Stuff I wish people had told me in high school

I’ve been invited to speak at Techtrails at Hampton Senior High School today about my career in game design and technology. I didn’t have the best high school experience so it’s sort of a way for me to go back and share what I wish had been shared with me all the way back then. And, I realise a lot of it is useful to everyone, regardless of career stage so I thought I’d share it here too.

The three key things I’ve learnt:

  • You, and only you, are in charge of your path and create the opportunities that come along.
  • People want to help you and are a key to success (that old adage rings true — “it’s not what you know, but who.”)
  • Failure does not exist — it is just what needs to be learnt.

Okay so, those are really nice and and you’ve probably heard them before, but how does one actually go about implementing them (and this sort of nitty gritty is where I also would’ve appreciated more guidance):

  • Just start doing what you are passionate about, don’t wait for someone else to hire you or give you the opportunity (start a blog about your ideas, write for a student/local paper, run an event or workshop, make a game, create some art, volunteer). This might lead to creating your own business or consultancy. Or, if you decide to work for someone else, this not only shows employers that you already have experience, but also that you’re a go-getter. And, it gets your name out there as someone doing cool stuff.
  • Start talking to people who do what you think you might want to do, ask them what it’s like in their job, how they got there, what they like and don’t like about it. This will give you a sense of what you might like to do and how to get there, but more importantly, it has the added benefit of making connections with people who might be able to help you get a job. Ramit Sethi has a killer step-by-step guide on how to network and approach new people, which is useful for anyone regardless of career stage. If you’re in high school, you can simply adjust his suggested scripts he provides to say you’re in high school and thinking about what career you want. People generally love to help young people, so you already have a leg up over everyone else!
  • Do not be afraid of failing. As the saying goes, it’s only failure if you don’t learn something. Everything I’ve done (even stuff that seems trivial or pointless or unrelated to what I do now) has taught me something important about myself, other people, the world or has provided me with new insights or skills.
  • Your mind and attitude are incredibly powerful, use them wisely.  This is so important but largely overlooked. What you believe about yourself, your career, your opportunities and so on becomes your reality, good or bad. We’re always told to stay positive, but what does that actually mean? We all carry around invisible scripts in our heads — basically ways of thinking/doing that can hold us back, without realising it. These are important to recognise and get rid of, and even more importantly, replace with positive, productive scripts and visualisations that move us forward. The best athletes and other top performers have learnt how to do this. A highly effective, step-by-step book on how to do this (including techniques used by top athletes) is John Kehoe’s Mind Power into the 21st Century.

Resources I wish I’d had in high school:

  • Ramit Sethi’s mailing list and blog – Ramit takes all the useful, broad advice you’ve been given (“you should network more”) and breaks it down into clear, actionable steps. Plus, he has tonnes of great new advice that is way more useful and insightful than most of the career guidance stuff you’ll come across.
  • John Kehoe’s Mind Power into the 21st Century – I mentioned this above, but I can’t say enough good stuff about this book in helping anyone to create the proper mindset and habits for a happy, successful career and life.
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