The Best Advice to Anyone About to Start Their First Job

Listen, many of you reading this are just leaving school, getting ready to graduate, have just entered or are preparing to enter your first big job. You may be working at a big media company like VaynerMedia or a small startup with a lot less employees. Either way, I’ve got some advice to help you navigate this transition. I know it feels like “the world is watching” and your parents, friends, teachers, classmates and colleagues are “setting expectations” for what it looks like to succeed. From the hundreds, if not thousands of interactions I’ve have with individuals that are 16-25 in the exact same position, here’s what I have historically seen people get caught up with and where I think I can help.

My perspective is nuanced because I’ve been there and done that. I have 25+ years of real operating experience which has instilled a level of understanding and a level of patience that so many of you need. I see the distress and the insecurities of those who are just starting and don’t know what to do. Many of you, if not all of you, are caught up in the game of “when will it happen?” .. “How will I “get there?” and “how do I find my passion” or fulfill my potential? You’re in a position where things are changing and you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you were successful in your last city, school, sports team, friend group, neighborhood or previous environment and your deep insecurities about “proving yourself” have you on edge. Good news, it starts and stops with your ability to get rid of those unnecessary expectations.

Get Rid of Expectations For Yourself or Anyone Else

The #1 way to make yourself happy is to get rid of expectations for yourself and others. If you are just graduating college or starting a new job, you need to let go and live in the moment. The fact that you are stressed out about “making it” at 19, 23 or 27 needs to stop. You’re entering a totally different chapter and a radically new environment where your work-life balance, identity, and day-to-day actions are going to change. No one’s first job or starting position has even the slightest indication of future success. Many of the companies you go to work for today, literally won’t be around by the time you’re 50. Your life and career will change a lot. Your passion, interests, talents, and abilities will change a lot. Your status, insecurities, income, friends, and colleagues will most likely change a lot. You have to remember that my first job was bagging ice for $2 an hour in the basement of Wine Library. The prospect of me achieving “great success” didn’t look so firm back then but boy have things changed. It brings me back to the philosophy of “Close Your Eyes Until Your 29” a plea to everyone making this transition to let go, work hard, and live every single moment and experience day-by-day before they even begin to evaluate what they want to do or what their “legacy” will be when they grow old.

Handle Your Tasks and Learnings Day By Day

The biggest mistake I see young people make is that they get caught up in the details of how they are actually providing value to a firm. Too many people are romantic about having to “do this” or only “doing that” but the reality is your actual job is going to be a different story. If you are joining a company or a new team within your existing company you have to be comfortable with the chaos of change. On a day-to-day you are going to have new tasks, new projects, new conversations, new meetings, new calls, new clients, new deliverables and more. The company will change, the team will change, your priorities will change, your deliverables will change, your boss’s motivation and outlook will change and you too will have to change. This is why it’s so important that you learn to love the process by living in dirt and obsessing over the details. On a daily basis, you have to go all-in on the task at hand while staying patient in the macro and evaluating your life in ten year terms. Be open to new opportunities and remember to try, taste, test and learn. There’s absolutely no way for you to “find your passion” especially within the context of “work” if you don’t try a vast array of things. Go intern for an executive or spend time after-hours talking with or trying to help the CFO. Get lunch with a project manager or spend a day working on Facebook Ads. Even in your own department you will have to learn to love change and be comfortable with the fact that what you do today, won’t necessarily be what you do tomorrow. Accept it, embrace it, enjoy it, and learn from it.

Respect the Fact that Your Previous Success Doesn’t Map To Your Current Environment

You have to understand that school is not the same as a “professional career.” Your success in the traditional high-school or college system doesn’t map to your abilities and actions at work. Just because you were the captain of your lacrosse team, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good manager, mentor or leader of a team in a traditional work environment. Your good grades and ability to write research papers or do “extra credit” in class has very little to do with your ability to produce the deliverables a company might desire. Obviously the principles of showing up on time, learning and developing new skills, completing assignments and staying on track still apply, but the environment, energy, execution, and atmosphere definitely change. You can only map the blueprint of school being a “learning ground” for how to take direction and complete assignments in the corporate world. It’s not that your success in school is irrelevant but more so the fact that it is separate and independent from your success at work. You have to realize that college or high school or the coding bootcamp you did last summer or the internship you just had is an independent experience and doesn’t map to your current situation. You have to approach each transition, chapter and opportunity as something completely new with its own set of rules, responsibilities and dynamics at play. Once you understand this and live in the moment, you will win. Once you can let go of your own insecurities and the high-horse of your so-called “accomplishments” in a school environment, you can finally see things clearly and evaluate the reality of your role and responsibility.

Act in the moment and accomplish the tasks at hand. You have to operate without preconceived notions of success or expectation in order to succeed. You have to take things day-by-day and be utterly unromantic to work and deliverables expected of you. You have to be open to change and be willing to try as many things as humanly possible over a 10 year period before you can think about your “passion” or “purpose” in life. You have to be willing to backup your ambition with real action and not let your ego get ahead of the results. You have to be willing to learn and willing to do whatever it takes for you to succeed. And most of all, you have to deploy patience and realize that it doesn’t happen overnight. This process is years in the making and you have time.

Here’s an interview with an employee at VaynerMedia who inspired this article:

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