Whether you are just starting out or advancing in your career, you have undoubtedly encountered situations for which no textbook or classroom could have adequately prepared you.
The early years of a person’s career can be quite agonizing and anxious. You are confronted with an entirely new world without a map or a guide to help you navigate the uncharted terrain…
In light of this, I’d like to provide you with a simple set of guiding principles that you can turn to and rely on as you build your career.
All of the principles outlined in this document were developed and earned through personal experience, primarily through failures or mistakes. I hope that by providing this in writing, you will be able to avoid making the same mistakes and speed up your progress.
If you prefer a printable, evergreen format that you can refer to in the future, I have created a lovely e-book that you can purchase here. In addition, it contains a number of additional principles and visuals not found in the newsletter version.
Keeping this context in mind, let’s proceed: The Career Success Guide: Ten guiding principles for navigating the challenges of your early career…
Create a Personal Advisory Board
The general logic is straightforward.
If you approach your career lifecycle like a business…
You begin as a startup with rapid growth.
You develop a larger business.
You have completed an IPO and are now a public company.
At each stage, you are confronted with a variety of challenging and novel decisions and obstacles.
People have traditionally relied on “mentorship” to help them navigate the uncharted waters they encounter at each stage. However, “mentorship” has a formal tone. It carries the connotation of a regular rhythm and time commitment. From the perspective of the mentor, it feels like a significant commitment.
Furthermore, the utility of having one formal mentor is frequently limited. Your mentor may not have encountered the difficulty you’re facing; therefore, they may not have a “map” that you can use to navigate the terrain. They might not be accessible when you need to make a crucial decision.
Create a Personal Board of Advisors instead. Companies have boards, which are ideally made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds and fields. The board is not involved in day-to-day operations, but it does provide counsel on strategy, key decisions, and challenges.
Your Personal Board of Advisors consists of five to ten people.
Not biased (not family)
Diverse perspectives and experiences
Willing to offer unfiltered feedback
You can add and remove items from your board over time. The board members do not need to know each other or be aware of their membership. Informality is not a defect; it is a feature.
These are the individuals to whom you can reliably turn for grounded perspectives, feedback, and advice as you encounter challenges, significant decisions, or career turning points.
Eat the Frog for Your Manager
The “frog” is a difficult or bothersome task that your boss does not wish to perform. However, their frog is your chance!
It provides one of the greatest strategies for advancing early in one’s career:
Observe your superior.
Determine what they dislike doing.
Self-teach yourself the skill.
Take it away from them (i.e., swallow the frog!).
Swallowing the frog for your boss is an obvious way to add value, score a victory, and gain momentum.
Develop a Distributed Growth Tribe
A decentralized friend group from which to learn and grow is a legitimate competitive advantage.
Characteristics of a decentralized friendship group:
Isolated from other groups
Diversity of experience
This group will introduce you to new concepts, industries, and opportunities. It will significantly increase your luck’s surface area.
Consider it your Growth Tribe. It is a tremendous value unlock.
Sahil Personal Remark: It took me seven years to recognize its value and locate my decentralized growth tribe. This tribe inspired me to pursue new opportunities and make decisions that fundamentally altered the course of my life. I cannot recommend this more highly. Importantly, in the Digital Age, these groups can be found “in the cloud”; physical proximity is no longer necessary.
Learn to Market and Sell your products
Famously, Naval Ravikant stated that in order to be successful, one must either learn how to build or how to sell.
I concur, but I also recognize that the majority of us are not technically gifted; therefore, we should learn to sell.
Selling does not necessitate a career in software or technology sales (though it can be lucrative for the right person!).
Selling requires learning how to tell a compelling and persuasive story. This narrative need not be about a product your company is developing.
The further you advance in any field, the greater proportion of your job becomes sales:
To convince a company to hire you, you must sell yourself.
When looking for investors’ support, you sell your idea.
When you need customers to pay you, you sell your vision.
When recruiting employees, you sell your company’s culture.
There are very few guarantees in life, but if you can sell, you will always be successful.
Prioritize Experience Over Monthly salary
Early in their careers, putting salary first is one of the most common mistakes I see young professionals make. The obsession with earning “six figures” at one’s first job is misguided and the epitome of short-sightedness.
The reality is that 10 times more foundation-building experience compounds far more effectively than an additional $10,000 in salary.
You should be compensated fairly at all times, but keep in mind that not all compensation is monetary.
Consider the long term. Which opportunities, experiences, and relationships will provide the firmest foundation for your future?
Nonlinear outcomes are the objective. A yearly increase of $10,000 will not create them. A 10 times superior foundation-building experience could…
Avoid the trap of comparison
Early in one’s career, it can be tempting to compare oneself and one’s progress to those of others.
This individual earned X dollars last year.
This person was awarded Forbes 30 Under 30.
So-and-so has already founded five companies and dined 17 times with the Queen of England.
Okay, maybe that last one was a bit exaggerated…
The desire to compare oneself to others is both natural and perilous. Learn to disable it. Concentrate on what you can influence and maximize your happiness.
Sahil Personal Remark: I only recently realized this. Early in my career, I constantly compared myself to others and berated myself for my slow advancement. It turns out that it took about eight years for my significant acceleration to begin. Sometimes overnight success takes a decade to achieve. Get out of the comparison spiral and focus on yourself. Impatient with actions, but patient with outcomes
Find Your Zone of Genius
Your Zone of Genius is the intersection of your interests, passions, and abilities.
Early in your career, your primary objective should be to identify your niche.
You can then stop playing their games and begin playing your games. It enables you to play games for which you are uniquely equipped to win.
Sahil Personal Remarks: It took me approximately eight years to determine my Zone of Genius. The pitfall is the Zone of Excellence — the area in which you are highly competent but lack enthusiasm for the work. You’ll be praised and told you’re wonderful, which can be intoxicating and build momentum for this work, but it’s not where you want to end up. Be wary of the Zone of Excellence and persevere in your pursuit of the Zone of Genius.
Own Your Mistakes
When you first begin, you will be terrible at most things. There is in fact no way around it.
Before beginning my first job, I recall reading and listening to every piece of educational material on private equity. I believed that it would prepare me to hit the ground running. The first day I showed up, I was punched in the face (figuratively, of course!).
The majority of jobs are apprenticeship-based. You must learn through imitation and practice. Consequently, you will make mistakes, and that’s acceptable.
Not acceptable: not owning your mistakes.
Repeating the same mistake.
When you make a mistake, own it. Then create a system to ensure this never occurs again.
Get In “The Room”
In every organization, there are certain rooms where the major decisions are made.
The crucial negotiations
The crucial choices.
The disputes and conflicts.
Identify these rooms and devise a strategy to enter them. Sometimes it is sufficient to offer to take notes and distribute action items.
After entering the room, sit quietly, observe, and listen. It will be an incredibly powerful learning opportunity.
Build “T-Shaped” Knowledge
T-Shaped knowledge has breadth & depth.
- Breadth allows you to be thoughtful and constructive across a range of business areas. It allows you to know enough “to be dangerous” on a variety of topics. It gives you the freedom to contextualize broadly.
- Depth allows you to be world-class in a specific area of expertise. It is built through hard, task-specific effort over time.
The most successful people have both.
As you get started, make sure you are building breadth and depth. Breadth makes you an asset to any organization—depth makes you critical to your one organization.
I hope you enjoyed this piece, as it was many years in the making! If you found it useful, please share it with others in your network who would find value in it.