Mandar Oak
by Mandar Oak
5 min read


Early career years are painful.

You feel like an idiot 98% of the time - lost, confused and insecure.

I wish I had a cheat sheet of principles for my first job.

So I put one together.

Here are 20 (non-fortune cookie) things about building a career I wish I knew sooner:

Principle #1: You’re not the “Strategy Guy”


To be a big picture thinker, you have to earn the respect, trust and credibility of your team first.

The only way you can do this is through delivering tangible value.

Focus on bringing results, not laying out frameworks.

Principle #2: Optionality caps your downside AND your upside

As you progress in your career, skill is more attractive than the promise of potential.

This shift can be painful - it happens very suddenly.

Sacrifice optionality early, so you can get more of it later.

Principle #3: Adopt an “it’s my fault attitude”

  • Sales were too low? It’s my fault
  • Employee NPS is down? It’s my fault
  • Customer isn’t happy? It’s my fault

Focus on driving a solution versus being frustrated and finding someone / something to blame.

Principle #4: Work-life balance is a myth

At least when you’re starting out.

Working really hard in your early years affords you the opportunity for balance later because you can create leverage in the form of (a) knowledge, (b) capital and (c) people.

Principle #5: Focus on inputs vs. outputs

It’s really important to separate inputs (process) from output (outcomes).

Every so often you will have a great outcome that seemingly comes out of nowhere — this is luck.

Do not get seduced by it; it isn’t repeatable.

Principle #6: Learn just enough to be dangerous

Know a little bit about: (a) how the world works, (b) how your industry works and (c) how the business works.

Cross functional knowledge is underrated.

If you bring it to the table, you’ll be an asset in any company from Day 1.

Principle #7: Success doesn’t have to be hard

There are 2 paths to success:

Be Top 1% in the world at 1 thing Be Top 25% in the world at 3 things

Top 25% is achievable by most people.

The problem is most people focus on being Top 1%.

Principle #8: Building is 99% execution, 1% vision

We glamorize vision and foresight too much. The majority of any project is actually really boring.

It’s all about being present, consistent and giving it the right level of effort day-in and day-out.

This is deceptively hard.

Principle #9: “Anything is possible” doesn’t mean “everything is probable.”

It’s important to understand: (1) whether something is likely and (2) the impact of a stated outcome.

There’s no “right or wrong”, but you should always be aware of the risk and implications.

Principle #10: The right time to start is yesterday

If you’re waiting for the right time, you’re assuming: (1) there is a “right time” AND (2) you will recognize that right time.

Think about that. Each of those individually are borderline impossible to diagnose, let alone both.

Principle #11: Get in the game

When you’re a part of a fast moving company it feels something like this:

“We are flying at 100 mph, the engine is broken, the left wing doesn’t exist and we should have built a submarine.”

You learn when you do.

Put the mental models down.

Principle #12: Winning solves everything

You are now at the bottom of the totem pole.

No task is beneath you. All that matters is the team wins.

Sounds easy in theory, but it’s pretty hard in practice.

If you can keep this attitude and focus, it will pay off.

Principle #13: Every situation comes down to 5 variables

  • Incentives
  • Personalities
  • Perspectives
  • Constraints
  • Resources

In most “tough” situations, 2+ are misaligned.

Figure out which and hone in on them.

Principle #14: Spend time with people that are better than you

The quickest way to accelerate your personal growth is to surround yourself with people that are better than you.

It’s the fastest way to level up.

Principle #15: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

If you get advice from enough people, the advice cancels out. You can find 2 smart people to take opposite sides of the argument on virtually every topic.

Focus on developing your instincts and trusting your own intuition

Principle #16: Get a shovel and get in the mess

Most people hate messes and avoid them like the plague.

But this is where the opportunity is.

Your team / people you will work with also remember you for running to help vs. running to comfort.

Principle #17: Always put things on paper

Writing things down brings clarity to the thought process.

It’s easy to talk about something and build castles in the sky.

It’s a lot harder to distill, synthesize, pressure test and then communicate.

Principle #18: Stay true to your commitments

If you make a commitment, see it through. Half-assed problem solving creates more work for everyone.

It’s astonishing how quickly you can get ahead if you simply:

  • Say you’re going to do something
  • Do it
  • Repeat

Principle #19: Don’t compare yourself to others

As you get older, the likelihood that you will have an amazing friend that doesn’t get the credit they deserve and a soulless person that gets ahead is pretty likely.

It doesn’t matter.

Play your game and focus on yourself.

Principle #20: Become a master at sales & negotiation

Every opening is a sale - partnerships, recruiting, vision, fundraising

Every close is a negotiation - hiring, alignment, price, terms, value

The faster you can become a sales/negotiation jedi, the better served you’ll be.

BONUS Principle (#21): Don’t get high on your own supply.

Don’t be a jerk.

It isn’t cool.

And that’s it. I wish I had those 20 principles at my fingertips when I started out.

What else?

What other tips would you give to people starting their career?

@threadreaderapp unroll <div class='jekyll-twitter-plugin'><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">And that's it. I wish I had those 20 principles at my fingertips when I started out.

What else?

What other tips would you give to people starting their career?</p>— Romeen Sheth (@RomeenSheth) August 3, 2022</blockquote>