As a 13 year old, how can I best prepare myself for future professional encounters? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jonathan Brodsky, SVP of Chicken Soup for the Soul, on Quora:

As a 13 year old, how can I best prepare myself for future professional encounters?

Learning to speak in public is useful in most fields.

However, the thing is that you don't actually know what will be useful in your career when you start out five, ten or fifteen years from now (depending on how much schooling you decide to do, if you join the military, etc.).

You don't even know what kind of public speaking would be useful. When I was your age -- 1991 -- there wasn't an internet that anyone used, or phone apps, or anything else. At least one of the skills required to be successful on social media -- an extreme case of narcissism -- were largely frowned upon. Now, it's pretty easy to find people out there who want to teach you how to make your own 'personal brand.'

On top of this, you don't know what kind of public speaking is going to be useful. I spend a lot of my day running meetings where I'm 'speaking' in front of a small group, although most of the time, that conversation happens entirely online with people all over the world. Even when I go and speak at industry events, it's rarely me in front of a few hundred people in an auditorium, and those events are usually nothing more than a short-term sales opportunity for me (where, it is true, being calm and collected certainly helps). Almost all of my real 'speaking' happens in groups of under ten people, and it's usually a conversation more than me speaking to others, because if I knew everything, then I'd be super-duper rich.

I'm not lamenting the way things have turned out (indeed, as a part-time narcissist, it's been a boon for me); I'm just saying that, while some broad-based skills can be useful, your generation is going to require its own skill sets in order to be successful. So spend your time doing these three things instead:

  1. Do as well as you can in school, because college is still an important pedigree for a lot of the world, and the better you do, the better of a college you can get into, and the better chance you have at a good job when you get out of school. However, don't worry if you don't get into Harvard or Stanford. College is a pedigree, not a ticket to success, and people with all sorts of backgrounds do well in life.
  2. Make a new friend at school each month. This is so hard to do, but if you can learn to relate to lots of different people outside of your own clique, you'll do very well in life. Just go up, say hi, and figure out what you all have in common.
  3. Have fun with all of your friends (not just the ones you have today). This should be part of #2, but it's pretty easy to let yourself off the hook with, "I introduced myself to so-and-so, and now they're my friend, and I'm going to go play video games at home now with my old friends." You don't need to have activities outside of school, but you do need to actually be friends.

And, if you fail at #1, #2 and / or #3, don't worry too much about it. When I was 13, I was getting beaten up pretty much every day after school, was friends only with the deeply unpopular kids who were friends with each other for no other reason than protection, and really didn't figure out that relating to other people was an important skill until I was in my 20s.

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