“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill
Have you ever experienced an awkward moment when you made a mistake in front of someone? The shame that’s felt when caught making an avoidable mistake, making you feel miserable? Predicting the wrong outcome and suffering the consequences that came from overconfidence and poor planning? Failure is a fact of life. We periodically learn more from the avoidance of repeated failures than we do from chasing continued success.
Below is a recent reflection I wrote about failure. I wrote this as a resource for myself and my hope is that from reading this, some part will resonate with you as well and provide you with a new approach to positively reacting and reflecting on your own failures.
Failure is always a possibility
When I think about the word failure, I get a mixed reaction of disdain and of acceptance. Disdain towards the memories of past failures I have made and acceptance of the fact that failure will always be a constant factor in anything I try to do. Mistakes, pain, rejection — all of these are prerequisites for success.
Failure is as much a prerequisite for success as it is the opposite of success, for we cannot succeed without failing first. One could challenge this claim by stating that they have succeeded in accomplishing tasks and feats at the first attempt. However, that rebuttal tends to beg the question, “Can you understand how you achieved that initial success?” See, even if you succeed at something within the first attempt, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can replicate that same outcome unless you have a fundamental understanding of how it came to be. Failure is what teaches us how to achieve success that can be done more than once. Failure provides us the understanding needed for repeated success when it matters most.
It’s nothing personal
It should be mentioned that I personally have difficulty remembering this paradigm shift whenever I experience a failure in real-time. I, like many others, tend to be awash with that feeling of disdain I mentioned above. “Why is this happening to me?” “What did I do wrong?” “Life isn’t fair.” However, thinking about failure with respect to it being a part of what success is, it has in a way helped in my reflections on past mistakes and mishaps I’ve had in the past. I don’t often times think about this during the incident but, it does allow for me to cope and move on more effectively.
Consider for example the world of sales. Success in selling anything, whether it be a product or service isn’t determined by the number of yes’s you get, rather by the number of no’s! It’s a necessary step in learning from every moment and to see your failures as building blocks, not roadblocks.
“As we try to create favorable outcomes from the decisions we make, we can also try to create desirable failures.”
Don’t make your failures personal. As Les Brown once famously said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” His words align with the notion that the failures in our lives can bring us both valuable lessons and even happiness as a consequence of letting the past be used as a tool for growth and learning. It is when we see the past failures we made as grandiose incidents rather than what they really are, we get in our own way.
Ryan Holiday, author of the book Ego Is The Enemy, provides insight into the dangers of letting failure (and success) get to our heads. Just as it is important to accept the failures in our lives and move on, it is just as important to constantly and objectively evaluate who are. In this evaluation, you have to consider your ability in the moment in which you tackled the situations in when you failed and review why you may have been the only cause of said failure.
For a moment, reflect on this passage from Ego Is The Enemy:
“One might say that the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way. It is certainly more pleasurable to focus on our talents and strengths, but where does that get us? Arrogance and self-absorption inhibit growth. So does fantasy and ‘vision’ (page 21).”
Your approach to failure has to be grounded in reality. When I think about the commonalities between all of the failures I’ve had in the past (and the ones that will definitely happen in the future) the common thread is that I reacted poorly in the moment because I was too focused on myself. With this new approach to thinking about failures as building blocks moving forward, I’m going to shift the common thread of my failures to be, “a moment in time in which I learned something new and had fun while learning it.”
Gamify your daily challenges
Games and game theory can be used to further think about the topic of failure as a tool, as a positive fact of life. Consider this: one of the best ways to approach the daily challenges we face is by thinking of them as games. If we to take this into consideration as we go throughout life, we could come to not only accept the inevitability of failure but, also begin to appreciate our reactions towards it. In games, if you play enough times you’re bound to lose.
With this in mind, if we can predict our failures in advance, perhaps we can even help skew the results of the decisions we make in our favor. As we try to create favorable outcomes from the decisions we make, we can also try to create desirable failures. We can skew even the most unfortunate of events into integral components for our growth. By considering what are the desirable outcomes of any scenario (both in success and in failure) we can not only plan to succeed but, also prepare to learn from our future mistakes.
Depending on the nature of your work, there are certain mistakes that are permissible (especially if you are just at the start of your job). Think about the acceptable loses your team is willing to endure on your behalf. In addition, consider what are acceptable loses you permit yourself to make. Have you thought of any? Failures are bound to happen and the inability to forgive oneself doesn’t allow for growth and progress.
In games, my general approach is to learn how to have fun first, which in turn relieves some of the pressure and stress that comes from competition and loss. When the focus is shifted from winning to just learning the mechanics of the game itself and making the experience enjoyable — there is no way that failure can distract or deter one from moving forward. And as we fail, we will begin to gain insights that will help us to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
Accepting failure as a part of growth
Tying back to seeing acceptable failures as a part of your list of desired outcomes, you can also leverage practical pessimism when reflecting on your failures. Practical pessimism is a mode of thinking, in which the focus is to catalyze effective productivity even if failure is imminent. It is a way of stoically approaching the world, although you may fail — the pain of said failure isn’t as bad as you may believe.
