So many children have big dreams of working in a beautiful office when they grow up. Even some adults have the same dream of getting that better office space.

For most of us, it is no secret that building a strong work ethic from the start helps to lay the foundation for success, but it is a different world today than it was even just ten years ago.

The millennial generation has often been called the "now" generation. This may be true, but is something that is miscommunicated.

In previous generations, people were raised to believe that going to college, getting good grades, working really hard (while going into debt), and getting a decent job with whatever degree you earned, are the steps everyone should be taking to become successful. Today, it can be said that these steps are no longer necessarily a proven formula for wealth and success.

Many Millennials, Nicole Smartt included, are looking for more than just a climb up the ladder with the same old steps from previous generations.

After leaving her position and branching out on her own, Smartt took on a vice president role and is now co-owner of a staffing firm, which Inc. Magazine recognizes as one of the fastest growing companies in America for the third year in a row.

"The stuff you read about millennials is kind of like a negative soundtrack over and over and over. I think it is not a generation thing; I think it is how you were raised," Smartt said. "I was raised to work hard for what you get."

All of her time spent working from receptionist, to recruiting, to payroll and even sales, Nicole kept a journal.

"I was always keeping a journal of all of the things I would do differently if I were the owner," she said. "I had done all of the different functions of the business and realized after two years of being in the sales role, why didn't I have the confidence to be an owner? I had done every role in the business."

That's when Smartt decided to resign and start her own company on a whim. Shortly after that, she became the Vice President of Star Staffing and is now part owner of the $30 million-dollar business. She still doesn't have a college degree.

"My success did not come overnight," Smartt said. "I think my biggest challenge was my age and that I did not have a college education. In 2003-2005 it seemed like having a college degree meant everything, whereas now, so many entrepreneurs do not have degrees and that is okay."

Smartt has some great advice for anyone who is looking to achieve success, whether on a conventional or unconventional path.

1. Define your passion and your vision.

"Even if you do not know exactly what you want to do, somewhere deep inside you have a vision. Find your passion through your strengths," Smartt suggests. "What are you good at? What makes you strong?"

2. Acquire knowledge through self-exploration.

"I was just a receptionist when I started, but that did not hold me back from learning and finding more. I soaked up knowledge from every available opportunity," Smartt said. "Seek learning opportunities within the workplace by taking on special projects. This is a way to broaden and deepen your skills and capabilities. Self-education in your field should be a top priority."

3. Gain experience, show up, and work hard.

No matter what position you might be in, work extra hours, take on extra projects, and learn as much as you can. Take on challenges in the workplace that will give you more opportunities to learn and grow your portfolio and resume. Sometimes even the smallest of tasks lead to bigger opportunities.

4. Build a team of amazing mentors.

"When I started working as a receptionist, I made an immediate connection with the office manager," Smartt remembered. "She not only helped me get the job, but continued to mentor me throughout my years at the business and even after the doors had closed. As I grew in each position, I would soak in knowledge from our clients, from CEO's of businesses, asking them how they got where they are. Learn to really listen and take in advice from the people around you."

5. Always pick yourself back up.

"I had many doors close on me and there were many individuals who looked down on me because of my young age in the career I was in. I did not let this stop me," Smartt said. "So, I simply worked harder, I read more and I learned more. I was determined to show them, and myself, that age was not an obstacle."

6. Stay hands on before and after success.

"It is really important, and I think it is great culture wise, with moral, to know that I am right alongside our employees working just as hard, having my own metrics and goals with them and not off vacationing," Smartt said. "Keep yourself involved in what is going on around you. When you know what is happening and you are aware of everything going on in the workplace, whether you are a receptionist or an owner, it boosts not only your knowledge but the morale in the workplace."

Published on: Aug 9, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.