9 Things I’d Do if I were Just Getting Started After College

The post was written by Atlanta Tech Village President, David Lightburn.

Last week I had someone who was looking for some advice message me on LinkedIn. She’s a recent graduate who’s looking to find her way professionally.

What would I do if I were just getting started after college?

Because I get some version of this question pretty regularly, I figured I’d share my answer.

Here are 9 things that I would do if I were just starting out:

  1. Consider founding or joining a startup – In my opinion, there is no work that offers more opportunity for personal and professional growth than founding or joining an early stage startup. You’ll get comfortable with uncertainty, be forced to overcome adversity, wear many different hats, make a tangible impact, and learn continuously. A year of experience at a fast moving startup is worth 3 years in a corporate job.
  2. Say yes as much as possible – So many doors in life opened for me because I said yes – even when it wasn’t clear what the ROY (return on yes) was going to be. Later on in life you’ll need to become proficient at saying no, but early on embrace your Season of Yes.
  3. Give without expectation of getting any personal benefit or business out of it. Make that introduction. Help your friend or coworker with that personal matter. Go the extra mile. Being kind to others is not just the right thing to do, it pays off.
  4. Do the small things – Send thank you notes, take an interest in others’ personal lives, pay attention to details – not for the sake of getting business/sales, but because you care. 
  5. Write – Nothing crystallizes your thinking like writing. Set aside time each day to write somewhere – publicly or privately. I’ve struggled to make time for this regularly as there always seemed to be another task that was more pressing (looking back, there wasn’t). I wish I would have prioritized this earlier on in my career. Even if no one ever reads a single word, you’ll improve yourself and your thinking 10x. 
  6. Read – Read voraciously about your industry and interests, but also mix in books from other fields and genres. The powerful mix of books you’ll read combined with your past experiences will be 100% unique to you. This means that no one else alive will be capable of the same thoughts and connections as you. As all those learnings percolate in your subconscious, new ideas will sprout daily.
  7. Surround yourself with the right people – Warren Buffett says to hang out with those better than you – picking people who have better behaviors so you’ll naturally drift in that positive direction. Jim Rohn also believed that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Surrounding yourself with the right peer group will change your life and open yourself to possibilities you didn’t even know existed.
  8. Find a mentor – Develop an intentional and ongoing relationship with someone at the next stage of life who you respect and can speak into your circumstances to help you navigate life’s pitfalls. Many of life’s “answers” are known. Why not skip a few levels with the help of those who have been there before?
  9. Work really hard and follow through on your promises. You’ll immediately stand out if you say you’re going to do something, then you actually do it (gasp!). Bonus points for closing the loop and relaying what you learned.