Taking into account whatever your failures may be, if you go face your challenges with the primed reaction of, “I accept that this is just a small moment of my life, one that I will learn from,” you can always gain something from any failure that may occur.
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Your time equals = Building relationships + Supporting good habits + Ongoing education + Vision + Fun
We all have only 168 hours every week. Excluding the time we allocate for sleeping, eating, and preparing for the day, we don’t have enough time to work on our goals. The majority of time is spent at work or school (depending on your age). Are we maximizing every day we get? How are we ensuring that is actually true? Below is an update to an article I previously wrote on time management for millennials. You can read that article here.
Building for your future self
At the start of our careers, we can often lose track on how we are positioning ourselves for success. Seeking accolades and approval from the people we work with tends to be the main focus for recent college graduates and young professionals and although those are necessary requirements for upward mobility, they aren’t the only aspects of our careers that matter. Another part of setting ourselves up for success revolves around continuous education, adopting healthy habits, and skills acquisition.
Setting up “learning goals” on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is a great way for tracking your professional progress over time. To make your system of tracking success even more refined, create a log of the mistakes you make alongside your learning goals. Being able to objectively track your results over time (good and bad) will help you see what areas of your work need more attention. The best way to implement any changes you see fit is to consider how you would like to “build” upon your future-self. Are you asking yourself the right questions before seeking new knowledge? This a foundational question to ask yourself as you begin to create your own curriculum after college and beyond.
Auditing your habits: Calendars, Mentors, and Peers
Another way to track your progress is by using your calendar. It may seem like a simple tool when trying to improve upon who you are as a person but, I’ve found my calendar to be invaluable.
My calendar is where I can visually see the following:
- My current learning goals
- Mistakes I’ve logged
- Daily appointments and meetings segmented by color/priority
Having a visual representation for what you need to accomplish can help hold yourself accountable.
In addition to using your calendar, having a mentor can also help in being held accountable to what you add to your calendar—if the guilt of not following it isn’t enough to spur the enthusiasm needed for you to get stuff done. A mentor can help you design the fastest way to learn. When you have access to a mentor, you learn from mistakes that you don’t need to make yourself.
An alternative to finding a mentor who can help teach you and objectively track your progress can be having weekly calls with a peer. During these weekly calls both of you can discuss the following:
- Goals you have for the following week
- Things you’ve accomplished
- Mistakes you’ve made
- What you’ve learned from them
- Ideas for improvement
When I have these calls with a friend of mine from college, they usually last 10-15 minutes. It helps as an investment in yourself and your network, depending on how many of these calls you would like to have. In the event you don’t feel like you have anything to talk about during the call or if you quickly go over your agenda, here’s another prompt for conversation: “What questions did you ask today?” Asking this will always lead fruitful introspective thought for both parties.
If you don’t a mentor you can reach out to right now, you can always find them in books. One book in particular that I recommend is, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Jim Collins. He defines a simple system for considering which essential habits are needed for your success and improving your progress over time. All of the suggestions mentioned in this book are practical and can be immediately implemented (the main challenge will be staying consistent in following what he recommends).
“A mentor can help you design the fastest way to learn.” — Kenny Soto #TweetThis
Every notification is a request for your time
Do you get a return on investment for every minute you spend looking at a screen? Are all notifications created equal? How is your phone aiding you? Are you using it to help control your agenda?
Another distraction that deters us from concentrating on our everyday tasks and learning goals is the need to view and respond to every push notification that comes our way. Learning how to say “no” to the online communities we are a part of is key to making sure we are focused and not looking at our screens. The notifications will stay in your app; you don’t need them intruding on what you need to get done in the moment. Managing your time means managing your content consumption. The content you want to see and people you want attention from aren’t going anywhere.
Try turning off the notifications for all of your social media applications and setting aside time in your schedule to check up on what’s going on. No one will notice that you aren’t responding or posting, especially if you aren’t building a brand online and you’re just using it to stay connected with family and friends.
The most important thing to remember is that none of these recommendations work unless you put them into action, and you must always be honest with yourself. Books may not help, a calendar may not be completely effective, nor will a mentor/partner that holds you accountable. But you need to try them to see what works in the context of your own reality. And also, know that if you’re able to manage your time for work, you’ll have time set aside for fun. “Flipping” your time means finding ways to use it more effectively. What will do to make sure that is happening every day?
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Do you need a personal brand?
“When’s the last time you’ve Googled your name?” This is a question I often ask college students who want to know why I work in personal branding. Common questions I get are: What’s the point? Isn’t that just for celebrities and public figures? How can personal branding benefit me, no one else in my career is focused on building one?
