A Note to Your Future Self
Your future self has no idea what's up ahead.
Navigating through the high-pressure time of your early professional career can be quite confusing.
My journey began when I graduated with my masters in international business in 1982. The economy was poor. And coming from a small town in Upstate New York, city life was daunting to me.
I was twenty-five and single with virtually no work experience. As you can imagine, working on the vaunted “Wall Street” was nerve-racking, to say the least.
I came from a lower class family with no connections to this inside world. I had no Ivy League education but I wanted to get my foot in the door.
What set me apart were my German language skills. I also landed an internship involving foreign exchange trading from the customer side– a newly developing area of Wall Street. The experience helped me land a job at a German bank in its foreign exchange department.
Once I landed that coveted job, the shine quickly started wearing off. What used to be the only thing I wanted was suddenly too overwhelming and in no way emotionally fulfilling.
But burnout is a luxury some of us can't afford, so I pressed on.
No matter where you are in your career I want to offer you some advice that your future self will thank you for.
I was taught many of these lessons by the best in the business, and the rest I learned through trial and error. Mistakes are inevitable in this life, but how you react to them is what truly matters in the long run.
Here's what you should know:
Don’t Forget, It’s About Balance
In the beginning, I did not sleep, exercise, or eat right. I was determined to spend every waking moment working or expanding my knowledge. This made me ignore my health, and that is what hurt me the most.
The most crucial part of achieving work success is finding balance, between work and your personal life. While devoting yourself to your work is always important, especially at this stage, it is still necessary to take time for yourself and to spend time with your family and friends.
Maintaining a healthy diet, sleep routine, and exercise schedule will be very helpful in the long run so that you don’t burn yourself out. Overworking yourself now will only hurt you in the long run.
Putting money aside now for the future might seem unnecessary and too early, but it will help set up a foundation of saving for the rest of your career and provide you with a safety net in case of emergency. All of these things will help to keep you healthy and less stressed so that you can perform to the best of your abilities in the office.
First Impressions and Making Connections are Key
When first starting in an office where you are the underdog, everyone will have pre-conceived notions of who you are– some good, and some probably poor.
It is incredibly important to start out on the right foot and sell yourself and your capabilities.
I've seen people walk into the office on the first day with a condescending attitude and a lackadaisical approach to everything. This made others not want to work with them and caused their performance to suffer, ultimately leading to their dismissal.
Always go into the office with a positive attitude or you risk putting your career and reputation in jeopardy. Set yourself apart from the rest, say something different, and aim to make a good impression on everyone you meet.
When You Follow the Money, It’s Not Always Worth It
In the beginning of my career, I was offered a position making ten percent more than I was currently earning. The offer was so enticing I nearly agreed on the spot. The more I looked into it however, I realized the extra money wasn’t worth the longer hours and fewer vacation days.
When interviewing at new places, don’t be so quick to jump at your first offer. Instead, wait to examine all of your options before making any decisions. Some people prioritize money, some want to help others, and still some just want as much time as possible for their personal lives. Determine what drives you and then use this to find the job that best fits you, otherwise you’ll be less happy in your position and even less successful as a result.
A higher salary does not make one job offer superior to another. The only thing that matters is what fits into your overall goals. You are still young and have lots of time to get this right, but finding a job that meets your needs now will help to determine the positive course of your future.
Choose to Go Far Together, Instead of Going Fast Alone
Back then, I was convinced that I did my best work on my own. I would avoid working with my colleagues in fear they would slow me down. I quickly learned that acting this way was actually detrimental for my performance and reputation in the workplace, as teamwork is one of the most valuable skills you can have.
Working effectively with others is crucial because it enables you to hear other opinions and ideas, generate greater communication and flexibility, and gives you a system of support with large workloads.
Never take on more than you can handle. Accept challenges and be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. The beginning of your career is the time to prove yourself and build your knowledge base. Don’t stretch yourself too thin and risk reaching your breaking point. There's so much more to come.
Story written by Antonia Keddell. Steve is a retired banker who worked on Wall Street for over 30 years. He is from Upstate New York and has been happily married for 27 years.