College doesn't always dictate our future success. Whether you attend or not, you can be successful--it's about what you bring with you. While going to college holds many positive outcomes, it doesn't mean you'll never be successful without a degree. I'm living proof that this myth is wrong.
I'm proud to say I only have a high school diploma. While I worked harder than most to get where I am, I wouldn't change it. I started as an entry-level receptionist and rose through the ranks quickly, becoming a business owner by age 25. Yes, that's less than seven years from graduating high school. In addition, my company was recently acknowledged by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. I've been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. How's that for success without a degree?
Here are some tips to help you achieve success in your career with or without a degree.
1. Outwork everyone.
I mean everyone. It will most likely require more than 40 hours a week for stretches of time, but your hard work and long hours will show your dedication. Working more than the bare necessity also puts you on the fast track to becoming an expert in your chosen field.
Bosses see your willingness to work until the work is done (and not just until the workday is over) as true evidence that you have the right stuff to take on more responsibility. This means they will often trust you with more important work. Putting in the time from the beginning sets you up to start moving up that ladder. Nothing beats hard work!
2. Network 'till you don't have to introduce yourself.
Connect with people both in and out of your field. You never know what could be hidden within those connections. It's not just about being recognized, it's about being recognized for your work. The reputation that builds up around your work, attitude and connections will help continue to grow that network.
It can help, too, to become a super-connector. Don't just collect connections. Connect your connections. Everyone has unique skills and experiences, and leveraging your networks to help them connect, learn and grow is a powerful way to make your networking count. Bonus: that road goes both ways. People in your network will think of you in situations where your specialties would be useful.
3. Never stop learning.
Keep getting better at what you do and expanding what you do by continuing to learn. You'll hone the skills you have and learn new skills. Learning new things also helps to keep your brain flexible, which is essential for problem solving and process improvement. Read books and articles, watch videos online, take hands-on classes or virtual ones. Bottom line: keep learning new things.
4. Take on tasks that fall outside your job description.
One of the fastest ways up the ranks is to show you are capable of doing more. Start asking for more tasks in the position you want. Make sure your current tasks are complete and that your work is high-quality. If you can prove over time that you are willing and capable of doing more than what your current position asks of you, you'll rise to the next position, and the next, because you keep proving that you can (and that you want to!)
5. Maximize time.
Skip the TV and replace it with learning, growing and visualizing. Spending your time wisely is one of the best things you can do for yourself. This doesn't mean you should become a learning machine; You still need balance. Instead of sitting in front of the television for a couple of hours, read an article or watch a video demonstration. Get creative through artistic or musical pursuits.
If you don't have a degree, know that you need to start somewhere. Take an entry-level position, conquer it, and make strides towards your next benchmark. Remember, you may need to work harder than everyone to prove yourself, but trust me, time well-spent will always pay off.
Nicole Smartt is the owner of Star Staffing. She is the youngest recipient to be awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. Her book, From Receptionist to Boss: Real-Life Advice for Getting Ahead at Work, can be pre-ordered on her website at www.nicolesmartt.com.