Had you asked me 15 years ago if I would be, in a few short years, Co-Founding Proven Recruiting, I would have responded with a resounding no. Predicting the future is near impossible – especially when you are still in the process of discovering your passions and goals.
Without the benefit of hindsight, decisions often seem impossible; nothing more than black boxes of unknown consequences. No one should be surprised, given this fact, that 33% of university graduates later regret their chosen majors. Too often, it is only after the fact that we can fully appreciate the impact of our choices.
So what, specifically, would today’s Ingram offer as advice to his younger self?
Instead of focusing on individual decisions – should I accept job A or job B? – try taking an audit of yourself, your values, and your fears. Consider who you are, and let major life decisions grow naturally from that understanding. It’s easy to regret a single choice; it’s harder to regret the entirety of who you are as a person.
1. Attitude is everything.
Attitude is a choice; it’s a way of approaching and viewing the world, and it is entirely within your power to shape it. Take advantage of this rare opportunity – there are very few things in life over which you have such complete control.
When you’re interacting with friends, colleagues, admissions officers, hiring managers – when you are interacting with the people who could hold the keys to your future in the decisions that they make – make sure that you’re projecting enthusiasm, authenticity, and self-possession.
If you choose to approach your environment with a positive, buoyant, and adventurous attitude, you’ll find proof in your surroundings that confirm your expectations.
Attitudes are contagious; make sure that yours is worth catching.
2. Align yourself with the companies that reflect your values.
It’s nonsense to believe that you can safely isolate yourself from the colleagues and organizations with whom you spend the majority of your time. A mismatch here will result in a distinct sense of dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfillment.
Take your work, for example. The mission and vision of your company should resonate with you at the most fundamental levels. Enjoying your work is great, but the talented, individual, unique, very special you, will function at your best only when you are participating in something in which you truly believe.
And here’s why it’s important. When I get out of the elevator every morning, I don’t change. I am who I am, because I’m working in an industry and company whose Vision, Mission, Core Values and Guiding Principles are aligned with my own moral compass and the personal code by which I choose to lead my life. It’s that – as much as the work and the salary – that gives me the greatest satisfaction.
3. Embrace (constructive) failure.
When I first entered the job market, I was afraid to try anything that I feared might not work. Anything that risked making me appear stupid, or uninformed, or ridiculous. But It’s not just okay to fail – it’s fundamentally necessary for growth. Strangely, failure is often the point of trying, for it teaches us more than success alone ever could.
Take Jeff Bezos, who proudly boasts of the billions of dollars that Amazon invests in failed projects. Bezos hires people who have taken bold bets only to see them fail in implementation. We all know his popular mantra, “given a 10% chance of a hundred times payoff, you should take that bet every time.”
Realize that true growth – the kind that will allow you to achieve your full potential – won’t happen without a series of repeated, heartbreaking, and incredibly edifying failures.
4. Not all skills are made equal – develop the right ones.
Nobody today has any real idea as to which skills will be in demand in 5 years’ time, or the jobs where they will be deployed, or the way in which these skills will meet the marketplace. With every passing year, any given skill’s shelf-life is becoming measurably shorter.
Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that there’s almost no point in rigidly acquiring a discipline; automation will continually render rigid skills redundant. Being a good, adaptable, reliable team player, with strong communication and leadership abilities and a drive to solve problems, will serve you better than any one-off technical skillset.
I suggest focusing upon the mindset and intellectual curiosity that you will need in order to be able to apply – flexibly and nimbly – the skills you have acquired.
Moreover, when interviewing, make sure you’re asking questions about skills development (as opposed to career development) and the organization’s commitment to continuing development in this area. You want to join a team that is eager to embrace innovation and can modernize quickly – not one that will hold on to the past.
5. Who you are > what you do.
Jobs are temporary; you’ll have to live with yourself forever. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a job that not only allows you to live the life you want, but one that pushes you to be better, smarter, and more compassionate in your personal life. The right job will complement your skills and personality in a way that elevates them both.
If this isn’t the case – change jobs. Or majors. Or whatever you are doing. Who you are is more important than where you work or what you do.
6. You are the company you keep.
It can be difficult to separate who you are from who your friends are. That’s for the simple reason that, given enough exposure, humans start to resemble one another. Either we change to match our surroundings, or our surroundings change to match us, or – very rarely – we find that perfect, unchanging fit.
So be careful who you choose to be your friends and colleagues. Make sure that the parts of yourself that you’re changing are changing for the better – that the addition of these new elements serves to improve your life in every way – and that what you’re trading off is worth it.
Finally, in a place where there are no standup people, try to be the person who stands up. I know – it’s hard when you naturally shy away from confrontation. But, if you stand up and do the right thing, even if you are alone, others will follow. And if they don’t – you know it’s time for something to change.
Make sure the change is for the better.
7. What matters most is character.
What kind of person are you? Do you tell the truth when you have made a mistake, or lie your way out of a tough spot? Will you reap the rewards of your own work or will you cheat and cut corners? Will you care for others that have fewer opportunities?
You will find people who cheat, and people who don’t. You will meet people who are fun to be with, but in a way that makes you feel less than, not more than. You will have many, many choices between doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing and then rationalizing your decision to yourself. And if you do it often enough, you stop bothering with the excuses or rationalizations.
Justice Louis Brandeis said that the opportunities to do the right thing don’t announce themselves with trumpets and lightning. They sneak up on you and with no warning you have to make a decision. Every action – right or wrong – will reflect who you are as a person. Make sure that your character is guiding your actions, and that your actions are informing and elevating your character.
When it comes down to it, I’d advise you, no matter your age or seniority, to focus on the subtleties – on how the right mindset can take you so much further than any specific skills or knowledge ever could.
To anyone looking for guidance – realize the importance of finding your confidence, your drive, your moral compass. With time and commitment, you’ll find a way to shape these unwieldy concepts into a meaningful life.
About the author:
Co-Founder, Proven Recruiting
Ingram is a founding member of Proven Recruiting, and his staffing industry experience spans 23 years and 2 continents. He ran his own recruiting business in London between 1988 and 1996, and prior to founding Proven Recruiting, Ingram was a Group President for one of the largest professional staffing companies in the world. Renowned for building great teams and developing some of the highest preforming associates in the business, his teams won 6 major awards in 6 years for overall performance and customer service. Ingram graduated from London University with a degree in Economics and spent 4 years as an Accountant with a large UK firm of Chartered Accountants. Ingram is active in the community and is involved with several local charities and non-profit groups.