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A 19 Year Old Reader Recently Messaged Me Wanting Career Advice. Here Are 9 Pieces of Advice I Shared.

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Startups

If you go on LinkedIn, you’ll read some of the worst career advice in history.

Truisms. Cheesy metaphors. “Go team” quotes. And LinkedIn is where a lot of people get career advice from, especially the younger generations.

I’ve been writing unconventional career advice on LinkedIn for 9 years.

I’ve had one of the most bizarre careers you’ll ever read about. So many young people message me from time to time to ask for advice. A recent message got my attention.

The poor guy felt lost working in big tech. I wrote the below pieces of advice for him (his name is Liam). They might help you.

Prestige is a bear trap that will slice both your feet off

The incentives in traditional employment aren’t great.

So employers make up for them with prestige. They use their company logo and B.S. job titles to do it. They make employees think these things are the trophies of the working world.

They’re not, trust me.

You’re still young which means your mind can easily be shaped by this propaganda. A title doesn’t give you more meaning. And a company logo gets old after a week. No one cares if you work at Google, Meta, Uber, or Facebook. They care whether you are an interesting person.

And interesting people DO stuff. They try. They fail. And as a result, they have interesting stories to tell.

Focus on having career experiences. Ignore career status games.

Status makes people effectively stupid, as it makes it harder for them to update their public positions without feeling that they are losing face — Michael Vassar

One year of ‘experience’ repeated is all most people have

Most people you work with aren’t getting better at their jobs or improving their skills. They just do one year of good work to get some basic experience and then repeat it for a few decades and call it a career.

That’s not designed to be an insult. No. It’s a huge opportunity.

The average worker starts out with big dreams then gets distracted by nonsense — pay raises, mortgages, car loans, overseas holidays, new furniture.

All you have to do to get ahead is be a self-learner. Practice self-education and always add new skills. The best ones are digital skills. They give you an unfair advantage and increase your value in the marketplace.

Don’t go to university to learn them and waste 4 years. Learn them online in a few weeks or months. These skills change so fast that to keep up you’ll need to reduce the time needed to acquire them.

Everyone should try to own a business at least once in their career

Owning a business teaches you more than a job ever will.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but everyone should try it at least once. At 19 it’s the best time to test out an online side business. Dive in. See if you can resell your 9–5 skills for a higher price to the highest bidder online. Tell no one — especially not your employer.

If it fails then don’t worry. Business failures teach you more than a comfortable office job with no risk ever will.

The mindset that changes a career

Mindset is everything.

How you think determines what career opportunities you’ll attract, because that’s what hiring managers are secretly testing for in job interviews. The mindset that has got me far is to become an experimenter.

Don’t stick to one career, one employer brand, one industry. No. Experiment with many. Become the gigolo of the corporate world and change jobs like you change underpants.

While you’re at it, take a few risks too.

Too many people never take a risk in their career then wonder why something feels like it’s missing. It’s because they know deep down in their 50s and 60s that they could have done more … but it’s too late to go back.

Even the worst risk won’t ruin your career. It’ll probably accelerate your career success.

The secret to business communication

You’ll learn real fast young Padawan that the business world is full of buzzwords and jargon.

It all exists to make average people feel smart.

Don’t fall for it. Writer David Perell taught me to make my communication so simple Forrest Gump could have said it.

  • Keep emails short.
  • Use simple words.
  • Don’t hit “reply all” on emails.

And the most important skill you can learn is public speaking. Go join a local Toastmasters club and learn it. You’ll be better at presenting ideas and it’ll even affect how you write.

The greatest leaders are phenomenal public speakers. That’s no coincidence.

If you have to ask how to do it, you probably shouldn’t do it

There’s a temptation for young people to ask everyone for advice.

And I get it.

The truth is if you aren’t curious enough about your career goals then you’ll probably never achieve them. Choose goals in life that you’re naturally drawn to where it feels effortless. Even better, find obsessions.

