This post is provides some unsolicited advice to all the new graduates out there. You’re welcome.
I’m one of the few people in this world who has been able to carve out a career doing what I enjoy. But here’s a secret: my career is a big fat sham.
I’ve managed to fake my way to a career I love. Really. I love what I do and I’m good at it. And if I can figure out how to fake my way to becoming a real professional, anyone can. Here are the seven lessons I have learned along the way.
1. I Had No Idea What I Was Doing …
My first real job was a position I should never have been hired to do except that the organization couldn’t afford anyone with more experience. I was fresh out of college with three internships under my belt and I found myself thrust into a position where I needed the skills of someone five years my senior.
Instead of being overwhelmed at the prospect of failure, I pretended I could do it. I researched marketing projections. I wrote the strategic plans. I gave authoritative presentations. By pretending I was an expert, others began seeing me as an expert. Their affirmation eventually gave me the credibility necessary to overlook my lack of years.
2. … But I Did It Anyway
For the first three years of my career, I worked 60+ hours a week, on average. Some weeks, it was more than that. I hustled. During that time, I kept taking on new projects. I didn’t limit myself to the job description or expectations. I expanded on them. I did what was asked of me, then I told my boss what else needed to be done. I said yes to everything. I reveled in successes, but I also suffered failures. After a few years of tackling as many experiences as possible, I really was an expert. I knew exactly what I was doing.
This was me back then. (Ok, maybe it still is.)
3. Google – For More Than Just Cat Videos
You don’t have to be the one with all of the solutions to every problem. But you do need to be the one who knows how to come up with those solutions. I treat life like one big search engine. Whenever I’m asked to do something I’ve never done, I have a secret way of figuring it out. It’s called Google. Seriously.
If it weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have interacted with many of the experts who have inspired me over the years. I would not have learned how to build my first websites, and if I hadn’t been forced to learn that, I would never have discovered my passion.
4. Be Valuable
In three of my five professional positions, I’ve been around for layoffs. Layoffs are devastating, but they are a part of business. What I learned through these experiences is that there is only one way to keep a job – be indispensable. You can be the hardest worker, putting in the most hours, with the most years of experience, but if the value of keeping you around is not greater than the expense of keeping you around, you’re toast. Everything in life and business is about value. If you are doing work someone else will do cheaper, of course the company is going to let you go and find someone cheaper. Do something the organization needs and add value they cannot get otherwise.
If that fails, be the one who brings donuts. The one who brings donuts can always be trusted.
5. Wear A Costume
This one is tricky. I am not a fashionista. Over the years, I have started to find my way through corporate professional attire, but one thing I have figured out is how to fake it. Dressing the part has been one of my most difficult challenges. Clothes are not important to me. However, they are important to others. Observe those around you. Find someone in a position of success and try to emulate him/her. If that means wearing something uncomfortable, do it.
6. Titles Are Bullshit
For my first few years, I had the following titles, in this sequence: Director, Manager, Specialist, Strategist
With each new role, my responsibility and salary increased. Titles mean nothing in reality and in many cases are merely a way for HR departments to apply some kind of consistent categorization across a company. In other cases, an inflated title is a way for an employer to give you some prestige as a substitute for compensation. Too often, titles become about ego. My work and compensation have always been more important to me than my ego.
7. Degrees Are Bullshit Too (Sort Of)
I do not subscribe to the belief that college is for everyone. But, if you choose college, know that your degree is only a jumping off point, not a guidepost for your career. By the time you have been working for a decade, it won’t matter what classes you took in school. Your experience has taught you more than any professor could in a semester.
For my chosen field, I needed a degree to be considered for positions. If I go back for another degree, it won’t be because I need to learn how to do my job. It will be to add perceived value to my resume. It’s all about faking it, after all.
It doesn’t matter what the reality of your career experience is. Perception is reality. If you pretend to be an expert long enough, you will actually learn enough to become an expert. Eventually, you’ll fake your way to a job you love.