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What I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self


What I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

Some hard-won lessons for those just starting a career.

After 20 years at work, first in the corporate world and then building my own business, I began to think back on when I was 20 years old. A sophomore — recall that the root of the word is “wise fool” — I thought I knew a few things about what awaited me in the world. Nothing beats experience, though. Midway through a successful career, with several professional peaks and valleys, here is what I would have advised that young Bentley student when she was halfway through her college education.

While You're at College

Your GPA matters for your first job. While most professionals don’t talk about their GPA once they are in the workforce, it is one of the few data points potential employers will have to compare you to other candidates for your first job. Strive to get it above a 3.0 to put yourself in the running.

Get an internship. This is built into the curriculum at most schools, but if it’s not mandated you should do it on your own — preferably something related to your major. It is one of the best “professional” work experiences most graduates will have on their resume. It is important to show initiative and interest in your chosen field.

Participate in a campus organization. There are hundreds of options at every college to get involved with an activity. Choose something you are passionate about, but also look at it as an opportunity for you to hone your skills and shine to a potential employer. It’s even better to serve in a leadership role or start your own group. Employers like to see involvement and responsibility. 

Once Your Start Working

Understand how your role fits in the big picture. Always ask questions. Talk to other departments and learn what they do with the information you send them. Know your company’s long term goals and how your job supports them. If you’re not in a client facing role, try to get some exposure to client accounts so you can understand their perspective.

Get up from your desk. Working hard is important, but getting up from your desk is what will get you ahead in your career. Know your manager, peers, and employees. Join a professional organization for networking purposes as well as professional growth (those could be the same organization or two different groups). Attend events within your industry and cross-industry, and make networking a regular part of your job. Keep your head up to see what is going on around you in the organization.

Know your allies and your enemies. Another reason to keep your head up — to use a hockey analogy — is to make sure you don’t get checked into the boards. Politics isn’t just in politics; it is everywhere. Understand people’s motivations and how they can help — or hurt — your career. Find a good mentor to help you navigate through the unwritten rules of your organization and to understand where the power lies. 

Build strong relationships with your clients. Never forget the clients pay your salary. Go above and beyond when you have the opportunity — it helps your company and it helps you get on the radar inside your organization and with your client. That is not to say the customer is always right — some of my best customer relationships have come when I had disagreements with them. The key is to be honest and calm. Explain WHY their request is not the right approach for them. If there is an issue, tell them what went wrong and what steps you have put in place to make sure it will not happen again. They will respect you, and you will build yourself a solid reputation.

Debbie Millin (Bentley '92) has more than 20 years of experience running operations in a variety of industries, and is the founder and president of UpperLevel Solutions, offering part-time and interim executive operational support. She is active in the Bentley Executive Club, The Boston Club, The Harvard Club of Boston, and serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics of Massachusetts.

Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.


I would tell him/her what my mentor told is a unique, one time opportunity to improve yourself. Therefore, don't use it only as "trade school". Study a broad range of disciplines. I would tell him/her to gain a deep expertise in an area they find fascinating. Become admired and respected because of that expertise. Then, take your passion to the marketplace...success will follow. Finally, I would tell him/her to save their money. I would probably repeat that.....several times.

Next year when you start dating a girl named Rita, don't break up with her. If you ignore this advice, don't try to get back together with her 3 years later...things may look OK but it won't turn out well and you will live with that pain the rest of your life.

I agree with almost everything you wrote. However, a few words of caution: don't love something that does not love you back. Your job is important and you should always do it to the best of your ability. But don't evaluate your self worth based on what you think other people think of you.

Here are my quick tips. JJD - Class of 1992 as well.... 1. Upon graduation, leave the state of Massachusetts and go West, or South, or Southwest and explore a job in a new state. Austin, Texas has some great opportunities and even better is San Francisco. Overseas is even better. Singapore, China, India... 2. Consider joining the military. Later in life if you want a government job, it will increase your "points" that you will have over applicants that don't have Veteran's preference and it makes it easier to run for political office. 3. Learn to fly. (Easier and cheaper to combine with item 2 above.) 4. Apply to graduate school. (If you have a bachelors of science degree then you can go to law school and become a patent attorney,) if not, don't bother with law school. Otherwise, focus on a technical degree: Medicine? Computer Science? Engineering? 5. Find a significant other with goals that you support and you support their goals. You will never find "the one", just find a "partner" and a friend for life. Their are lots of them. Take them with you on the journey. 6. Save for retirement, but live a little at the same time. 7. Work for a big company, GE, Ford, Walt Disney. It is not as exciting as a "startup" but you will learn what it takes to make a great company great and then you can apply it to a startup later on if you desire

I have two girls coming up onto college age. Any strong, current advice is welcome.

