When I graduated from college in 2004, my first job (a Management Development Program at a great bank!) paid me $19.23 an hour ($40k a year). I was 21 and was so thrilled to just have gotten my first “real job-offer”, that I didn’t even think to negotiate.

In my first year at the bank, I took numerous home equity applications every week, and nearly every day, would fax someone’s tax return documents to Lending. Since I worked in a wealthy area (just outside of Washington DC), I saw some impressive numbers. Even though I was only 21, I was looking at tax returns with income of 400k, 500k, and sometimes north of $1MM. I realized, very early in my career, what real wealth looked like. And instead of shooting for that 100k mark in my mind, for my own income, I set my sights on something higher.

When I crossed the 6-figure mark for the first time, at somewhat of a young age, I never really felt like I was doing all THAT well- even though, by my friend’s standards, a 6-figure salary was great. Here’s the message: surround yourself by people BETTER than you. Find people to be around that have done what YOU want to do. Expose yourself to people who are levels above you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re playing soccer or tennis, trying to get a better job, wanting to learn tough concepts, or applying for your pilot’s license. If you don’t have friends, colleagues, contacts, mentors who are a level or two UP- or have gone where you want to go- the chances of you getting there become very SLIM.

It’s also incredibly important for you to advocate for yourself. Speak up. Have a voice. State your intentions. Tell your boss what you want. Tell your spouse, your friends. Tell the world. Be clear in your vision for your future. If you don’t advocate for yourself- NO ONE likely will.

It is so critical in this life that we DO NOT SETTLE.