You thought “promposals,” undercooked cafeteria pizza, and hallway passes were things of the past. And hopefully, those unfortunate realities are indeed behind you. But to become a successful entrepreneur, it turns out you have to relive at least some of your high school experiences.
Despite the challenges of being a teen, those years taught you valuable lessons that you can use as a corporate leader. From discovering and honing your raw talents to tackling the age-old “What does my future hold?” question, the years between ninth grade and college prepared you for the role of CEO more than you might imagine.
Jumping Into the Time Travel Machine
Although high school might not have been the best of times, you probably learned more than you realize. As you traipsed through the corridors from class to class, you cemented your role among your classmates. Whether you were a jock, a “band geek,” or some eclectic mix of several groups, you had to figure out where you stood socially and intellectually.
Now you’re in business, and not much has changed.
“Achieving success isn’t about knowing all the answers — it’s about moving through uncertainty to find your footing and build something meaningful. Just as you did in high school,” explains Hope Horner, CEO and founder of Lemonlight Media.
For example, diving into an entrepreneurial lifestyle means making snap judgments and navigating new territory without a lot of prior information — just as you did as a freshman. From day one, you were constantly adapting to a changing landscape. Startup founders and execs rely on such agility to keep from repeating mistakes or misreading colleague and customer cues.
Aside from learning how to expertly pivot when necessary, you also began to develop a sense of self beyond middle-school conformity. The faster and earlier you can develop your “inner scorecard,” a term Warren Buffett coined, the more aptly you can focus on your goals. Buffett defined an inner scorecard in an HBO documentary as being in touch with your authentic self. In high school terms, that could mean joining the tennis team when all your friends were running track. In the business world, a strong inner scorecard could translate to overcoming advisor objections and bucking industry trends.
Entrepreneur Meets World
Now that you have reached adulthood and are running an organization, keep four principles in mind that you no doubt first experienced in high school:
1. A strong tribe is key.
Remember that moment when you and your best friend clicked? Maybe you both loved racquetball or had similar tastes in music. Eventually, your tribe grew to include other like-minded students. The same phenomenon can and should happen in business. In fact, it has a name you already know: networking. Ideally, your network should include successful professionals who are as growth-oriented as you. They don’t have to be in the same industry, but they should definitely be people you can turn to for advice and camaraderie.
If you’ve been lax in developing a strong, trustworthy cadre of supporters, mentors, and friends, start today. Investigate groups in your area that offer connections. If you can’t uncover any networks that support people like you, build one yourself. That’s what Netta Dobbins and Bianca Jeanty did when they started the Minorities in Media Connect chat group, which has now expanded into a career resource and job promotion platform for multicultural professionals.
2. Boredom isn’t bad.
You slogged through seventh-period history, thinking it was going to kill you. Your brain cells seemed to die a little every time the teacher talked about Eurasian nomadic agriculture. So you doodled. And you dreamed. You may have felt guilty for being bored, but boredom can become a springboard for action. Plus, it’s natural. According to research discussed in Psychology Today, up to 98 percent of youngsters feel bored daily. Adults aren’t too far behind.
When you start to become bored, think back to high school. Could it be that you’re on the wrong career track or stuck in a field that doesn’t excite you? That’s the way college student Bill Gates and high schooler Peter Jennings felt before founding Microsoft and becoming a famous news anchor, respectively. Gates dropped out of college, and Jennings never even got a GED. Though you may not be able to uproot your life every time you face ennui, treat boredom as a red flag that you need to make a change. Who knows? You might end up like the British IT professional who developed a lucrative business while bored on maternity leave.
3. Discovering new subjects can open doors.
For many teens, high school is a time to explore subjects and career paths they never considered or even knew about. Consequently, the sophomore dedicated to mathematics could well turn out to be a senior dying to take psychology in college. Even though a young person’s trajectory can seem clear, it can take a turn after a taste of different subjects.
You’ll find that this happens in the startup world all the time, but only for entrepreneurs who keep open minds. It can be tough and worrisome to pursue a new market or sell your company to begin a new project, yet it can also become a freeing, personally rewarding adventure. Don’t be afraid, for instance, to start consulting or to launch a new service line. Just as high schoolers should explore as many subjects as possible, so should entrepreneurs bent on maxing out their gifts.
4. Lifelong learning is a must-do.
Kids who get senioritis too early miss out on important information in their last year of high school. The same holds true for businesspeople who eschew continuing education. Don’t be afraid to go back to school or take courses to keep broadening your knowledge. Conferences, certification programs, and short-term training courses can also fill in gaps. The more input you give your brain, the wiser the overall output will be. In fact, your worldview might change radically for the better.
Karlie Kloss found this out when she became a model-turned-entrepreneur. Her camp, Kode with Klossy, teaches young girls the ins and outs of languages such as HTML and Ruby. Coding’s not exactly what you would expect from a fashion superstar, but that’s OK. Kloss always loved math and has never pigeonholed herself.
You may never use trigonometry or don a marching band uniform again. However, you probably can use more high school-honed skills than you thought. Take a quick walk down memory lane — it could be just what you need to take your abilities to the next level.