It used to be that only celebrities need to focus on this, but now we all need to be our own publicists because we all create content about our lives on a daily basis. The cool part is that we have complete control over the narratives that we create. But with that complete control comes the responsibility to understand the longterm consequences of our digital content creation.
As I’ve had conversations about this new social landscape, I still meet resistance and hesitation by some people on getting started. So now I have a new reason as to why it’s important to start your personal branding strategy now: your children will google you in the future.
What if they could learn alongside you?
One of the many benefits of personal branding is that you get to create the narrative of your life, one that you want to be known for. However, the majority of our social interactions and publishing online is usually unconscious. Each post we publish and interact with is archived, helping us grow our digital presence over time. Whether it is through written, visual, audio or a combination of all three—we can strategically create content that showcases the lessons we are learning over time.
With this in mind, we can use our daily lives as a resource for our future offspring, providing them with essential lessons within the context of who we are. At the same time, there is an added benefit because in any event they don’t necessarily want to grasp a lesson you give them at the time that you mention it, it will still be available online for years to come. If you believe that they won’t research anything about your life in the future, just audit how you interact with people you’ve recently met. You find them on the social media accounts they have and research their past posts to see what they are about. Your kids will have the ability to do the same thing and whether or not they take action in researching your past—you want to be prepared.
Your content tells a story, here’s how to start
The content you create today will also be a part of your legacy. Once you pass on, the digital presence you cultivated over the years will be used as a resource for your kids and grandkids to help remember who you were. You can use this to your advantage. Technology (especially social media) exposes the world to the core of who we are as individuals. This fact will inevitably make all of us (or at least those who are conscious of the fact that our lives are being documented) into better people. That simple realization can help us as a platform for creating content we can share with our progeny. This can be a foundation for your approach to personal branding and content creation.
The easiest way to begin creating content is by asking yourself: “What questions do I currently have?” After asking yourself this, do some research online or ask people you know who are knowledgeable in the targeted subject matter for their answers. If you find the answers you seek, you can use that as content. If you don’t, you can create your own answer and publish it yourself.
You can also document what is going in your life on a frequent basis, as mentioned above. What may be boring or insignificant to you may be extremely valuable for your viewers so, don’t worry about being boring or seeking perfection with your content. You’re not the judge of your content, your audience is. And if you believe you don’t have an audience yet, then imagine that your future kids are that audience.
You can provide an example of how your kids should begin personal branding
Kids today are using cell phones as early as 10 years old. With that fact in mind, it is more than likely that your kids (or future kids) will be using technology and social media at an early age too. How will you prepare them for their digital lives? If you begin creating a personal brand now, the habits and best practices you discover can then be passed down to them.
The best way to learn anything is through imitation and if your kids and grandkids have a good role model helping them understand the benefits of strategic storytelling online (and all the other life-lessons you’re providing through your content), it could give them a head start in their ability to create the careers and lives they want.
These are just some personal musing to think about if you’ve ever wondered if personal branding and content creation is right for you.
I’d love to get your thoughts on this. How is this new ability to document our lives affected you? Do you feel like there are other reasons to start personal branding that aren’t mentioned here? Comment below and let’s chat!
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This article was written with contributions from Malik Christopher.
Video games are more than entertainment
It’s been over six months since I’ve found the time to play video games. I used to be obsessed, sometimes playing until 2:00 AM on weekdays. I find it hard to believe that I’ve entered a stage in my life where games are slowly leaving my schedule. As I reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from playing them, perhaps one of these will resonate with you too.
No matter what you do to level up, books are your best friend
Taking a page (pun intended) out of The Elder Scrolls: SKYRIM, one of the most important lessons I’ve gained was learning how to level up faster by using books found throughout the world. In the game, there are various skills that you level up to create a fully customized character. An easy way to level up a skill tree is by finding the hidden books across the land. When you acquire a book, your character automatically goes to the next level of that related skill.
The importance of this is that even in video games, education is stressed. Learning how you learn and setting up a way to control your education so that you can level up your skills will always be relevant.
When you accept too many side-missions, you can get off track
Among other challenges, time management in games is critical to your success. Now, gamers define success differently when it comes to specific games. Not all games have an end point, one can play an open world/sandbox game such as Grand Theft Auto and never progress through the main narrative. Time management in video games is important because it determines how fast you beat the game, what achievements or trophies you want to acquire, and how much can you brag to your other friends who play the game. Also, there’s the conundrum of having to decide how to split your time up if you want to play online or not.
The challenge of time management and the lessons I started to gather myself, became readily apparent when I encountered the particular issue of having to play games that have endless side quests & missions. Open world (or sandbox) games are distinct in that they allow the player to step outside of the main story and interact with the world freely. As players, we have the control to do whatever we want for hours on end. The benefit of doing side-missions is that the player gets rewarded with bonus content, prizes, and they most likely help to create a richer gaming experience.
