In college, everybody made the "real world" seem like a distant planet.
Teachers stressed the importance of "professionalism." Department chairs stressed achievements and beefy resumés. Peers stressed over grades, tests, final exams, and grade point averages. Everyone stressed, and was stressed, over the idea of complete and perfected preparation. "You have to be prepared for the real world," they would say, and we as students would nod our heads, furiously working to achieve the unachievable: Being fully prepared to enter the "real world."
I am a 26-year-old Millennial, three years out of college. In three years, I have gone from entry-level copywriting intern to editor in chief at a digital agency in downtown Chicago called Idea Booth. I went from having one short story published in my college's 2013 "Story Week Reader" to having work published in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Inc. I went from being told you can't build a career as a writer to doing what I love every day and building a career as a writer.
And do you know what?
When I graduated college, I was not prepared.
Not. Even. Close.
What's the one thing nobody tells you in college?
Nobody tells you that you will never be prepared. That it's impossible to be fully prepared. That you actually set yourself up for even more failure in thinking that you could possibly be prepared.
In college, nobody tells you that instead of trying to be prepared, what you should be doing is learning how to deal with the constant feeling of being unprepared.
In college, nobody tells you that it's not about knowing all the answers, but knowing that you will be able to find them once you get started.
In college, nobody tells you that bosses, managers, supervisors, and the rest don't care if you don't know the answer. What they care about is your willingness to "know what you don't know," and your openness to learning.
The biggest mistake I see twentysomethings make is thinking they have something to prove.
You have nothing to prove.
Nobody tells you this in college, or high school, or middle school, or elementary school. In fact, we are all taught the opposite. We are taught we have everything to prove. That we must prove ourselves, or else nobody will want us.
Do you want to know what leaders, and companies, and great teams want?
They want people who have nothing to prove, and are hungry just to learn and continue growing. They want people who are less focused on being acknowledged as "great," and more focused on wanting to do great work.
I wish someone had told me this.
The fastest route to success is to realize that you don't know all the answers. Instead of spending so much time trying to prove to everyone how much you know, spend that time learning more about what you don't know. Focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Focus on humility instead of confidence. Focus on listening instead of talking, practicing instead of posturing.
The Millennial Generation has a terrible reputation for being "too much" of everything. We're "too" confident and independent, or "too" needy and indecisive.
As a Millennial, I'd like to apologize.
I didn't realize I was allowed to "not know."