It’s that time of year. Graduation announcements are arriving in the mail. Soon-to-be graduates are anticipating their final days in school and preparing for the next phase of their lives. It’s also a time when the news is filled with famous personalities conducting commencement speeches, sharing pearls of wisdom with a sea of eager graduates.

If you had the opportunity to give a similar speech, what would you say? Better yet, if you could have given a speech to yourself when you graduated from high school or college, what would you have said based on your experiences?

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, I share the advice I would have given to my inexperienced self 25 years ago.

Fake it ’til you make it. When I was in school, and frankly for the first half of my career, I never felt worthy of more advanced roles at work. I felt like I had a lot to learn and had to be fully experienced—ready—before I could fairly move to the next level of responsibility. But what I learned later on was simple: If someone opens the door or gives you a chance to move up to a new level of responsibility, by all means, take it (whether you think you’re ready or not). You’ll figure it out as you go. The best experiences for growth often come from ‘trial by fire.’

Jump in and create your space. So many times I’ve worked with others who wait to be told what to do in their jobs. If you want to learn, grow and get noticed, then jump in—don’t wait to be asked. Talk to others, observe and take initiative to determine where there are gaps and how you can help fill those gaps. You’ll learn more, faster, and potentially open doors to new areas of your career.

As Tony Robbins says, “Emotion creates motion.” This is a simple piece of advice. If you want to get ahead in your career, then get passionate about what you do or what you’re working on. Invest yourself fully in what you do, and if you can’t invest yourself, then don’t do it. When you find a way to channel your emotion towards the achievement of a single goal, you will create the motion.

Hard work always wins in the end. I cannot tell you how many people I know in both my personal and my work lives who try to get away with the minimal amount of investment in themselves. Believe me when I say this never works. It eventually catches up with you. For example, my neighbor and I exercise together; however, she never pushes herself during a workout. As you would expect, she complains that she doesn’t see the results.

The same principle holds true in the workplace. Those who do the minimal effort and push off their work on others will not reap the long-term rewards.

Look for opportunities to wear multiple hats. I’ve always been a proponent of looking beyond my job description. Find additional ways to contribute to your team. This is where you will learn the most. Because of this practice, I’ve always preferred to work in small to medium-sized organizations where it’s easier to take on a wider set of responsibilities.

Simply be nice to others and work with an open heart. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve worked with others who become very negative and rude. Just because it’s a work environment, people can become defensive, political and act like the only way to do their jobs is to be arrogant. When working with others, always assume the best intentions first; do not assume that someone is trying to sabotage your actions. And, as simple as it sounds, be kind. This will take you much further in both your career and your life.

Create your own definition of success, not others’ definition of success. This is my final and most important piece of advice. Our society is one built on comparisons. Are you as rich as your neighbor? As muscular as the guy on the magazine cover? As successful as the person down the hall? The bottom line is that everyone has their own individual goals and their own definitions of success. You’ll be much happier—and have more energy for life—if you quit the continuous comparisons.

Set your eyes on your own stars. Open your heart. Always be ready to take on new challenges, and yes, have a blast while you’re at it because life is too short to be unhappy.

Source: Cassandra Johnson is a tech-savvy marketing communications consultant and freelance writer. She reports on the latest trends in the promotional products industry, public relations, direct marketing, e-marketing and more. She supports clients in a variety of industries, including promotional products, hospitality, financial services and technology.