What I took away from playing side missions specifically from Grand Theft Auto is that there are both pros and cons. The negative aspect of side missions is that they can pile on if you’re not too careful and if you’re like me, you get frustrated because one of your main goals is to complete the game. This observation has prompted me to think about the number of projects I take on in real life and how I decide which ones are worth my time. Sure, there could be some list of benefits for taking on new projects, but one must ask themselves, “Does this take away from my primary objectives?” In addition to time management, video games certainly help with creating better decision-making skills if you’re consciously auditing what you do while playing.
Don’t chase money, chase skills
There are video games designed to let the player win if there is certain amount cash to acquire as the main objective. However, most of the games I’ve played require you to focus on your character’s base attributes or if you’re playing online — you need to incorporate talent and skills to be the best. There tends to be a currency system in most role-playing games as an example, but the goal isn’t only to acquire virtual wealth.
Putting a focus on actually developing your character so that they strike terror in the face of the enemy is usually your best bet. This maps on well to life in general. Often, we think about gathering short term gains. Even if it’s relatively short in real life, there is still a considerable amount of time that one has to commit to growing your character’s skills. The skills are what make the game easier, even if you have the best “gear” or items Having a character with a skillset that allows you to adapt to any scenario is what actually matters. It’s the same with who you are in your life. Skills acquisition will always be more important than money.
There are no cheat codes in life
If there is one thing that I’ve noticed for both video games and my personal life is that: I’m usually heading in the right direction if things start getting harder. Especially if I start getting more haters/enemies over time. There’s a natural progression in video games, as your character grows in power and skill, so do the enemies you encounter. Life is the same, and if you try to circumvent that by thinking you can game the system, you’re sadly mistaken. Using “cheat codes” in videos games makes them boring over time. When you do it in real life, it can damage your reputation and hurt you in the long term (even if there are short-term benefits).
An example of a cheat code in real life is lying on your resume. Sure it’s a faster way for you to get your foot in the door but, you will be found out eventually. No one ever got bragging rights by using cheat codes to beat a hard game. You only get the right to be proud of yourself when you tackle your challenges head on and when you’re patient with your growth.
There will always be someone better than you
Lastly, the most important lesson I’ve ever gained from video games (specifically playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), is that there will always be someone better than you. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t consistently try to be the best at what you do, more so that you should be aware that surrounding yourself with people that are more knowledgeable and skilled than you is more than ok — it’s essential to your personal and professional growth.
There is no way you can grow to your fullest potential in whatever you decide to do in life if you don’t have other people to put your current skillset into perspective. I personally want to be a great blogger, so I’m constantly comparing myself to others at the top (like Seth Godin). Not out of envy, but out of admiration and for study. I’m a big believer that imitation is one easy way to test new things and see what’s successful.
Being beaten by people better than you is how you learn how to play the game. It’s how you get better, especially if the competition is significantly past you in years of experience. And most importantly, it keeps things enjoyable. Because who wants to have a boring experience playing video games let alone in life? Competition breeds growth and constant challenges.
Playing with a team is the “name of the game”
In competitive games such as League of Legends or Overwatch, each member of your team is assigned a certain role that has specific objectives that they need to be accomplished during every match. When a mistake is made in one of these roles, whether big or small, it becomes detrimental to the entire team with the potential losing the match. It isn’t as costly if one plays on their own (casual gamers do this), but in the professional atmosphere (eSports) such as the Championship Series for League of Legends, a prize pool of millions of in-game dollars have easily been taken out of a team’s reach because of one mistake.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, rings true in situations like these. If one person falls behind, you’ll easily be outclassed by a team that’s more on top of things. What usually follows is frustration, blame, and a decrease in skill overall. The ability to help those you work with by providing constructive criticism is crucial. A concern for their weaknesses, should be tackled with the appropriate feedback. Slowly, you’ll notice not only improvement in them, but also in yourself as a leader and team player. And in the professional world, we all work in teams.
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Working for free has its own value
Since 2015 I’ve been volunteering my time at SCORE NYC, a federal nonprofit that helps small business owners with free & confidential business advice. Through my two years of experience volunteering my marketing services, I’ve begun to see the value in working for free.
As I reflect on the lessons gathered from my experience, I invite you to consider finding ways to give back to your community. Hopefully, this article will convince you that it’s worth your time.
Working for free helps you learn faster
Ever since I’ve graduated college, I’ve been obsessed with self-education. How do I take control of my professional growth? How do I increase my value to the people I currently work with and those who I will work with in the future? How do I fan flames of my curiosity on a consistent basis? These questions have plagued me for quite some time now, and I’ve begun to realize that through my volunteer experience, I’ve been able to find suitable answers.
