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9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

Before writing this piece I reached out to my network on Facebook and asked them what advice they would give someone in their 20s to help them become a successful leader. Here’s their advice:

Personally I used to always want to be someone else. As I get older I realize that you should never wish to be anyone different. Embrace your path as everyone has their own personal and professional struggles but it is all about how you react to them.  – Stephanie T.

Take a chance, and study the results. Never be satisfied with the status quo – often disguised as ‘best practices’. -Terri D.

Volunteer to take something on! A great deal of leadership is simply stepping up to the plate. – Laura M.

Get your masters ’cause a bachelors ain’t shit! – Casey Y.

Every problem no matter how big or small can be overcome. Be nice, be honest, be passionate. – John C.

Participate in as much professional development as you can. – Angie B.

The path is going to change, be OK with it. Every experience, good or bad, is going to lead you to something greater. – Shawnna S.

This topic is of special interest to me as I feel your 20s will be the most important decade of your life. But honestly, I’m not as concerned with how successful you are or will be in your 20s as I am for what your happiness and quality of life will be in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

In your 20s, you are making decisions, taking on commitments, and assuming responsibilities that will positively or negatively impact you for many years, if not the rest of your life, whether it’s college loan debt, buying a car or house, or selecting your husband or wife. Your 20s provide you a short period of time where ‘the world’ allows you to try different things, make mistakes, and reinvent yourself. The closer you get to 30, the less understanding and forgiving ‘the world’ becomes.  If don’t have your “stuff” together by 30, ‘the world’ may start to lose confidence in you and wonder if and when you will figure it out.  The real tragedy is when you start to lose confidence in yourself.

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You’ve spent the majority of your life receiving well intended instructions and guidance that kept you safe and prepared you for college and a good job. Congratulations if you’ve accomplished this!  However, the rules that got you here are not the same rules that will lead you to a life of meaning, balance, success, and fulfillment, personal and professionally.

I’ve been obsessively studying personal, professional, and leadership development for the past 13 years; since I was 23. In 2001, some professional adversity forced me to take a step back and reevaluate the way I was doing things. I was tired of making mistakes and came to the conclusion that I either wasn’t taught something or I wasn’t listening. Right then and there I made the commitment understand characteristics of success. I put myself on a mission to understand the difference between people who were successful and fulfilled and those who seemed to struggle.

Little did I know at the time, I was studying leadership!

13 years later, here are 9 things you can do to be a successful leader in your 20’s!

1. Know yourself

What are your values?  What are you passionate about? If you can’t answer these two questions, I would hit the pause button for a moment. Your values and passions should be your compass and the driving forces behind every major decision you make. Imagine living your life doing things that aren’t important to you, nor do they excite you. That doesn’t sound fun, does it? Take a look around and you’ll realize there are a lot of people, young and old in that situation. The awesome thing about life is that our lives can change as soon as our attitude does. Connecting to your values and passions is a great first step in living a meaningful life. Go get it!

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2. Know your vision

Your vision is what you want your world to become. Once you connect with your values and passions you can start to look at the world around you and ask: What does the world offer that aligns with my values and passions? What does the world offer you to contribute in areas that are meaningful to you, as well what opportunities can you take advantage of? Through some self-discovery and education, I reconnected to my values and passions right after I turned 24. All I knew at that time is I wanted to be in a role of influence and helping people overcome challenges and achieve their goals. When I really looked at what opportunities the world offered that aligned with my values and passion, I knew that by the time I turned 30 I would be teaching, training, coaching, counselling, and/or speaking. Boom!  My “by 30 Vision” was created!

3. Create your plan

Once you know what is truly important to you (values) and you know what really excites you (passions) and you have an idea what you want out of the world (Vision), it’s time to make it happen. To make it happen, you need a plan. To fulfill your vision, what do you need to do and what other resources will you need? When I created my “by 30 Vision”, I had associates degree in Visual Communications and a year and half of professional experience as a graphic designer. I did not have the education or the professional experience that was going to help me fulfill my vision of becoming a teacher, trainer, coach, counselor, and/or speaker?  To achieve my vision, my plan included continuing to self-study all I could about people’s behavior and motivations. I knew I needed to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree in a major that aligned with my vision. Knowing it was going to be a number of years until I would get my chance, I took sales jobs that helped me sharpen my communication and presentation skills.  I knew what was important to me. I knew what excited me. I knew where I wanted to go.  Because of this, creating my plan and sticking to it was a piece of cake.

