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most adults still haven’t figured it out April 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Lessons Learned, Seen Elsewhere.
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In the United States, you are ostensibly an adult when you reach 18, even though you can’t drink until you’re 21 and you can’t rent a car without an under-25 fee until you’re… well, until you’re 25. And, on top of that, most of the “things you ought to know when you turn 18” lists aren’t read by the 18-year-olds they’re intended to help. They’re read by people who are already in the workforce, buried, unable to make changes or go back and do the right thing. So they read them to their kids, who summarily hear only the sound of a muted trumpet.

John Hawkins, who once put me on his “top 20 posts of the year” list when I was another incarnation of myself, posted one of these lists. Here’s some bits that apply quite well to the corporate world:

7) “Don’t have any children or get married until you can support and love yourself first.” — D-Vega

Children are wonderful. I have some. But one of the prospective parents in a committed relationship is likely to be of the “let’s have the kids right now” camp. Just remember that kids are expensive, and even if your medical insurance covers you (or your wife, if you’re the non-pregnant member of the couple), who’s to say you’ll still have that job later? How much will COBRA cost you if you lose your job? And what about all the baby stuff you have to buy — bassinet, clothes, diapers, formula*, car seats, strollers, and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. And as for the “love” part… if you’re unhappy at your job, why spread that unhappiness to your family too?

10) Start looking for a new job BEFORE you quit your old job.

You should always be looking for a new job. Spend at least two hours a week checking job boards. Maybe you have the ideal job now, but what if the next great job comes along while you’re not looking?

23) When you move, sell, throw away, and give away as much as possible or you’ll just end up moving boxes from one closet, where they have been sitting for five years, to another closet, where they’ll be sitting for the next five years.

When you change desks, throw stuff away. If you take a desk from another person, box up all his/her stuff and deliver it to him/her. If that person was fired or quit, keep the box for a year, then toss it all.

36) If you want to do something exceptional, don’t expect anyone to believe you can do it until you’ve done it. Unless you’re already perceived as exceptional, most people won’t believe in you. That’s doubly true for the people who know you best and have therefore seen you at your most mediocre, like your parents, family, and friends.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Come up with the next great idea, start implementing it, and then tell your boss. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to make good on your promise to make things extra-awesome, and when you can’t… well, there you are.

50) When trying to decide between two closely matched alternatives, always have a bias towards action. In the long run, it’ll lead to your having a lot more experience, great stories, and a richer, fuller life.

Better to take action than to wait for someone else to do it. Or, in the current corporate environment, at least talk about taking action. If you’re lucky, someone else will be assigned to take the action so you won’t have to do it. But if people aren’t doing their jobs, and it’s driving you crazy, volunteer to troubleshoot. It’ll eat some time out of your day but if you’re ultimately making the product better, you should get a little leeway on your other tasks.

I’ve got a post brewing about that last bit, but I’m still pretty pissed off about the way accountability is handled here at CorporateSpeak. When I calm down, I’ll write it.

In any case, there are 45 more things you should know by now, things that 18-year-olds should be taught before they leave home. Here’s hoping you know at least half.

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* No matter how committed you are to breastfeeding, trust me — you’ll need formula at some point. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. I strongly recommend splurging on the liquid; the powdered kind you mix into water always made my kids extra-gassy, which is not something you want.

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