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2 Key Insights on Hindsight

In life you only know you should have done something sooner when it's too late. This is a lesson that most of us are forced to learn the hard way.

We sat down with some of the most accomplished and experienced business professionals in Chicago to see what they wish they had done sooner. Specifically, we asked the question: What is something you wish you had done sooner and why?

The answers provided us with two key insights that are quite interesting.

In order to understand our interpretation of these insights, it is important to know our perspective at ClassAct. Our mission is to help young professionals get started on the right foot, and if possible, learn important lessons early in life, rather than deep into a career. If you are a young professional or you have children or employees beginning their career, the ClassAct program is a fantastic way to set the foundation for a very fulfilling and successful career.

I frequently use the analogy of surfing for success in business and in life.  It’s not because I’m a surfer, but rather it is because I am fascinated by the dependence on nature and the many forces you can not control - much like life.

The first key insight is that nearly every professional we surveyed said they wish they had a better “lay of the land” early in their career. Whether it was taking more sophisticated personality/career assessments earlier in their development, spending time learning about career paths, job-shadowing, or even understanding how job roles interact with one another - each executive professed a level of ignorance early in their career that they now know they could have avoided.

This is an important insight because it basically says… "I wish I spent more time assessing myself, the situation and rules before I jumped in and just started playing the game." And while learning on-the-job is important, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know that once the job starts… taking time to ponder and reflect becomes increasingly difficult.

I frequently use the analogy of surfing for success in business and in life. It’s not because I’m a surfer, but rather it is because I am fascinated by the dependence on nature and the many forces you can not control - much like life.

Imagine yourself as a professional surfer. You could be the best surfer in the world - the best technique, the most fit, the most gifted and with the greatest sense of balance. All conventional wisdom would indicate that you should win most competitions. But if you are terrible at selecting the best wave to paddle into… it is likely that a competitor who is better at picking the biggest waves - but with less skill - might have a better chance at impressing the judges. That’s what life is like.

It’s one thing to say life is not fair, but a completely different thing to accept the variability in the world around us and to embrace that an understanding of the environment is as important as mastering any skill.

This is important to any young adult who worked hard to get into college, studied diligently to master the fundamentals of their profession and graduated with honors - essentially the very skilled surfer. All too frequently that young adult becomes frustrated as they enter the workplace and realize that fantastic grades, intellect and raw effort are only a small portion of what translates into success in the workplace - picking the right wave.

It’s one thing to say life is not fair, but a completely different thing to accept the variability in the world around us and to embrace that an understanding of the environment is as important as mastering any skill.

The reason more young people don’t engage in understanding themselves, their profession or the “lay of the land” may have something to do with the second key insight.

The second key insight deals with fears that proved to be unfounded for our panel of executives. What was interesting is that no respondent directly mentioned the fears, but rather, they mentioned the manifestation of those fears. Most common were a lack of self-confidence or a muted sense of risk taking.

When you manage risk to zero... you simultaneously manage opportunity to zero.

The lack of confidence is somewhat understandable, but I am always amazed at risk aversion in very young adults. There will never be a better time to take risks, try new things, admit ignorance or just flat out take a flying leap of faith. Nobody expects you to be an expert. Nobody expects you to know that much about an industry or the “real world.”

The successful executives in our panel know that it is OK to fail. That’s how you learn “the hard way.” The important lesson is not that you mistakenly chose the “hard” way, but rather, that MOST of us do actually learn that way.

Being afraid to take risks is like being afraid of picking the wrong wave… so you don’t end up picking a wave at all - guaranteeing you will not fail NOW and simultaneously assuring that you WILL fail down the road. When you manage risk to zero... you simultaneously manage opportunity to zero.

In coaching young professionals who are assessing something they view as risky I often ask them to consider this scenario.

Can you fit everything you need or care about in one car? Typically, the answer is yes. If that is the case, I next ask them if they have a mortgage, kids in college (or just kids), dependents or any other responsibility for the well-being of another human being. In most cases the answer is no. Then I ask them to consider how long it would take to earn enough money to replace everything (non-human) they put in that car? The mathematical answer is typically less than 12 months.

At this point it is obvious... they major risk they face is not a logical financial risk, but rather an emotional risk. And with this in mind, it is far easier to address the emotions that limit our opportunity for the sake of pride or fear of failure.

Young professionals can benefit from understanding the playing field and how the rules pertain to them. Take the time to observe and realize nobody expects them to be experts. This is the time of life to take some risks and develop the self-confidence that only comes from trying new things and learning some “hard lessons” early in a career rather than later.

Together with our readers we strive to positively affect today's professional environment by accelerating wisdom and moving our collective lessons of hindsight from the rear view mirror to the front windshield. You can help us do this. Consider sharing this post with your network if you found the material informative. If you, your children, your employees or anyone you know are interested in becoming a ClassAct, signup for the course with the button below.

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