The DIY Career: Start. Now.

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Detailed view of a sprinter in the starting blocks
When I was starting out, way back before there was an Internet or an AOL Jobs, starting a career meant you had to look for your first big break.

You had to find your way into some company, because without it you couldn't do much at all. Without the company you had no on-the-job training, no connections, and no way that you could prove that you could be a useful employee.

Today, if I could offer just one piece of advice to people who want to get started, it would be just two short words.

Start. Now.

Why wait for somebody else to give you a break when you can create all the breaks you need on your own?

If you're reading this, you have access to a computer. If you have access to a computer, there is almost nothing you can't do.

Want to make movies? You can write the screenplay, create the storyboards, find the actors, and edit the movie all from your laptop. The only missing piece is the camera, and you can borrow one or buy one cheap on eBay. Need money? You can raise it on Kickstarter.

Want to be a rock star? Same deal.

Want to work in advertising, or social media? You can build a gorgeous, professional-grade creative portfolio entirely from the images and videos you find online.

Want to be an accountant? You'll definitely need to go to school at some point to be credible, but there's no reason you can't start doing accounting right now, today. There are thousands (millions?) of audio, video and text instructions online all free for the taking.

Pick pretty much any career you can imagine and you can begin learning about it and actually start doing it today. This one site alone lists more than 1,000 free college courses that are available on YouTube.

Yeah, But... That Seems Like A Lot Of Work

Absolutely. Of course it is. But don't let that be an excuse.

Think of it as an opportunity.

The worst possible outcome for choosing a career is to end up doing something you don't enjoy, but having to go to work every day because you need the money. Starting to work now -- all by yourself -- is a great test to see whether the career you're thinking about is right for you.

If it's the right career, I promise it won't bother you to invest time and effort in learning the business. Mostly, you'll find that it's fun: you'll be doing work you like and you'll be learning every day. Yes, some of it will be a slog, but that's always true. Even if you're a world-famous singer, athlete, CEO or entrepreneur with millions of dollars in the bank, a few hours of every day at work will be a slog. That's just how reality works.

If it's the wrong career, you'll find it impossible to keep investing effort in it. You'll be doing work you don't enjoy and you won't be getting much better at it no matter how hard you try. That's actually a hugely valuable thing to learn: wouldn't it be lousy to start a career and then have to start over because you hate it?

Yeah, But... I Need To Make Money

Absolutely. Of course you do. But don't let that be an excuse.

If you need money, that's why investing your energy right now – today – into building your career is smart.

If you needed to hire somebody for a job, who would you rather hire? Somebody who is waiting for his or her big break, or somebody who is so passionate about the business that they are devoting a lot of time and energy into actually working on it?

The fastest way to get hired is to show that you can do the job and that you are a self-started who is always interested in learning.

Yeah, But... I need connections.

Absolutely. Of course you do. But don't let that be an excuse.

One of the best ways you can start in your chosen career is to go follow the top people in the business on Twitter. (If you want to follow me, I'm @tomcunniff on Twitter. Say hi anytime and tell me you read this post. I promise I'll write back.)

Just by paying attention to what these industry leaders say and what articles they link to, you can learn an incredible amount. Many of these same people will have blogs. If you have something meaningful to offer (and remember, always give before you ask anybody for a favor), then politely offer up the Tweet and use the appropriate hashtags.

If you're smart and really contribute something of value, people will begin following you back and you can start to make some real-life connections with people in the business.

Yeah, But... I'm not sure where to start.

Absolutely. Of course you don't. But don't let that be an excuse.

Ask 20 people what they think you're good at, and what you're not good at. Let them reply anonymously if they're uncomfortable. Are you more creative, or more organized? Better at math, or at building things?

Collect the data and then look for trends. If you're really creative, maybe you ought to pick a career that puts you on a path to be a writer or a consultant. If you're not that good with words but are good at building things maybe look into that – and it doesn't have to just mean building houses. There are packaging engineers, etc, etc.

Yeah, But... I'm scared.

Absolutely. Of course you are. But don't let that be an excuse.

Want to get started?

Start. Now. I promise you won't regret it.

P.S. Three bonus pieces of advice.

1. Start your career humble and stay humble. Be nice, be generous, and listen more than you talk. Arrogance is a career-killer.

2. All businesses are people businesses. Work on developing world-class people skills, and stay focused on helping people. Build a network and focus on making your network successful.

3. Learn how to ask for and accept feedback gracefully. Find a mentor.
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