By Adam Mendler, CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.
During my sophomore year at the University of Southern California, the president of the university, Steven Sample, shared a few thoughts from his book, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. President Sample was a legend on campus and in the world of higher education.
“In your lifetimes, you will have five or six different careers,” Sample told us. “Not jobs. Careers.” With those words, he had lost me. I had known exactly what I wanted to do professionally, and while I thought I might need to make a couple of pit stops along the way to get there, at that time, the career ahead of me was very clear. From a very young age, I wanted to run a major league baseball team. I said so in my college essays, took internships to position myself to work in professional baseball and could not envision any other outcome. For all of the respect I had for President Sample, I thought his comment was off the wall.
Don't Underestimate Unusual Advice
I am in my thirties and have had at least six careers. My career in sports was sidetracked by a career in finance, which was followed by careers in consumer packaged goods, technology and marketing, with a career in entertainment in between. If past is prologue, I might have another six careers ahead of me. One of the beauties of entrepreneurship is the openness to tackling new challenges, a process that can emanate new businesses…or careers.
The underlying theme of President Sample’s speech (because you will have five or six different careers, you need to develop a broad-based skill set that will provide you with the flexibility to adapt to any new professional endeavor) has proven to be so resonant that it is among the very advice I share when speaking to students and professionals early in their careers. As an entrepreneur, in particular, you come to learn that the only certainty is change. You may not know what will change, how it will change or when it will change, but you do know that change is inevitable. Position yourself for change by readying yourself for change.
Always Hone Your Critical Thinking Skills
For all of the emphasis on developing hard skills in school, the soft skills you develop are arguably more important. There is great value in building a strong academic foundation in engineering or marketing. But at the end of the day, much of what you need to learn will take place outside of the classroom. Take advantage of the opportunity to study topics that will help you grow and develop as a person. Delve into subjects that will hone your critical thinking and analytical skills, provide you with a broader and deeper worldview and make you more interesting to interact with. A resume with very specific skills will match well with a particular job. But a deeply compelling and impressive person will be able to excel in career after career.
Take Time to Seek Out Opposing Points of View
While my ears were open during President Sample’s talk, my mind was not. However, as I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I have come to learn that there is no better wisdom than the guidance from a contrarian, willing to tell hard truths. It is easy to seek out the thoughts of those who you believe will provide a reassuring perspective. There is nothing more comfortable than feeling secure in decisions you have made and the path you are on. But it is vital to surround yourself with a diverse set of voices, all of whom will tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. Come up with a list of the people you know who have provided you with the most constructive feedback you have received in the past and who have been unafraid to hurt your feelings or your ego. All can help in some way. But in a professional context, turn to those whose insights you trust when it comes to business or career advice. Whether you have a formal advisory board or an informal kitchen cabinet, seek counsel actively and listen humbly.
Your gut reaction might be to dismiss or laugh off feedback that is outside of the box and potentially disruptive. But if you want to thrive in whatever career you find yourself in, take in the advice from people you admire, respect and trust.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions.