1. Life is not like TV.
It should go without saying. I truly believe that a significant portion of becoming a mature adult is breaking down 20 years of indoctrination by media. We use TV as a reference point in our lives. Our reductive, idealized, and archetypal understanding of jobs, drama, relationships, and trauma is so rigid that we need 10 years of personal evidence to the contrary to finally start recognizing and appreciating the nuances of life. Very rarely do the events in my life follow a script that resembless anything like those we see on television.
2. How you work with others matters more than anything.
The next 40 years of your life will be spent working with people. Coworkers, colleagues, friends, family, wife/husband, kids. Effective communication is key. Never insult. Ask questions before you criticize. Master the shit-sandwich: open with a compliment, introduce criticism, close with a compliment. It’s good for both you and the person you are criticizing. It forces you to focus the beginning and end of your conversion on something positive and still allows you to be critical. Honesty really is the best policy, but how you deliver that honesty can shape and change a relationship.
Also be mindful that you are bad at judging character by nature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error), work to avoid common biases (http://www.businessinsider.com/common-behavioral-biases-2012-5?op=1), and don’t look down on others. Everyone plays a critical role in this world. Forgetting this leads to entitlement and close-mindedness.
3. Assertiveness matters.
Be assertive when it matters. Recognizing when and how is a skill that requires development. People are sensitive to different words, phrases, tone, facial expressions, and body language. Don’t allow yourself to be walked on. Use a “5 Why’s” approach to dig into problems and find solutions. Being assertive doesn’t mean being loud or talking over people; it means being confident in one’s position. In order to be confident you have to have viewed your position from multiple angles and know it inside and out.
4. Persistence and patience.
Nothing comes immediately and that which does, isn’t all that important or valuable. Often the ripples from our decisions or actions won’t be felt for months or even years. An introduction to someone at a party, a failed business, a side project or hobby, or a random blog post all possess the power to capture attention. Your failings, hobbies, and mental exercises make up who you are and may be extremely influential in your future. Be mindful of this and adopt a positive outlook so you can maintain that persistence.
5. Mentorship is huge.
Find people from which to learn and nurture those relationships. Take those people out to lunch. Pick their brain. Bounce ideas off them. Jump at the chance to spend time with them. And when they talk, listen carefully. They are imparting wisdom on you for the cost of a sandwich or a beer.
6. Know when to cut and run.
Several times in my life I’ve found myself in situations where there were no upsides. Relationships, jobs, side projects. Constantly critique yourself - this is how we improve.
Disgruntled with work? What’s the upside to staying? What’s the downside? Put in an application at 5 other places so you have some options and then make a clean exit before your attitude causes an incident that sours relationships with your coworkers.
7. Avoid materialism whenever possible.
Truthfully, none of us will ever be able to avoid this one entirely, but the sooner you can cast aside the desire to posture to those around you, the better. We do it in different ways but we’ve all been tempted.
Have some classically nice clothes for formal occasions, but following trends is a losing battle. If you’re worried your status will suffer, purchase one item that’s trendy and weave it into your current wardrobe.
Don’t finance the latest BMW. Cars are metal boxes that get your from point A to B. The money you save not buying a luxury vehicle could allow you to buy property, invest in a business idea, or take an insightful vacation to a foreign country.