As I was preparing my daughter for her first day of high school last week, I realized that some things never change. High school is an insular world where a complex code of social mores exist. The world of business isn’t much different.
1.) The Way You Dress is Important
When I was in high school, Doc Marten boots were all the rage. Everyone had to have them, even though we would have denied wearing them in order to appear “cool.” After all, we were so cool that we didn’t have to follow the social norm when we dressed. We all just . . . happened to be wearing the same thing . . . to look cool.
Today, it’s TOMS shoes, which the kids insist that they all just happen to be wearing because the company is so socially progressive that it gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time you buy one. Yeah, right. Buying these shoes is all about social status.
Guess what? You might be out of high school, but the rules are still the same. If you buy your suits off the discount rack at the box store and forgo the tailor, your investors will see that you’re wearing a cheap, tacky suit and form their opinions of you (and your business) accordingly. And if you’re pairing the suit with the bolo tie your mom bought you back in 1988, you’re in even bigger trouble. Buy a decent suit, get some help picking out a nice tie and shine your shoes.
2.) If you don’t smile and say, “hello,” people think you’re stuck-up
In high school there are two kinds of students who generally look unhappy all the time. The first are the naturally cool kids who look like Abercrombie Fitch models and have a huge following of friends. Every high school has a few of these folks – they’ll go on to become actresses or rock stars and will appear on the cover of magazines sporting their James Dean-type sneers.
The other kind of people who never smile are the ones who don’t have many friends. They get picked on in gym class and sit alone at lunch because the rest of the kids assume (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) that they’re anti-social and stuck-up. They’ll go on either to outgrow their sour-puss (sometimes shy) ways, or they’ll make the evening news.
By and large, high school kids want to hang out with other kids who smile and appear to be happy. The kind of kids, who, when they see someone in the hall, will say, “Hey dude!” and flash a smile and a high five (or whatever cool hand gesture that the cool kids do nowadays).
Even though you’re all grown up now, and probably don’t call your colleagues “dude,” the same rule applies. Walk around with a sour-puss all day and no one will want to do business with you. Unless you’re a rock star or actress. Which obviously you’re not.
If you’re not smiling, find a way to overcome your angst and smile at prospective clients and colleagues anyway. If you’re shy, work on your shyness so people don’t think you’re stuck-up or mean. You’d be surprised how opportunities will start coming your way.
3.) Ambitious Kids Get The Goodies; Slackers Get Nothing
There’s one exception to this rule that applies to both high school kids and you. If you’re dad is a multi-bjillionaire, then you probably had a super cool car and all the expensive toys and clothes in high school. So you got the super hot girlfriend and had a huge circle of friends and as long as you managed to graduate you could be a slacker and life was pretty fabulous. As an adult, your dad set you up to take over his company and now you’re spending weekends with your super hot wife on your huge yacht and life is still fabulous.
For everyone else . . .
In high school, it takes ambition to make something of yourself. If you want to get into a good school you have to take lots of AP classes, do some volunteer work, engage in a bunch of extracurriculars and study hard to get a top score on the ACT test. If you want a car, you probably need to get a part-time job, buy an older car and fix it up. If you want a huge circle of friends you need to be a friendly person who really cares about other people and goes out of your way to help others out.
As an adult, it still takes ambition. If you want to be successful in your business, you have to spend lots of hours working. You have to really care about your clients and customers and go out of your way to help them out.
Whether you’re a high school student or an adult trying to be a successful business owner, you can’t sit around and play video games in the basement all day and expect to make something of yourself.
You’re not in high school anymore . . . kind of.
Although real life imitates high school in many ways, look on the bright side. While you still have to dress to impress, be sociable and work hard for your success, you don’t have to keep a curfew, worry about zits or homework.