huge amount of energy and time required, I took it for the beauty of the mission, no questions asked. I didn’t even try to get more money or find out if I can make it more comfortable for myself. Reviewing the situation later; I spent many days wondering what would have been if I even tried to negotiate a little bit and I end up leaving once I finished my job.
Here’s the thing—the very worst that can happen during negotiations is you’re told “No.” And if you’re told “No” to the things that you consider deal breakers, then you have the power to decline and wait for a better opportunity to present itself.
I Was Terrible About Managing My Contacts
Get in the habit of creating a Google spreadsheet with the contact info of everyone you meet. Update it with every business card you receive or contact information in the signature of every email. Store it in your Google drive, email it to yourself as a backup, and be diligent about updating it when someone’s information changes.
There’s nothing worse than having to dig for the contact information of someone you met five years ago. It may take five years until you need to reach out to people on that list again. It will save you a lot of time and energy if you can quickly pull it up on your computer rather than racking your brain trying to remember where you met that contact or how you think their last name might be spelled as you desperately search your email.
Creating the database isn’t the purpose itself. It is about the follow-up later: keeping and nurturing your network. By making an effort to keep in touch with them, those “Hi, please help me with”, “Can you refer me to “… conversations would be a lot less awkward.
But it would have been even better if I’d made an effort to keep in touch with them. It would make those “Hi, please assign me a story” conversations a lot less awkward.
So far so good, not yet perfect. On my journey to perfection, I may write the 2nd part of this article hopefully in the next decade.