Career secrets I wish I knew at 20
Updated: Nov 23, 2017
Sharing a few of my lessons learned, career secrets, and truth bombs that I would tell my 20-year-old self.
Your 20s are a fantastic time in life. You might be moving out of home, travelling, and exploring the workforce. Many will be impatient for success and progress. It’s energising! But the early phase of your career can also be overwhelming. Hope this helps.
1. Focus on identifying your passions
Find what gets you excited. If you enjoy what you do, then success and money will come later. One approach is to list everything you love and define what motivates you. This includes hobbies - such as meeting people, video games, solving puzzles, cooking, or drawing. List it all! Then brainstorm ways to integrate these passions into your work. Ask yourself - “what would I love to do each day, even for free?” Identify the related skill. As an example, if you love gaming (because you’re into competitiveness, quick thinking, and zero-sum game), then perhaps trading is something to consider. But you must make this assessment holistically against all your priorities and the market.
"What would I love to do each day, even for free? Identify the related skill."
2. Solve problems
I’ve made some big bloopers at work. After being yelled at by top executives (imagine Devil Wears Prada moments), I learnt to focus on solutions, not problems. Be a person of value. People tend to remember that you solved an issue, even if you caused the issue. The key - bring a service based attitude and leave your ego at the door. This step alone will put you miles ahead of peers. It’s so easy to complain about problems. But if you have a consultative approach, provide ideas, and focus on your stakeholder needs - you will be hard to replace!
3. You have choices
There are many types of work environments. I've experienced the following, each with pros and cons. You need to find what works best for you, at each stage of your growth.
The work environment is a mutually-beneficial relationship. When it no longer feels like this for either side – time to move on or let people go. Remember that you have choices as you grow! But you must be ACTIVE in attracting opportunities into your life. One trick is to...
4. Network strategically and build your personal brand
This is the single most important tip I'd give to myself at 20. Be known as someone who delivers! Your reputation is your brand. Build on it with intention and mindfulness. You will develop your network naturally through consistent and strong performance. I’d also recommend seeking out great leaders and asking for advice. Find out their secrets to success and where they failed. Industry events are a great way to meet people. However, this method is more effective later in your career or if you’re building a business.
"You will develop your network naturally through consistent and strong performance."
Large organisations can be a fabulous training ground, launch pad, and place to network! Get a sense of the environment and culture. Be aware that on the worst days, it can feel like a really long episode of Survivor or Game of Thrones. At school, we’re not taught that there is a political element to business, which compliments solid work. Don’t feel bad about this aspect. This is not an idealistic world. To thrive I encourage you to find a sponsor, make alliances, negotiate, know when to get noticed, and know when it’s time to fly under the radar. If you are not conscious of this reality, you might get voted off the island… or even worse... find yourself at The Wall feeling stuck with nowhere to go. One way to counter-balance this is to...
5. Be proactive with getting noticed
Your network plays a big role in how you are rewarded. I've seen talented people overlooked for opportunities because they think "I've been here the longest, I worked the hardest, and I've earned it". They think it’s a merit system. Sadly, that’s not always the case. So make sure the right people know WHO you are, and WHAT you've achieved. Be strategic in your approach. Here are few examples that can be applied to all scenarios, from start-ups to MNCs...
Be proactive in scheduling 1:1s with the leader.
After you've delivered a great project, be sure management promotes it.
Ask executives or influential contacts to "make a phone call" if you're going for the next opportunity or a promotion.
When working remotely, send regular updates and be visible.
Bring solutions and well-presented work to the team.
Escalate issues professionally, don’t waste time with complaining on trivial matters.
If you really want something, put a compelling proposal together and pitch for it!
You won't get everything you want, every time. But I assure you, taking a consistent proactive approach will attract opportunity into your life.
6. Plan two roles in advance
A career coach once asked me - "what role do you want two positions from now? Visualise what you are doing in 8 years. What does life look like? Your next role should develop the skills you will need". I LOVE this advice! So I’m passing it on. Visualisation is a powerful tool in manifesting your own reality.
When you’re looking for the next gig, it's a good idea to plan in advance. It can take time to find the right direction! Around 6 months ahead - seek advice from mentors, speak to your network, let people know what you want, and stay focused till you get there.
7. Deflating fear of judgement
I was terrified of failure during my first big career change. I had started a creative business and thought people would laugh at me for giving it a go. One day my sister said, "Sarah get over yourself, no one cares enough to be laughing at you”. A little bit brutal. But also the most liberating feedback ever! So I got out of my own way and went for it 100%. If you pursue a dream with authenticity and integrity, then any negative energy can just roll past like a "fart in the breeze" (another one of my sister’s fabulous comments). What matters most is that you give it a go. Just do it.
"If you pursue a dream with authenticity and integrity, then any negative energy can just roll past."
8. Invest in continuous development
My close friend Kathryn is a Head of Innovation and gets loads of quality training. As you can imagine, she loves it and is thriving! But from my experience, this is rare. Mostly it's up to you. A lot of knowledge can be gained online; such as YouTube, TEDTalks, blogs and books. I watch videos on my way to/from the office and start the day with a positive mind-set. You might want to invest in a training course when you’re ready. Last year I completed the MIT Fintech course. Connected with fantastic people and it triggered new thinking. Soon after I was inspired to pursue a new path as CEO and Co-Founder of a fintech in Singapore. Formal learning can be totally life changing when mind-set and timing align.
Be aware that many corporates have clawback requirements; such as "stay with us for 12 - 24 months or reimburse the cost of study". I never subscribe to this. If possible, pay for it yourself and retain bargaining power. After completing a course, I prefer to negotiate a pay rise (which more than covers the cost), or move to roles / companies with greater opportunities. But you need to decide what is right for you, given your objectives and stage of life.
9. Set your own boundaries and negotiate
The workplace will keep demanding more from you. Especially if you are talented and a strong performer. On a positive note, you grow, stretch, and learn. But as your career develops - it’s up to you to set personal boundaries, communicate effectively, and ask for what you want. There was one case where I really didn't want to do a project. It was going to be a big-hot-crazy-mess. In exchange for taking it on, I negotiated a promotion and ensured a deal for someone else too. This was a fair trade in my eyes.
While building a fintech company I could have easily worked 24/7. It's exciting and all absorbing. But I'm disciplined with setting time aside for my partner, friends and health. Over time you’ll identify your limits and boundaries, and you’ll prioritise. But if you don’t set the standards, then your workplace will do it for you.
10. Find a mentor and people who inspire
Seek out people who inspire you - at work, in your relationships, and through your hobbies. Invest time with people you can learn from. Simultaneously, limit time with negative or cynical people. Find a mentor. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible leaders and they have become mentors. Wisdom is a trait I deeply admire. This group can help you to overcome obstacles, provide direction, share ideas, play devil’s advocate, and connect you to influential people. This is the game changer!
"Invest time with people you can learn from."
It's never too late to start implementing change. Hopefully there is something in this article that you can action immediately. Wishing you all the very best with creating a fulfilling career, and if you have any questions or feedback please connect.
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