My son leaves for college this week, and I’ve realized that it’s one of several fresh starts many of us make in life. This adjustment will be followed by new jobs, new relationships, and maybe career changes. In fact, chances are good that my son will have more fresh starts than I did; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person stays with an employer for 4.6 years, while millennials average just 1.3 years on a job.
As I pull together my thoughts, grab some tissue, and prepare the words of wisdom I’ll leave with my son as we unpack his dorm, I’m reminded of the great advice I’ve heard over the years. One of the perks of being a writer is that you get to interview a lot of experts. Since I write about time management, productivity, and leadership, I hear plenty of tips and new ways of thinking aimed at getting more out of life. Here are 10 of my favorite words of advice for starting anew:
People entering the workplace today are a commodity, says Fred Cook, CEO of GolinHarris and author of Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice From an Unlikely CEO. “They’ve attended the same schools, read the same books, gone to the same movies, played the same video games, and watched the same TV shows,” he says. “What they don’t have is life experience, ideas of their own or world views. Those are the things that elevate your career.”
Try new foods. Check out the latest museum exhibits. Read books that are outside your area of expertise. And don’t be afraid to take bigger risks, such as moving across the country. It’s the life experiences that broaden your perspective.
Too many people believe failure is a referendum on them, says Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, and they come to the conclusion that they’re not good enough.
“Those who have a growth mindset, however, think failure is a roadmap for what not to do next time,” she says. From minor slip-ups to epic fails, all of us will falter at some time in life; to be successful, you have to have a certain amount of blindness to the risk.”
The majority of your future successes are waiting outside your immediate network, says Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector. “It’s where the gold is,” she says. But most of us just talk to strangers 2% to 3% of the time.
Open yourself to new opportunities by looking approachable. Assume the other person is shy and say hello. Then find common ground on which to start a conversation. If there is something of interest, don’t be afraid to ask for the person’s contact information and then follow up.
“You don’t have to be an extrovert to talk to a stranger,” says Robinett. “We’re all so worried what other people might think about us. The truth is that no one cares because they’re worried about themselves.”
“Acknowledge that what got you where you are today isn’t going to get you where you want to go tomorrow,” says Jennings, who cites Borders as an example of what can happen if you don’t let go. “They refused to change and held onto what had made them money in the past, and it proved fatal.”
Businesses have mission statements, and people should have one, too, says William Arruda, author of Ditch, Dare, Do: 3D Personal Branding for Executives. A mission sums up who you are and what you stand for; it brings focus and purpose to your life.
Arruda offers this template for writing one: The value you create + who you’re creating it for + the expected outcome. For example: I use my passion for words to inspire readers to think in new ways.
“A personal mission statement is a powerful tool because it provides you with a path for success, and it gives you permission to say ‘no’ to the things that are distractions,” Arruda says.
Too often, we try to fit in with our environment because we think it will help us move forward, but the person who embraces their differences stands out, says Sally Hogshead, author of How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination.
“Once you identify what makes you different, concentrate on it,” she says. “To be successful, you don’t have to change who you are; you have to become more of who you are.”
“Thinking is the process of generating an original idea or distinction,” he says. “It requires energy and attention; having an opinion requires neither. Instead of deciding whether or not you like the idea, ask yourself, ‘Where’s the power in this for me?’”
Parents and teachers encourage us to take time to do our best, but sometimes it’s not practical, says Jeremy Eden, coauthor of Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits.
“Excelling sounds like a good thing,” he says “But if you use this mindset in everything you do, you’re spending a huge amount of time on things that aren’t important.”
Instead, identify the things that are worth “gold plating,” and then adopt a policy where good is good enough.
To be a healthy, grounded person, you need to be selfish and take care of your own needs, says Bob Rosen, author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World. People who are self-focused but not self-involved are healthier, happier, have better relationships, and have better leadership skills.
“Our theory of human development is based on a model that you’re either selfish or you’re community oriented,” says Rosen. “The truth is that you need to be both. It’s not an either-or.”
Finally, the road ahead can feel long and overwhelming. To alleviate some of the stress, focus on milestones, says Jones Loflin, coauthor of Getting to It. Milestones are everywhere: the first semester, the first week of a new job, the first client.
Loflin shared the story of a friend who started running: “Instead of focusing on miles, he worked on running from utility pole to utility pole,” he says. “It made the process feel much more doable. Concentrate on staying focused for an hour or for a day instead of looking at everything that is ahead.”