8 Things I Wish I Knew about Business and Careers When I Was 22

This month, I will release the 10th Anniversary edition of my first book, the bestselling They Don’t Teach Corporate in College. I wrote the book when I was 26, and ever since then, I’ve learned a ton about what works and what doesn’t in the business world. Today, I’m sharing some of my recent insights.

No one cares as much about your career as you

While your organization and your manager probably do have your best interests at heart, no one will ever put as much time and energy into your professional development as you will because no one benefits from it as much as you. So don’t be passive. Advocate for the best learning opportunities and experiences, and be proactive about keeping your skills fresh.

Careers are peaks and valleys

Even if you were to stay on one career path, which is highly unusual these days, there’s no such thing as getting to the top of the ladder and staying there. Careers are very long, so you have to figure out a way to remain relevant and engaged over time. Occasional momentum loss is normal, but you need to be able to recover.

Plan now for what you want later

When choosing a career, it’s important to think through what you want for your life over the next several years. For instance, if you’re a married 25 year-old in law school and you know you want to be a hands-on mom or dad soon, it’s not the best idea to become an associate at a huge firm. A flexible career doesn’t happen overnight: the right steps must be taken early.

Don’t be your own slave-driver

Working 80 hours a week when you first start out may appear to be productive, but inevitably you are going to run out of steam – and that moment won’t be pretty. Instead of burning yourself out trying to be the best at everything for everyone, focus on a few key priorities, work to accomplish them when you’re energy is naturally highest, and let other people help you.

You won’t be everyone’s best friend

No matter how pleasant you are to be around, someone in the office will find a reason to dislike you. They may be vocal about it, which can be hurtful. But personality conflicts are a part of working life. Don’t let them negatively impact your self-esteem. After trying once or twice to assertively resolve a co-worker conflict, move on to someone who values and appreciates you.

Nothing shows what you’re made of better than a crisis

We spend our working lives trying to avoid crises, but in truth there are no better growth experiences and opportunities for your potential to shine through. The next time something bad happens, watch your attitude closely. While others are freaking out, maintain a positive, can do stance even if you’re annoyed or afraid. People will remember.

You can learn from any job

There are very few tasks with no redeeming value whatsoever. Even a cashier job at McDonalds, for example, affords numerous opportunities to master critical transferable skills like customer relations, time management, and multi-tasking. Instead of lamenting that a task is beneath you, see what it can teach you to bring you closer to your big picture goals.

Know when to collaborate and when to go solo

We’ve placed a huge emphasis on teamwork in our culture, and it has permeated every aspect of the business world. You should, however, be able to discern when your projects require considerable input and consensus, and when you simply need to buckle down and push forward alone. It’s your job to add individual value to the organization – don’t let your creative and innovative ideas get lost.

If you could tell your twenty-something self one useful thing in order to be more successful more quickly, what would it be?













Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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  • PJ Howland

    As a 23-year-old, getting ready to graduate college and
    enter the working world, this was incredibly useful read. I found myself
    relating to almost every single on of your points, and I know that I will only
    learn more when I find myself in a steady job. Thanks for the post Alexandra,
    looking forward to similar content!

    [Reply]

    alexandralevit Reply:

    @PJ: You made my day. You are the reason I first wrote this book 10 years ago. Good luck in your search and if the writers at Fast Track can help you along the way, you know where to find us!

    [Reply]

  • Josep Palou

    I totally agree with all the points, specially with the one saying that you must be proactive and always look for ways to improve yourself, anyone is going to do that job for you. What’s more, is very important to always look for sources of learning, as you say, you can even learn from a McDonalds cashier job; don’t underestimate anything and learn as much things as you can.
    I would also include a ninth point: Give always more than what is expected. Take everything you do seriously and never be 100% satisfied with your work, this is the only way to excel.

    [Reply]

    alexandralevit Reply:

    @Josep: Great addition. No matter how far you progress in your career, there is always room to learn, and this POV keeps you on your toes. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    [Reply]

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  • http://fieldsofsuccesscoaching.com/ Linwood Bailey

    Great insight especially “no one cares as much about your career as you”. We have a choice – manage our careers or have circumstances, events and others determine our destiny.

    [Reply]

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