One of the coolest things about growing old is that you get to give advice to people who haven’t asked for it. It’s also safe to talk to young ladies, because they all see you as their grandfather.
Another cool thing is that the check valve between your brain and your mouth often gets stuck in the open position. Thoughts just slide down the chute and become words. That happens a lot.
With that said, here are some unsolicited bits of advice for anyone who is new to this glorious industry of ours. Take it or leave it, but either way, welcome to the industry.
- Quick! Get a mentor. This is easier than it sounds, and I think one of the most important things you can do right at the start of your career. Find a positive person and ask if there’s a good time for you to meet and ask a few questions. Carefully think those questions through before you do this. You don’t want to be asking what his or her favorite color is. I once asked a mentor to tell me the two most important things I need to know to succeed in this business. He didn’t even hesitate before answering, and I’ll never forget what he said. Both things proved true. Get a mentor and cultivate that relationship by showing lots of respect.
- Listen more than you speak. That mentor also mentioned to me once that I was born with two ears and only one mouth, which means that I’m supposed to listen twice as much as I speak. These days I make my living as a speaker, but I’m always a bit sad after a seminar because I didn’t learn much during the time I was speaking. I like to think the folks in the audience did, but when I talk I’m just saying things I already know. I learn a lot more when I listen to what others have to say. And I try my best to let them finish speaking before I open my mouth. There’s so much to learn in this business, and you’ll learn best by listening. I know you’re brilliant, but shut up for a while.
- Be patient. If you want to start at the top, be an entrepreneur and open your own business. This, of course, involves lots of risk, so if you’re not bent that way, and you really want to learn this business, start with a job that you can actually do and be patient. If you’re good at that job you’ll move up to the next level. If that doesn’t happen for you, move on. But before you do, consider that you may not be ready for that next job, and that may be the reason why you’re not being promoted. This is where that mentor comes in. Ask him or her where you should be at this point. If you picked the right mentor you’ll get an honest answer. It may not be the one you wanted, but it will be the truth. Put your ego on hold and deal with it.
- Be curious. America is a heating museum. We have heating systems dating back to the 19th Century that are still serving buildings and they’ll probably be around for years to come. We also have systems that are as new as it gets. Some buildings have a mix of both the old and the new. Sometimes the new doesn’t get along with the old (just like with people). Be curious about all this technology, both old and new. The more you learn the more valuable you will become to your company and to the industry. Be curious and learn. Ask questions. Pay attention to the answers. If you don’t like those answers, ask more questions. Curiosity is good.
- Read every day. And not just technical articles from magazines such as this fine one. Read newspapers that approach issues from opposing points of view. I start each morning with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, The Washington Post and USA Today. I take it all in and then decide for myself. Subscribe to business blogs. Most are free. Seth Godin’s blog is required reading for anyone involved with marketing. Read the chat boards at heating websites. Some of the smartest people in the heating industry share their ideas there every day. Read beyond your field. I’ve learned a lot about older heating systems by reading novels published 100 years ago. Schedule your reading like an appointment and do it every day.
- Make friends, not enemies. It’s a small industry and you never know where you’re going to be next year. You also don’t know where that person you’re calling an idiot is going to be next year. I’ve learned that it is far better to make friends in this business than it is to cultivate enemies. But I suppose that’s true of life in general, isn’t it? I’m telling you this because I didn’t get it when I was younger and it was a tough lesson to learn. Friends can take you places. Enemies will only raise your blood pressure.
- Don’t whine. You’ll meet a lot of whiners as you grow in this business. John Beckett of the Beckett Corp. wrote a book some years ago that he called “Loving Monday.” It was about his ethical approach to business and it became a worldwide bestseller. The title says it all. If you hate going to your job on Monday mornings, find another job. Don’t go in and complain. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for anyone that has to be with you. Quit and move on. Our country has enough miserable people already. And if you don’t believe that, consider the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant chain. Someone created a business to serve the millions of miserable Americans who hate what they do and just can’t wait for Friday to arrive. There’s a lesson there.
- Respect everyone. When I worked for a rep years ago, the salesman who was taking me around to the wholesalers would walk by all the people at the desks and say nothing until he reached the buyer. He taught me that this was the way to save time. He told me that I should never waste time talking to people who couldn’t give me an order. I listened to him because I was very young and quite stupid. One day, after he had retired, I went into this supply house and found sitting at the buyer’s desk one of the men I had been ignoring. He was now the buyer and he promptly threw me out. He did the right thing for both of us.
- Love your customers. They’re not always right but they’re the reason you’re working. Try your best to see the world through their perspective. If you think they’re making unreasonable demands, consider for a moment what’s causing them to do that. Where is that customer right now? What sort of pressure is that customer feeling? What’s at stake in his or her life right now? Yours is probably not the only campfire in the woods. That customer has choices. Customers will buy from people who love them. That’s what you do, isn’t it? So love them.
- Make time for your family. You have to earn money, but you spend time. If you have kids, spend time for them. Childhood comes with an expiration date and there’s nothing more miserable than having to listen to that Harry Chapin song years from now and realize that Harry was singing about you. Find a balance. Hug your kids.