1. Consider the military, particularly if you are Officer material. A lot of responsibility early on, always looks good on a resume. 2. If you are in a bad work situation, get out of it as soon as possible. Bad situations seldom get better. 3. Never burn bridges behind you, no matter how angry you may be. You can never tell if you may have to deal with the same people again, perhaps in a different role, at some point in the future.

This could be a novel! First, I would tell myself to listen to advice from elders---not to think I knew it all. Second, to pursue something that was tangible--but also blended w/a passion. Third, I would say get as much education that you could while you are still young. Finally, I would tell myself----be careful what you consider is a success. Lots of bumps and bruises, but after 25 years if you are still married to your best friend, your kids are healthy, and you have family/friends that you care about---you have a wonderful life. They always say that hindsight is 20/20--too much concentration on looking back makes it very difficult to navigate through the traffic that is your life----and for goodness sake--don't text and drive either!

This is good, if your 20-year-old self was already on track for the right profession. Leaving out the time-travel fantasies, I don't think it's impossible to believe a wise and insightful 40-year-old in 1993 (or for me a similar 50-year-old in 1983) would have told my undergraduate self "Don't believe they hype! Engineers have always been disposable, many have ended up under-employed, and it won't be any different for software engineers than it has been for the rocket scientists. You might get lucky in what will be known as the dotcom bubble if you remember when to cash out, but odds are you won't, and you'll wind up mid-career wondering how long until your next layoff. If you love it, do it, but if you can live without it, try to develop enough interpersonal skills that you can use your math skills in finance, or improve your work habits enough to use your analytic skills in law school, or your science skills in med school."

After having been in IT for 20+ years working for private, public, and academia organizations, I would tell me 20 year old self to screw college and become a plumber or car mechanic and start my own business. No CEOs to low ball me on compensation, no employee cuts to fund academic capital projects, no dealing with poor management that fails to hold employees and themselves accountable for meeting goals and doing their jobs, and no worries about the federal government allowing corporations to abuse HB-1 visas and sending jobs overseas. Its amazing to see how fast the wealthy pull out the cash when their toilet isn't working or their Benz is on the fritz. Best of all, no college loans to pay back or out of pocket costs to cover what education loans won't.

Things I would tell my 20 year old self (in no particular order): 1. Start seeing a therapist NOW. 2. Go to a state school now, and save your cash for grad school 3. Major in still paid well back in the 90s! 4. Study abroad. 5. Drink more. 6. Take more pictures, with yourself in them! 7. Join student organizations and throw yourself into them wholeheartedly! 8. Join CityYear. 9. Take more risks. 10. Call mom.

Excellent advice, concisely written and the last 4 topics are applicable for people's entire careers. Jeff

What great, straightforward, honest advice. You really summarized it well. Thank you. I will send to my college freshman. Lori McKenna class of 88

I couldn't agree more with Debbie's advice. This past year I have seen the value of my "network" and the need to stay involved with my community. I use the term community loosely. Community is not defined by geographic borders. I would also add a few other items to Debbie's list. It is important to stay relevant. If you jump off the learning curve, you take the risk of becoming extinct. Surround yourself with positive yet honest people to give you constructive criticsm. You chart your own destiny so don't we weighed down by the naysayers.

Sharing Debbie Millin's article with my daughter, Dominique. Dominique is a rising sophomore at Duke University and will benefit from this thoughtful advice. I am pleased to say she is is doing her first internship this summer in Germany. Hopefully, she will take note of the politic comments.

Great post I found it really interesting. It reminds me of something someone was chatting about in <a href="">adult4sexchat</a>. There's a lot of topics around the internet that I find people talking about in their chat rooms.

When I was just about to start college my father told me, college will give you a better education. But to be a better person, you have to do that yourself. Something my life lessons taught me, working hard alone won't get you the corner office, you have to network as hard as you work.

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