Toward the end of every year we tend to reflect upon not only the past year but sometimes ones prior. As I was talking with one of our staff recently about how we can better prepare students here at Impact 360 Institute for the marketplace I thought back about things I knew now which I wished someone had told me on the front end of beginning a career. I was blessed with several professional voices that both modeled behaviors and advised me, but there are always other things that you learn along the way. As I thought back through this three things (with a common theme) came to mind which I will be proactive to talk about with those I know who are preparing to enter their career field. Truth is there are strategies in everyday life.

There’s a strategy to everything.

Why is it that we tend to think of strategy being vital to other areas but not to our own lives? By strategy I’m broadly applying the term to having a plan. Everyone realizes the importance of military strategies, business strategies, or a “game-winning” strategy in sports. Truth is there are strategies in everyday life. You don’t “wait” to meet the right person. You don’t “wait” for that dream job. The wise person actively prepares themselves for these things. The applications are daily in positioning yourself for the larger opportunities in life as most often it is a series of smaller decisions which gets you there. What is it you want to work on? Be a better listener? Get on top of debt? Improve on memorizing Scripture? One of the beauties of the internet is instant information from people who are good at the things you in which you seek to excel. Invest a few minutes of research and seek to set yourself apart from the crowd by understanding the best ways to do the little things in life.

Networks are everything.

Well, maybe not everything. Being prepared for opportunity by doing excellent work is critical (see #1 above). I can assure you, even if you believe hard work solely puts you ahead, who you know creates a lot of opportunities. I recently read an article in Fortune magazine where the New York Stock Exchange president, Tom Farley, went so far to say he owed every job he ever had to networking. I’d offer the same perspective and, admittedly, I’m likely just an average networker. It is, however, undeniable as I look back that network contacts were the primary source in both how I learned about opportunities and crucial in moving toward them. While it is unethical and not Christ-like to seek to use people only for the connections we think they might have it is important to keep up strategic contacts. People with whom you come into contact who are in your field, a field you would like to be in, or people who know your work and speak for it are critical aspects of your professional life. You should seek to actively cultivate these.

Think and take action, few people do.

I’m thankful to be surrounded at Impact by a team who loves what they do and show up each day eager to serve with their best work. That’s not the case in many organizations. The largest and most surprising revelation for me after a few years in the professional world was the realization a large majority of people seemed to simply show up at work, react to whatever needed (or had) to be done, then went home. In order for one to have opportunity one must be proactive. The majority of people go through life reactively in my experience. In other words, they spent most of their time reacting to what happens on a daily basis as opposed to having put energy toward nipping something before it becomes a problem. Therefore, most people seem to spend their day managing problems that really never should have been. If you apply the Pareto Theory in that 20% of defects cause 80% of problems you can quickly see how much of one’s time can be lost to managing problems that never should have been. A simple attitude of proactivity; trying to work ahead and not behind, gives you so much time back for important tasks. The simple attitude of doing something strategic over nothing is key to separating yourself from others in the workplace.

The simple attitude of doing something strategic over nothing is key to separating yourself from others in the workplace.

The list of things I’ve learned both from wise people who invested in me and also what I’ve simply learned through hard knocks could certainly go on, but these three remain large in my memory. In the end they all have a common theme of being active and alert. Putting that practice into your daily work can help you both do your best work and be prepared and knowledgeable about the great opportunities that lie ahead for you.

Now, go get ‘em!