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5 things I think I know now (but wish I'd known then)

24 September, 2015Darryl Howes

Darryl Howes is a Strategic Business Networking® specialist with a background in commercial value generation and sales relationship management. He also teaches, speaks, writes and consults on people networking challenges in business. We have asked him to contribute some thoughts on taking those first steps to success.
Follow Darryl on Twitter or Facebook or via his blog.

It’s a funny time, starting at University. New places, new faces and new experiences can all contribute to a sense of bewilderment.

But this time is also a great opportunity to become you and to develop your life in the way you want it to be. And make no mistake, it’s not up to someone else to do this, it’s up to you (although friends, family, contacts, mentors, peers and others can all help).


In this short article, I want to pick up on a few themes that might help with the bit about ‘becoming you’. Because I spend a lot of my time thinking and writing about careers, there will inevitably be some career focus to the comments. However, as a wise person once said, “Manage your career and you manage your life”.

I’m sure you’re fed up with being told what a wonderful time it is for young people. So many things you can choose from, so many things you can do - and all within a world that is getting smaller by the minute. It’s regrettable that the writers and commentators who recycle these words often come from a generation where a job immediately after graduation was all but guaranteed.

If you feel modern-day reality is somewhat different, here are a few thoughts on how you might deal with perceived challenges and capitalise on those opportunities that come your way. Yes, it’s tough out there, but let’s see what might be of help:

Brand ‘you’.

Books, blogs and vlogs for career starters are full of appeals to ‘figure out who you are’. I’m tempted to recall US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld:

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

So I wouldn’t be surprised to hear you say ‘Figure it out? How can I know what I don’t know?’ Amongst the calls to ‘grow your own brand’, some of the best marketing brains on the planet have acknowledged the difficulties of presenting people in this way. Branding strategist, Walter Akana, has an answer for this:

“In pursuit of a personal brand, most often, it’s the contrived cleverness that can get people into trouble – because it’s perceived as fake. So, just be yourself. Most of your little quirks make you likeable, and the ones that don’t can be managed.”

I particularly like Walter’s comment about having the courage to “just be yourself”. Bearing in mind it can take a lifetime to achieve self-knowledge (and for some, it takes longer!), what guidance might I give? Three things: Be Likeable, Be Present and Be Honest (with yourself and others).

Your story

Let’s say you’ve work hard on figuring out who you are. Is this enough? I’d argue that it isn’t; you need to be able to find a way to communicate the essence of you when called upon to do so. This involves a well-practiced choice of words and phrases that are clear, succinct, impactful and memorable, all wrapped up in a story.

Whether you are relaying your story one on one, face to face, or to a roomful of people, whether live by video or through listeners on a podcast, don’t try to operate on the fly – good storytelling takes practice. Make sure your story has a human element and is vivid in the mind’s eye. Humour is good for memorability, but don’t force it. Remember also the power of silence.

But, you reply, I’m too young to have accumulated a realistic story! Not so; everyone has one. The secret is in the telling. Let’s say you don’t consider yourself to be a naturally gifted storyteller; Stanford lecturer J.D. Schramm has some great tips here.

Communities of interest

Your studies will facilitate your becoming part of a professional community. As a member of a tribe, you will develop your own specialist language and ways of thinking and behaving. It’s important, and only natural, that you take up these norms in the development of your own social capital. But I believe it’s equally important to subject them to scrutiny and to occasionally strike out in a different direction.

The fledgling science of network theory suggests that broad networks of ‘weak tie’ connections (those beyond your normal social circle) promote the integration of diverse communities. This type of network is ideal for providing fresh perspectives and tapping into creative ideas. So, value the exclusive contacts that come with your specialism, but also reach outward. In doing so, you’ll show humility. As C.S. Lewis remarked “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”.

In which direction is your moral compass pointing?

Linked as it is to money, and all the baggage that goes with it, one great advantage of working in the financial world is that you’ll learn very quickly about the flexibility of human morals. By the way, there’s a popular perception this all began during the 2007/2008 crisis, but this isn’t my experience.

Chances are, at some point in the years to come, you will be asked to do or take part in something which will register as contrary to your own natural inclinations. Will you allow yourself to be persuaded that it doesn’t matter, it’s not your fault or that you were ‘only following orders’? Or will you take time to think and do what you believe is truly right? Will you be a follower or a leader? There are risks to both of course.

Never give in

In times of adversity, I try to remember my favourite quote from Mark Twain (he of Huckleberry Finn fame). In referring to our innate ability to imagine negative consequences, Twain said “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”.

So, have some faith in your own ability. Things that take on the highest urgency and importance today will be viewed as insignificant trifles in years to come. It’s only a question of perception. If you re-frame problems as challenges or opportunities, you’ll start to see that you can’t fail, only learn. And you’ll enjoy a healthier life to boot!

I’m planning to write a follow up blog on one other topic. It will be either

A) Being a Better Leader and having a Richer Life (yes, you can have both!) or,

B) How to Be Likeable, Be Present and Be Honest (useful when attending job interviews).

Please Tweet #FutureSelf on my Twitter link at the top, quoting either ‘A’ or ‘B’ to vote for the one you’d like to see.