Career Advice: My Best Tips for Getting Ahead

Earlier this week, I spoke to a class of high school seniors in an entrepreneurship program. I was there to talk about my career path, freelancing, and lessons learned along the way.

I got into how connections, networking, and relationship-building got me from an e-commerce store launched on a whim in college to a full-time freelance career.

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But I think the most important thing I shared was on my last slide. You know...the major takeaways.

So what were they?

Never stop learning; always be curious.

Loving to learn and a curious mind has helped me become a better researcher, writer, and overall better communicator. If you can dedicate yourself to always taking in new information (and learning from it) you’ll have a leg up over a good majority of folks who are content with flying on autopilot mode into adulthood.


Find people who are doing what you want to do and ask them questions.

If you can find someone who’s willing to take you under his or her wing and can share insight on how they got to where they are, you’ve discovered a brilliant shortcut when it comes to getting from where you are to where you want to be. Not only can they help you avoid some of the mistakes they made, but they might even be willing to take you on as an apprentice--which can be an incredible hands-on way to learn.


Make friends, be nice to people.

I got into working with software companies because I connected with an editor (Emma Siemasko!) over Twitter. She commented on liking a piece from my e-commerce store, and so I offered to send her one for free. That back-and-forth then moved to email, and she eventually ended up hiring me as a freelance writer. The connections grew from that one conversation. To me, this is a major testament to making friends (and generally being a nice person!)


Raise your hand and say so when you have a good idea.

It’s easy to sit in the shadows and never speak up. It’s much harder to say, “Hey, I have an idea on how we can do X, and I can help by doing A, B, and C.” However, if you do it and go out on a limb by speaking up, it can lead to major opportunities. For me, it’s how I ended up co-teaching the Creative Class, a course for freelancers, with Paul Jarvis. I say swallow your fears and say so when you can bring something valuable to the table. The worst that can happen is the other person will say no.


Be honest with yourself about what you’re good at (and what you’re not.)

I always used to beat myself up that I wasn’t a math person. It made me feel stupid and I was frustrated that my brain didn’t work that way. But then I realized when it came to words--that was my forte. And it was okay that I wasn’t a math person. Being honest with myself about where I excelled and where I didn’t simplified my life and business by allowing me to outsource things I’m not good at--and it helped me find a career I truly enjoy, too.


Eight hours a day is a long time to spend doing one thing--try to find something you enjoy.

I wish someone would’ve told me this when I was in college. When you’re spending 40 hours a week doing something, you better like it--because that’s where a good chunk of your adult life will be spent. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and find your *dream job.* But it does mean that the path you choose should be rooted in something you enjoy and can fully lean into.


Make stuff even when you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing.

I’m a do-er. I don’t think too much about details and process when it comes to creating--I just go, full steam ahead. This maker mentality is how I launched my first business, helped me get my first freelance gigs, and ultimately led to the incredible career I have now. Making/launching things is scary and hard, but I say just GO and perfect it along the way. Don’t get stuck in the planning stage. Make, tweak, repeat.

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These reminders aren't just good for high schoolers--they're good axioms for anyone. They're especially helpful if you're looking to change gears and shift into a new career or life direction.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.