All my life, people have been telling me to “follow my passion.” This is the worst advice I’ve ever received.

When I was younger, my passion was to be a professional baseball player. I accepted that it just wasn’t going to happen for me a long time ago. I never thought I would be an insurance marketer, but I find my job to be rewarding and exciting.

Looking back, I would have done things a lot differently during the early years of my career. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was slowing down my own progress by not developing some critical skills for success.

Here are the three skills I would have honed first and saved myself a lot of time, effort, and energy:

1. Listen to the advice of people who came before me.

For too long, I thought I knew the answers to everything. As a millennial, I turned to technology when I needed to find out the answer to a question. I believed that the “old way” of doing things was no longer useful and relevant to me and that mentors had nothing to offer.

I then realized I needed to slow down, take a step back and speak to influential figures in my industry. I asked my father-in-law for advice, who also sold insurance at the time. The information he gave me was so beneficial that I was eventually able to digitize his stories into videos and blog posts, creating valuable content for my followers. I learned that in the end, the people who have been at this for a while can provide excellent advice to younger generations, no matter how much the industry has changed.

2. Communicate more effectively.

Along my journey, I also learned that the number one skill to have in my industry, or any industry for that matter, is the ability to communicate effectively with people. This is because people who clearly and concisely communicate are the ones who stand out and are trusted the most.

This skill applies when communicating internally to a team member and externally to vendors, customers, and stakeholders. Not being able to communicate effectively can be a roadblock that won’t allow you to advance in your career.

3. Focus on a niche.

Over time, I discovered that being a generalist was not a good idea, so I threw out my generalist mentality. The faster you dial in on something you’re great at and passionate about, the quicker you’ll move up the ladder in your career.

Find something within your business to be the best at. This will draw in more business. If you want to explore more options within your industry after that, you’ll have a strong foundation to do so.  

Don’t put pressure on yourself to “follow your dreams” if they are unrealistic. It took me 10 years working in corporate America to figure out what kind of career I wanted to have. I didn’t figure it out by sitting on the couch and waiting for the perfect job to come around. I worked on it throughout the stages of my career journey.

If you do the same, you’ll gain confidence and discover where to direct your passions. Execute these skills and prepare for the opportunities ahead. Someday you’ll be invited in on a conversation you weren’t prepared for, which probably means you’re moving forward in your career.

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Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, Content Warfare. Ryan has over 12 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help people understand complicated insurance topics.