Smooth Seas Don’t Make Good Sailors

I was recently asked for career advice from someone in their early twenties. I decided to write from my own experience at that age. 

So, how do you accelerate your career in the most rewarding way possible?  How can you learn, execute, and network at an uncomfortable pace? Uncomfortable is the key word here. When you coast, you get weak, lazy and complacent.

Option A: If you have a low propensity for risk, you could go out and further your education. Earn an MBA, and work in consulting. This was a route I seriously considered about 5 years ago. In the end, getting an MBA, and working as a consultant, didn’t line up with what I wanted out of life. This route seemed way too formal.

Not to shit on an MBA; some of the smartest people I work with have one. There’s certainly value; the largest one being the network you’re exposed to. There’s a caveat when considering an MBA. Unless you’ve been accepted to HBS, Wharton or Stanford; I’d take a moment to think about the ROI. Lost wages, time, and let’s not forget that hefty price tag.

Where does that leave you?

Option B: Work at a startup. You can learn everything a standard MBA program can offer, and more! I’m not talking about Uber or Airbnb. Get in early! Get in somewhere that is pre-product market fit. This is where you will impact and learn the most.

Earlier in my career, prior to Breather; I worked at a startup. When I was thinking about making the move to Breather, I remembered a few things:

  1. Punch above your weight: What does that mean? Simply put, you need to work harder and deal with issues that you’ve likely never seen before. Not only do you need to solve problems you’ve never encountered; you need to do it quickly. Thinking back, I was in way over my head at my first job. This is exactly where you want to be.
  2. Pressure: Not everyone is cut out to execute under pressure, and that’s okay. That being said, this is something you can learn. If you can act, react and cope well under pressure, you can do great things. Success in any worthwhile endeavour won’t come easy.
  3. Instant gratification/consequence: When you want something done, it happens fast. You have limited money, talent and time. There is a cost to inaction, and that cost is potentially running out of one, if not all of the resources above. If you’re paying attention to the results of initiatives you’re executing , you have an ability to quickly build up a laundry list of experience you can look back on. This only works if you learn from your past failures.
  4. Talent: It turns out many smart people want the same thing. Work on challenging problems with other intelligent people. I saved this for last, as it is the key to your success. If you feel like the dumbest one in the room, great! Soak it all up, ask questions, keep your ears open.

The biggest takeaway in growing to 70 employees, aggressively ramping up revenue and launching in several countries in less than two and a half years has been

smooth seas don’t make good sailors.

You won’t learn when things go right. You don’t learn without conflict, sacrifice, shit hitting the fan, and pressure. 

In terms of learning, the past two and half years have felt like seven to ten. Most people live their life in a comfortable and complacent state. Where’s the fun in that?

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