Professional growth (as far as my limited perspective allows me to define it) is the rate at which your acquire new skills and knowledge that brings credibility to your personal brand. We all have a personal brand associated with us, and we have to find a balance with both promotion and actually creating value for others. I find that my professional growth continues to accelerate because I work for free.
It’s easier for me to put myself in situations that challenge me because the cost of investing in me is just the other person’s time. Because I’m not charging anyone for my services, I can experiment more and find new ways of approaching my craft. This is allowing me to build a body of work that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Also, by consistently practicing my craft, I am finding ways to expand on ideas that I learn through reading, podcasts, and video. The best way to learn something is ultimately by doing it.
If you work for free, you’ll realize if the work actually makes you happy
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a fear of working in a job that doesn’t bring enthusiasm and more importantly, brings forth curiosity every day. To be great in our work, we must first start off with making sure we’re happy while doing it.
Is the grind worth it? I believe this answer can come to you faster if you give yourself some time to do the work for free (with the ultimate goal being that you eventually get paid for the value you provide).
I run the digital marketing program for SCORE NYC, primarily because it allows me to truly know if I want to do marketing in the future. If I don’t enjoy doing this now, how can I possibly enjoy it later? As time goes on, my learning curve in this subject will begin to plateau, and I will need to put in even more effort to continue. It’s important for me to know if I want to invest a decade doing this, before I actually do so. I believe that volunteering your services for a year can help all of us in the process of finding what we love to do.
Worst case scenario, working for free allows you to taste a lot of things. It gives you the opportunity to see where your talents lie and remove the illusions you may have about your skill set.
Working for free helps you build your network (faster)
Another great perk of volunteering your time is that your list of contacts grows at a faster rate than if you were to charge for your services (or just relying on your 9-to-5). I’ve become a big believer of delaying gratification if it leads to more significant gains in the future. However, even if you’re not getting paid with money, you can still find ways to bring value to yourself, both in education (as previously mentioned above) and in meeting people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
The barrier of entry is met with less resistance and friction from others when you are providing your services for free. People will be more receptive to what you have to say and contribute because they will be judging your value based on your commitment to helping them. Of course, price does play a factor on judging someone’s skill but, as a young professional, I find it appropriate not to have a price for my services right now.
It’s a means to end if I can meet people that will help me 5, 10, even 15 years from now. Just keep in mind, you still have to be good at what you do to maximize the value that can be extracted from your interactions and your growing network. You can certainly volunteer your time but, people will discontinue your working relationship with you if you are wasting their time and can’t bring results.
Doing the right thing always pays off
I understand that working for free isn’t always practical. We all have obligations and responsibilities that must be met. However, if you can’t volunteer your time now, try to make an effort to do so in the future.
Giving back to your community has many benefits, but the ultimate one is the gratification that comes from helping people. At the end of the day, no matter the industry and the role you play in the teams you are involved in, the exchange of value will always be prevalent. There’s just a distinct sense of gratitude you find from someone you helped out of the kindness of your heart says thank you, as opposed to it coming after the exchange of money.
Again, I’m not saying that working to get paid is a bad thing. Just consider adding some time to volunteer into your schedule. I can guarantee that you’ll gain something from the experience.
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“Knowing what you don’t know is more useful than being brilliant.”
- Charlie Munger, taken from the Farnam Street Blog
Self-education changed my life
Let me preface this article with the story of how I am starting my career in digital marketing. I didn’t study marketing in college (besides that one elective course I took during my junior year). My major was in music theory and composition. The only reason I was able to jump into the marketing realm after graduation was because I took the liberty of supplementing my education with an internship that then developed into my own curriculum.
I will admit that none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for my mentor, Maurice Bretzfield. However, at the end of the day I had the understanding that the only person who was in charge of the trajectory of my career was me. And if I didn’t take the initiative to leverage the resources that all of us have at our disposal, I would still be looking for a job. More importantly, I would still be looking for a pathway to growth, that is designed by someone else.
Self-education means moving forward with calculated purpose
Most of us who undergo formal education have all learned how to follow systems. These systems help us to align our dreams and daily actions with the whole of society, making use accustomed to daily routines. One thing that is good about our formal education is that it helps us gain the core competencies needed to join the workforce and contribute to our communities. However, our current system of education is limiting us.
Graduating from the standard educational path of elementary school, high school, and then college is a good starting point but, we eventually have to take control of our intellectual and mental growth when becoming young professionals. In the age of information, we now have the ability to create our own curriculums and learn associative skills that increase our value. Curriculums that can further enhance our education and provide more control over the direction our careers take.
Being prepared as opportunities arise
Creating a curriculum of self-study can help you prepare for opportunities as they present themselves. There comes a time when a potential client or business partner will ask for help on a project and if you don’t have the necessary skills to execute on it—the opportunity will pass you by. We no longer have to give ourselves excuses when it comes to learning the necessary skills we need to have as we develop throughout our careers. Going back to school to supplement your education will always be an option but, this is no longer the only route one can take.