When you chase curiosity everything gets easier. Go from one curiosity to the next. I’m 37 and I’m still doing this. Curiosity is a measure of how interested you are. If you’re lukewarm on an idea then r-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-n.

The Powerpoint fallacy is real

You’ve probably seen this already.

At work when you’re asked to share your thinking it usually happens in the form of a PowerPoint deck. Yuck. Instead of focusing on a problem or an idea, a PowerPoint focuses on putting lipstick on a pig to make it look sexy.

Author Shane Parrish taught me that “Pretty graphics don’t just drug the presenter, but they also intoxicate the audience. When dressed up, even stupidity can come off as well thought out.”

That’s why I never did Powerpoint in my career. I shared ideas and pitches in plain text. I formatted the text so it was easy to read, but that’s it. No infographics, no painful corporate videos, no graphic designers or logos.

Customers loved me for it. They will love you too if you take this approach.

Imagination and creativity are the real currencies in business. Everything else is a silly distraction.

The harsh career truth society wants you to forget

If you discuss revenue too much in your career, people will get offended or pretend it’s not the focus. They’re all wrong.

Like it or not business is all about revenue.

The office term for this phenomenon is “rocking horse syndrome.” If you think revenue doesn’t matter you’ll get distracted with activities that feel like progress but are just a rocking horse that never moves forward.

A few examples: 1) Holding meetings about nothing 2) Doing too much company eLearning 3) Chasing MBAs 4) Following too many new trends like blockchain and AI 5) Reading business books.

Fake work doesn’t work.

Do the activities in your career that drive revenue and give customers outcomes — everything else is secondary. Those who follow this rule get paid disproportionately more.

Avoid your ideas being contaminated

The mistake I made in my career was telling everybody what I wanted to do in my 30s after I went out on my own.

Your boss, colleagues, and employer will contaminate your thinking with what is realistic versus what is possible.

They’ll tell you that your ideas are just too big or you should forget them. Or just get back to work.

What’s “possible” is mediocre.

The best careers are formed when you chase the impossible and dare to try to make it happen. Even if you don’t succeed you still get way further ahead than if you just drown in comfort and accept what others think.

Doing the opposite of most people is some of the best advice I got at 26.

Your early jobs are the good old days

I miss the career I had in my 20s and early 30s.

I got to do one of the jobs most people would dream of and it happened by accident when I met a farmer in an elevator.

This chance encounter followed up with some careful networking by me led to a career I never imagined. I got to go all over the world meeting with tech companies and being privy to the most innovative technologies in existence.

It’s how I discovered Bitcoin years before the masses.

But when I lived this career experience I didn’t appreciate it or even try to understand it. I was just go, go, go. So at 19 years old you must remember that the early jobs are some of the best jobs.

They’re the jobs that’ll make you say “I wish I could go back to the good old days.” So cherish the hell out of them right now. Write about them. And take lots of photos so you can fondly look back on these career memories.

The 20s are some of the best years because of this bizarre reason

Your 20s are when you set up your career.

It can feel like you’re always in a hurry. But when you hit your late 30s and 40s, your 20s are missed for one reason: you had time to think and explore.

Once you’re older you will likely join the overscheduled life. Family events with your kids, work events you must attend, and a calendar full of meetings and deadlines.

The sanctuary of an unscheduled life you’ve got in your 20s will disappear. And that’ll make it hard to join the dots and tap into your own wisdom.

So enjoy an empty calendar. And try to go back to one later in life if you can — that’s what I’m tryna do right now.

Retirement is the most misunderstood term there is

Let’s finish with this one.

The lie we’re told in our 20s is that we will work hard and then retire one day. At 37, I can tell you this is a strange idea.

Billionaire Sam Zell mentioned before he died that he got asked a lot when he’d retire, given he was 82. He didn’t get it. “Retire from what? I love what I do.” That’s the cheesy cliche that can improve your career.

When you do work you don’t need a break from it doesn’t feel like work.

Holidays become less attractive. Living for the weekend seems stupid. And all you want to do is get lost in your work. That’s the career goal you should chase. Everything else is a dog and pony show.

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