MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today's answer for: What is one piece of advice all millennials should take before entering the workforce? is written by Clara Shih, founder and CEO of Hearsay Social.
Millennials, you could not be entering the workforce at a more exciting time. Seize the day, learn and do the most you possibly can today, and your future self.
Looking back at my first job, even when I was asked to do something seemingly menial, unglamorous, or very difficult, I always went all in. In my most trying moments with managers I liked the least, I did not give up, complain, or slack off. I stayed late, pulled all-nighters when necessary, learned to ask for help only when I couldn't figure it out myself, and basically did whatever it took to make my manager and team look good.
Once I got good at what was asked of me, I challenged myself to go further. I continually asked myself, "What else can I do? How else can I make this better?" This mindset led me early in my career to think bigger and proactively suggest new ideas to the team–certainly not all of them good or accepted, but almost always appreciated. Ultimately, going "all in" won me the respect of my manager and colleagues. I got to be a part of strategic conversations that allowed me to understand the bigger picture and play ever-bigger roles.
This idea might seem counterintuitive if you are stuck in short-term thinking, but if you really want work/life balance over a career, going all in as much as possible early may be the smartest thing you can do. You will obtain valuable experience and contacts that will pay dividends throughout your career.
Research from PwC and others suggest that millennials — more than previous generations — value work/life balance. On one end of the spectrum, many millennials new to the workforce will find peers have figured out ways to cruise through their jobs, doing the bare minimum and still collecting their paychecks. They may think (and you may be tempted to agree) they have outsmarted the system. But actually they are the ones losing out on crucial foundational years.
Though decisions regarding work/life balance are important and vary widely from person to person, it may not be wise in the long run to optimize for doing the bare minimum at work. In her insightful TED talk, "Why 30 is not the new 20," psychologist Meg Jaygives an important wake-up call to twenty-somethings. The notion that your 20s are a "throwaway decade" has become a dangerous fallacy that too many millennials may come to regret later in their careers.
Great work, professional relationships, and learning experiences compound over time, much the way money does — investing $100 today creates much more value than investing $100 a decade from now. The same rings true for your time, energy, and focus. Starting early lets you earn the right to manage a team and have people to delegate to when you have to leave work early to pick up your kid from school.