We now have the possibility of using the Internet to learn new skills that can increase our value for little to no cost. Online courses, networking events, and finding mentors online can be great substitutes to a formal education in graduate school. At the end of the day, people get paid to think. The more useful your thinking is to the right people, the more value you will gain throughout your career. Find people who are just as hungry for knowledge and spend as much time with them as you possibly can. Part of setting up your own curriculum is having partners that can hold you accountable over time.
Related: “People Get Paid To Think”
Learn how you learn best
The Internet is our best friend when wanting to learn something new. However, one can waste a lot their time if they do not know the most efficient way they can acquire knowledge. Understanding whether or not we combine several media formats such as audio, written, video, or physical practice is a vital step in self-education.
Personal resources I currently use are as follows:
Written content – For online resources, I use Medium and Feedly to organize my blog subscriptions. For physical books I have h a list of books I plan to buy on a Amazon on my wish list categorized by fiction, business, and law. The way I retain what I learn from each book is by cataloging my lessons as book reviews.
Podcasts – The podcast application I use is the one that comes with the Apple iPhone however a great alternative is the Stitcher app. Below is a list of my top podcasts:
Video – For video content I primarily use YouTube however, a new platform I’ve been using to educate myself using video content is the LinkedIn Learning Center, available to users with a premium subscription.
I mainly gravitate to reading for my education, the reason I know this is through the audit of my own performance in school. If I read something, I soak up the information faster. Also, and more importantly, it’s easier for me to find appropriate uses for the information I am acquiring. But everyone is different, and experimentation is critical.
Fitting self-education into your Daily schedule
No matter what your professional goals are in life, if they aren’t tied to tangible daily, monthly, and quarterly learning goals, you will hinder your growth. There is no reason why we can’t set aside, at the very least, 30 minutes each day dedicated to learning a new skill and learning new habits. Whenever we aspire to reach the next level in our career, we want to establish what necessary skills we need in order to get there. This becomes clearer if we also begin to consider how are we going to design a curriculum so that we can take charge of learning these skills.
If we don’t set realistic deadlines and self-examinations for the skills we need to acquire, we won’t get to where we need to go. Time management plays a significant role in this. Try to set some time aside to do an audit of how you’re spending your week. What urgent tasks do you usually tackle that aren’t immediately relevant? Think about things you can delegate, defer, and deny (saying no is an essential strategy in saving time). Once you have made space in your schedule to set aside for learning, start considering how you want to break up your curriculum. What are the several stages of learning the skills you want to obtain? What are reasonable time periods for achieving them (sometimes this can be as long as 4-5 years so take this into account)?
You can reach out to any expert you want to learn from
Another tactic to consider, as you venture off into new avenues for personal growth, is seeking knowledge from those who have created their own paths. A way to do this with the smallest amount of effort needed (if you’re an avid reader) is to buy books from notable experts in your industry. However, I find this to be limiting if your only approach for learning from experts is to read their literature or to consume their content (videos and podcasts). We now have the ability to reach out to anyone we want to. There is nothing separating you from your idols and heroes.
If you are looking for mentorship, seek it out and start off small. Try reaching out to the top 100 industry experts and work your way up to the top. We use social media every day to connect with our friends and family, why not use it to connect with people who can point us in the right direction?
Sure you might not be able to get Evan Spiegel to reply to your tweet on starting a business, but with enough research and effort you can find his team members online and reach out to them. There is no excuse for you not to start creating conversations with other industry professionals. They are people just like you, and if you can find a way to make the conversation you are seeking valuable to both parties, you will win. But that comes from trial and error. Try to consider what criteria they use to determine whether or not the conversation may be of use to them. Ask yourself, “how do they qualify other people who ask them for their time?”
Creating your own curriculum for learning is difficult but, the effort taken in investing in your personal growth will pay tremendous dividends over time. Every notably successful person never stops learning, why should you?
The bottom line is, graduating from college is only the first step in your learning experience.
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Why networking sucks
I can still remember the most awkward greeting I ever gave someone at the first networking event I attended in 2014.
Person: “Hi there! My name is…”
Me: “I apologize for saying hi…uh, my name’s Kenny Soto.”
Needless to say, nothing came from that exchange.
Networking can be tough, especially for young professionals who are just starting their careers after graduating college. We don’t have a list of accomplishments that we can use to impress notable veterans in our respective industries. The reason most of us are going to networking events is so we can find job opportunities, so coming up with a reason as to why someone should care about us can be difficult.
This year I’ve discovered a sure-fire way of getting the attention of people who can help you grow in your career. This networking strategy has been staring me in the face for quite some time now, and it is easy to pull off. It is all about hosting an event.
