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3 Important Lessons For Young Professionals: What You Won’t Learn from a College Professor or Boss

If you have read other YoPro Blog Posts, then you have probably seen a post written by a fellow Multiplying Good connection. While Jill and I have also never met like several of my other Multiplying Good friends, we are connected through this philanthropic organization.You might remember another Multiplying Good interviewee, Andy Wolfe, from last year, showing that although we are spread out throughout the state of South Carolina, we can still come together through service. Jill's article is a great reminder that we don't learn everything we need to succeed in life from college – or even at work.


I transferred to the University of South Carolina for my sophomore year of college and left my small, rural hometown behind. With a high school graduating class of only 18 in my class at the state’s smallest public school, I was in for a huge culture shock moving to the capital city.

If I told you all of the things I learned about during that first year, I would be embarrassed, as most people grow up knowing what sushi is or at least one kind of red wine. And what the heck was racket ball?! I knew neither, but I did carry a ton of life skills with me that I would find value in years later, such as how to operate a tractor, the value and operations of farming, the power of community, and I can problem solve better than most. I knew in order to “make it” I had to dive straight in and absorb every piece of info that I could.

However, for this first-generation college graduate, I was given very little direction in the way of how to obtain success in the “white collared” world as a young professional. Attending a large university wasn’t much help as I felt more isolated than ever in a sea of thousands. After obtaining a master’s degree in social work and quickly earning my way into an Executive Director’s role at a very reputable, local nonprofit while also teaching as an adjunct professor and serving on multiple committees and boards, I was able to reflect on the top 3 important life lessons I wish someone had told me in my early 20s.

Here are three important life lessons for success that you don’t learn in college or the workplace:

1. Invest

Spend hours upon hours learning about the stock market and 401k plans and invest early on. It’s never too early even if you only contribute $50 per paycheck into your Roth IRA. Watch youtube videos and follow LinkedIn and Instagram accounts that educate you on the market and how it works. This is a huge ticket to a source of passive income, stability, and a comfortable retirement.

However, the market is not your only investment avenue. I bought my first home when I was 23 and my second at age 28 – all on a social worker’s salary that was less than $70K. My first home became a rental property giving me an additional monthly income. My second home had a mother-in-law suite in which I rented out on AirBNB giving me a third monthly income. By the time I sold both at age 33, I had acquired almost 50% equity in both which allowed my husband and I to invest in our own business and purchase more land.

2. Diversify

Some of the most successful and wealthy people have multiple incomes that are diverse. Just because your degree is in one career field, doesn’t mean you can’t learn a completely unrelated skillset or build a side hustle. Passive income is your friend and ticket to freedom. Working as a school social worker with summers off allowed me to spend more time during breaks at my second job, which increased my annual income. For the latter part of my 20s before getting married, I had 4-5 sources of monthly income: day job as a director, two forms of rental income, contract job as an adjunct professor, and my “side hustle” that allowed me to do trainings and grant work for nonprofits. The more education you have (note that education doesn’t always come in the form of a college degree), the more skills you build which allow you to possess more tools in your toolbox creating additional opportunities.

3. Network

There are two parts to networking – building the relationships and maintaining them. Both are equally important to success. A young professional recently told me that he was having trouble meeting other professionals in their city, so my question was “where are you going in effort to meet others?” This may take work on your part – join a board of directors or a leadership group/class – this also helps you to get into philanthropy and contribute to your community. Attend networking events and practice introducing yourself no matter how awkward it may feel. Utilize the power of LinkedIn and become active.

Don’t just network with folks in your field – diversify and meet others in completely different career paths.

I love being in a room with like-passioned people, but I also appreciate meeting others from completely different perspectives and focuses. The second piece to networking is maintaining those relationships. People never forget how you made them feel or your actions towards them. Call them by name, send that handwritten thank you note, connect them to a resource that they need, and for goodness sakes, reply to their email or call them back in a timely manner. I’ve learned so much (and am still learning) in my time leading organizations, but the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is the power in relationships. I value people – who they are, how they give, how they thrive, and what they need.

A couple of years ago, I applied for a grant from a large foundation for a large amount. I had been awarded this grant for 3 consecutive years. I was now denied and doing what any other executive director would do, I reached out to the grants manager at the foundation and asked for a phone call to get some feedback. I assumed that their budget had been cut or their focus area of funding changed. You know why I was denied? I was denied because I didn’t reach out to them six months earlier and “check in” and I had missed their phone call/voicemail. The “check in” wasn’t a grant requirement and I was knee deep in an all-consuming accreditation process and somehow missed the phone call. After I fervently apologized, she told me that their foundation values close relationships and because I didn’t maintain the communication, we would have to wait and apply for the next cycle. Fair enough, my costly mistake – but I’ll never let it happen again.

Now in my mid-thirties, I often reflect on choices and the outcomes that they’ve given. If I had to attribute my success to something, I would attest that these three life lessons have contributed immensely. It’s never too late to invest in your future, diversify your skillset and income, and place high value on relationships!


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