If I had to give my younger self some career advice, it would be this: work smarter instead of longer.
The world, your bosses and HR managers and clients, will conspire to get you to prove yourself by putting in long hours, but working long hours often has a counterproductive impact, unless you are a factory line worker. Eventually, you end up tired, in a rut, and repeating the same barely logical patterns.
"Self," I'd tell myself, "sell your talent, not your time."
Case in point: my best articles generally take the least time to write. My most inspired and popular pieces fall out of my brain so quickly my fingers can barely keep up. The reverse is often true; my worst, least inspired works take forever to produce. When it's a struggle to write something, the odds are pretty good it's also going to be a struggle to read it.
This has been true throughout the various phases of my career. When I step away from a challenging project, I often discover an elegant solution. When I keep my nose to the grindstone, I typically stumble out of work late at night with a mediocre solution.
Sure, some problems require long, hard work. But you still want to get paid for results, not mere time.
When you get paid for time, you set up a dynamic in which your client or boss has an incentive to monitor you all the time. But when you get paid for results, the dynamic changes to: come back when you have something to show me.
For inspired talent (by this, I mean YOU), selling results is the best way to go. You remove former limitations on your income and output. This is because others are focused on the value you deliver to them, rather than how long it took you to do this. A $10,000 solution might only take you two hours to create, especially as your expertise grows.
Likewise, selling results motivates you to constantly raise the caliber of your work. It is a natural incentive to adopt a growth mindset and to constantly push yourself to aim higher.
Important point: I said aim higher, not work harder. Over the years, I've noticed that the people who make the most money, CEOs, top consultants, startup founders, are not the ones who work the longest hours. Yes, they work hard, but their work usually involves multiple projects and the amount of time they devote to any one effort is usually pretty small.
They rely on talent and expertise, rather than brute force.
For example, take a look at the photo at the top of this article. It made me think of what leading consultants do. They figure out how to solve a problem, then they hire a bunch of younger consultants to deliver that solution and again and again and again. In effect, they duplicate their younger selves.
Very smart, very profitable.
Sell your talent, not your time.