The advantages of hosting an event
In most scenarios, networking events that I have attended follow pretty much the same format:
- 30 minutes of general meet and greet
- A panel or roundtable discussion
- Q & A for the speakers
- Closing remarks
- 15 to 30 more minutes of general networking
Whether or not the event has a panel discussion or question and answer period doesn’t matter. What matters most is that during these events there is a set agenda that is followed so that everyone participating can benefit. But do you know who always benefits the most from these events? The host!
When you’re the attendee, you have to make it your mission to go up to others, shake their hands and introduce yourself. When I first started off, my general approach was to meet as many people as possible (which was definitely the wrong approach). If you’re naturally introverted, just attending the event is a hassle. However, when you’re the host no matter what your objective is, it will be much easier because people will naturally want to speak with you.
There will be no friction or awkwardness when greeting others. The attendees came knowing the objective of the event was designed for their benefit as well as yours and if the event is an enjoyable one, they will be more than happy to speak with you.
How to set up an event
You want to make sure your event goes smoothly so you can focus on your real objective: meeting people who you can build professional relationships with. To start off, consider who you want to attend your event. This will be a crucial part of your strategy moving forward with both planning your agenda and marketing your event online (more on this below).
Think about who you want to meet, and how you can bring value to them. If the event isn’t beneficial to all parties involved you risk having people avoid any future invitations you send out.
You don’t need to plan your event alone. You can find other like-minded people (who also want to grow in your field) to help you. If you’re in a position where you can’t speak on a particular topic, search on LinkedIn and Twitter for an individual in your space who is also looking to expand their network.
Planning an event takes a financial investment on your part so the more people you have involved, the less the burden will be. If you can have 6-10 colleagues chip in for the venue, food, and speaker fees, the planning will be much easier.
Another concern I usually have when hosting any workshop on digital marketing (the main topic of each event that I host) is finding the right venue. Before committing you want to review the location in person. I suggest that you come with a checklist of everything that you need for the event so that it goes smoothly.
Some questions you may want to consider are:
- How many people can the venue hold?
- Is the lighting appropriate for the type of event you’re hosting?
- Is the venue difficult to find?
- Do other networking events happen simultaneously at this location?
- Can food be served at the location? Is there a place to store food?
- Who is in charge of clean up? Are these services charged separately?
Certainly, there are other variables to take into consideration but, these are some of the questions I wish I had asked myself and my team before committing to venues when I first started hosting events.
Marketing it the right way
After you’ve made your full-proof plan to get your event underway, the next step is making sure people come. You want to utilize multiple platforms such as Facebook events, Eventbrite, and MeetUp to get as many people exposed to the event as possible.
If you can, I suggest having a budget of $150-200 to do some Facebook advertising, targeting people who fit the criteria of who you would like to network with (use this handy guide from Buffer to get started). A simple way to set your targeting parameters is to focus on location, age range, industry, and job titles. I wouldn’t go so far as to include interest targeting when you first start off.
Make sure that if you have any guest speakers, you ask them to promote the event on all of their social channels as well. You want to utilize whatever audience(s) they may have to gain free exposure.
When providing the description of the event, always tie back your messaging to what attendees will gain from the experience. They will all know that one of the primary reasons they should attend is to network but, there has to be other benefits besides that. Consider what they will learn from attending, that is always a great place to start. Lastly, always add some verbiage that asks your audience to share the event with their friends and colleagues. Perhaps your event will be beneficial to their friends as well.
Following up with attendees
After your event, if you were a good host and attended to your attendee’s needs, you will have gotten more contacts than you can count. It is important to prioritize who to follow up with, within a 24 hour period. Who introduced themselves to you that can you can build a relationship with?
My approach is to always think about what’s the best way I can provide value to the other party? If I can’t find a way to be useful to the person I’m following up with, I don’t bother sending them anything more than a, “let’s stay connected on social media,” or “I hope to see you again at our next event.” You want to make sure you’re maximizing your time after the event, ensuring the people you follow up with can give that return on investment that you’re looking for.
Hosting an event does take more effort on your part but, if you don’t do it alone and with careful planning, it can expand your network and help you create genuine relationships over time. And you have a greater chance of avoiding the awkward greetings that come when you first start off.
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It Takes Time To Build Your Reputation
No matter what list of accomplishments you have, no one will care when you’re starting something new. When you are used to having a reputation, it can be very jarring when you enter a new team or new endeavor and the attention you once had, has evaporated completely.
This can be especially irritating for anyone who has high expectations of themselves. You want to make an impact immediately but, you will quickly realize that unless you can prove that you can be useful, no one will bother to give you the responsibility and recognition that you crave. Being useful to people you’ve worked with in the past has little meaning to those you’re currently working with. That reputation and list of accomplishments can only get your foot in the door, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Being confident in your skills is good, but it is also important to understand that each new person that meets you can’t possibly know the value of those skills right away. Even if they have some prior knowledge of your past work, it still won’t be 100% clear how you provide value — until you’ve actually proven it through your actions.