4. Surround yourself with the right people

There are a few quotes I love that relate to this point. “It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you hoot with the owls” and “We are an average of the five people we surround ourselves with”. Who are you surrounding yourself with and do they contribute or take a way from you achieving your vision? This is a big one, folks! You need to have people in your life that understand what you are trying to do. People who encourage, support, and will challenge you if needed. If you’re lucky, you have those people close to you like parents or friends. If you don’t have those people around you, you need to find them. Over the past 13 years I’ve sought out and leaned on mentors, coaches, psychologists, teachers, professionals, and like-minded friends. The nice thing about having self-awareness, focus, and ambition in your 20s is that there are so few of you that do and when you have it, other people notice and they want to help.  Don’t be afraid to seek out support and help.  But, when you to, you better show up and follow through!

5. Get education and experience

Some of you are going to realize that outside of your passion for something, you really have very little understanding or experience with it. That’s OK, but if this is the case, you need to figure out how to close that gap to learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to put yourself in a position to achieve your vision. You do not want to be that person who talks about what they want and how they want life to be different, but are not willing to do anything to get it.  Before you know it, you’ll be 45 playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. I knew the only way my vision was going to become a reality is if I continued to self-study, got my degree, and gained skills that aligned with my vision. There is another quote I like and that’s “the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

6. Get involved

Up to this point, everything you’ve read has been about personal leadership, or in other words, leading yourself. If you want to lead others, you better be walking your talk. If you ask my five-year-old son what leaders do, he will tell you that leaders make people better.  For me, leadership is about understanding what’s important (values), knowing big picture goals (vision), taking the right action (plan), and making everyone better in the process of getting there. Get involved in causes or groups or clubs that are important and excite you so you can exercise your interests and passions around other people. You will learn more about leadership by working with others toward a common goal that you ever will in a book. The book stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the difference between reading a play book and running a play live and feeling what it’s like to score or get knocked on your butt. Others will notice your desire to get involved and take action and you’ll earn their respect. You will build trust because you want to make the people around you better.

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7. Find ways to give value

Relationships are non-stop exchanges of value and you’re either giving value or you’re taking it. Give more value than you take!  To give value you must understand what is meaningful to the people you are working with and situations you are in. We all want to be around people we can count on and trust and when you are focused on giving more value than you receive, you are showing everyone that it’s not all about you and that you are paying attention to their needs. When giving value to others, a good place to start is to think about what is important to them and what they are passionate about.  Do you see a theme here?

8. Find ways to lead

If you are getting involved, taking action, and providing value, guess what? You are already leading! It’s probable that the people around you see that as well. You could stop there, but I encourage you to look for more formal leadership opportunities. If you’re involved in a non-profit or part of a young professional group, get on their board where you will have greater influence, responsibility, and visibility. The experience you will get and the connections you make will benefit the rest of your life. I waited until I was 30 before I got involved in our young professional group. Within four months I applied to be on the board and the next two years I served as VP of Professional Development. The following two years I served on the board of Young Variety, a children’s charity. Today, I don’t formally sit on any board, but I am active in providing value where I can to the CEO of Man-Up Iowa, an organization teaches life skills and leadership development to at-risk teenage boys.

9. Make people around you better

Leadership is not about power, it’s about people. When you make people better, you become powerful. I talk a lot about the concept of “quality of life” with my clients. First, to take ownership over their quality of life. I would encourage you to do the same. You deserve a great quality of life. Second, to think about how you impact the quality of life of other people. Because you do impact the quality of life of other people. If you approach the world that you want to make the people around you better, you will and because of that you will be a leader and other people will see you as a leader.

If you want to be a leader, you must first lead yourself. It’s a choice to be made, it doesn’t just happen. Don’t ignore what’s important to you and what excites you about the world. If you don’t know what’s important or what you’re passionate about, figure it out. Dream about what’s possible and don’t be afraid to make the changes necessary to make your dreams reality. Get involved, take action, and make people better. Inspire and encourage others to do the same!

Lead!

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

Creativity also emphasizes values.

“The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

1. Cultivate Focus

In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

How to cultivate focus?

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Take a 20 Minute Walk

Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

2. Build a Structure

When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

How to build a structure?

Create a Morning Routine

Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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3. Find Motivation

There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

How to find motivation?

Connect to Your “Why”

Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

How to become an expert?

Make a Mastery Training Plan

Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

3. Review your progress

Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

5. Create a Conducive Environment

A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

“a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

How to create a conducive environment?

Add or Subtract Stimuli

Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

The Bottom Line

Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

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