These things take time and commitment. Sometimes more time than you might immediately expect.
“Freshman Angst” Never Ends
The analogy I’ve used to be able to keep moving forward with this realization in my own professional career is by understanding that no matter what the circumstance, you will always be a freshman.
In each stage of your career, there will always be new challenges to face, new people you will meet, and new environments where you will have to prove yourself on a consistent basis. Having the understanding that this is ok and that these phases are a part of the process, is vital to staying humble and allowing for the opportunities you want to present themselves—when well deserved.
It is better to be in a room where no one knows what you can do, and you have to prove yourself, than to not be in that room at all.
Sometimes the best recognition comes from just taking the time for self-reflection on the work you’ve done. Only you will know how many things you’ve done and learned to get to where you are today. And that is ok. Give people time to discover who you are and what makes you unique. Would you want to be expected to know all of the things that makes someone else special when you first start working with them?
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One of the best ways to leverage LinkedIn
I have been asked by my friends numerous times, “What’s the point of using LinkedIn?” Most of my contemporaries have just recently graduated from college or are now seniors. And we haven’t been taught how to leverage LinkedIn effectively. When we are introduced to the social network at career development seminars, most of the time we are given surface-level advice:
- Add the information on your resume to your profile.
- Connect with people you know.
- Have a professional headshot.
The issue with this advice is that it doesn’t help you to understand how LinkedIn can be used to propel your career forward. Over the past year, I’ve certainly seen the benefits of using LinkedIn. However, I’ve noticed the only reason I’m starting to see the benefits is that I’m actively contributing content on a consistent basis.
The main reason I use the platform is that, through the act of distributing my content, I’m not only promoting myself to future employers — I’m also building my reputation as a useful asset to my team.
Having a focus on promoting yourself to the right people
As someone who has officially gained employment through LinkedIn, I can say that this platform is very instrumental in my daily life. But the power of the platform doesn’t only reside in helping one land a job. It can also help when trying to propose new initiatives to your team; this is immediately apparent if you’re a new employee. Generally it would take months to get your at bat, but with this strategy, it took me weeks.
I’ve discovered that the quickest way to establish your unique value as a team member is to showcase your talents to your team both in and out of the office. That’s why LinkedIn is so useful.
The origin of this idea came from a book I read called Experiences: 7th Era of Marketing by, Robert Rose & Carla Johnson. The authors discuss the importance of creating an internal content marketing strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to build a narrative out of the company’s mission so that employees stay connected with the brand. I found that another way of interpreting this is to leverage this strategy to create a narrative of, “Maybe this new kid knows what he’s talking about.” Creating a narrative out of your mission to help the company succeed (and how you can do it).
Ways to begin your self-promotion
The content you create should not be focused on what makes you special. If you have to tell your teammates that they should pay attention to you — they won’t take you seriously nor, will they take your ideas into consideration. What you have to do is put a focus on the ideas you want to propose. At the very least, you can highlight the things you are currently learning within your industry.
You can do this by creating written articles via LinkedIn Pulse, or you can create a video/audio content and host it on your personal website. Regardless of what format you use, keep in mind that you also don’t need it to be long form. Most the articles I write tend to be around 400-600 words. Ideally, if you’re creating content in video or audio formats, they should range from 2-5 minutes. The goal is to make the content you’re promoting to your team to be digestible. This works across all fields and industries under the condition that your coworkers are on LinkedIn. If they aren’t, then you can always use the alternative method of creating content and deploying paid advertising through Facebook (but, that may be more intrusive since the platform isn’t used by your team for business purposes).
The added benefits of having your team consume your content
The end goal in all of this is to create a conversation. Through consistent distribution of your ideas, your mission should be to have your team become curious about what you bring to the table. Although there is no I in team, finding ways to promote yourself in an altruistic way can help further your career in a faster way. And quite frankly, I find this method to be more palatable than having to compete for attention in person.
This process shows its effects over time. It took me three months to start getting noticed by my team members (as of writing this article) but, the reason I continued despite not seeing any immediate effects is that content strategies always take time to work. At the very least, when you share your original content on LinkedIn, you not only are promoting yourself to your team — you’re also sharing that content with other members of your network. This can lead to conversations that can provide new additional insights into what’s going on in your field. I have seen for myself that when new people see my content, the conversations created help me to find new topics to write about (and it helps me find new ideas I can share with my team).
LinkedIn is not only a platform for showcasing your resume. It’s one of the best tools to help you showcase your ideas to the people who can help propel you forward in your career. Start thinking of ways to express what you know and what you’re currently learning. If you can create new conversations with your team, you’ll be in a much better position to start new initiatives and grow faster in your career.
I’m always looking to learn more about how others are using LinkedIn to grow in their professional lives. How are you leveraging the network? Do you think this strategy applies in all scenarios? Leave a comment below so that we can start a conversation. And feel free to share this with a friend!
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