I had all sorts of crappy jobs growing up. I was a foot messenger in mid-town Manhattan. I cleaned up blood and guts in a butcher shop. And after four and a half years of college and a BS degree in physics, I was a part time vault attendant at a corner savings bank … living at home with mom and dad, no less.

Talk about depressing. But that’s an important point. It was so depressing that I was desperate to find a better way. And I did. I went back to school, got a master’ degree and finally landed an engineering job in the high-tech industry. But that was no rocket ship to fame and fortune either. Not even close.

Everyone says there are bumps in the road to success. Bumps in the road my ass. Half the time there isn’t even a damn road. And there were plenty of times when I had no clue where I was headed or how I would get there, wherever there is.

One thing’s for sure. There was never a lighted path with neon signs pointing the way to the top. Never. That’s the sort of thing you have to figure out for yourself. But there is some advice I can give you and the up-and-comers in your life to help illuminate the way and make the journey a little easier.

Keep an open mind but question the source.

When I was young and brash, I thought I knew it all. If the past few decades have taught me anything, it’s how important it is to know how much you don’t know. The older I get and the wiser I become, the more I realize how little I know. No kidding.

Keep an open mind but always question the source. You want to learn from real business success stories, not selfish opportunists whose only real competency is selling you on their own shtick or pumped-up personal brand.

Sweat the big stuff.

Everyone says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and follow that up with “and everything is small stuff.” That’s simply not true. If you have a laissez faire attitude about business and life – if your response to challenge and failure is, “whatever, no worries, it’s all good bro” – then you’re bound to end up with a mediocre career.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, but definitely sweat the big stuff. Knowing the difference comes with experience.

Business is about business.

Everyone comes out of school with some functional competency. For a time, that is your career. But if you aspire to lead, then pay attention. Every company may have a unique purpose, but at its core, every company must make and market products and services that beat the competition and delight customers. That’s what business is all about.

And the closer you come to taking responsibility for some part of that equation, the more impactful and successful you’re likely to be.

Take big, scary risks.

I know you’ve heard that before, but here’s why it matters. If you have a safety net of some sort, that’s OK, but you’re better off without one because that’s how you learn self-reliance, personal responsibility, and strong work ethic. You only gain wisdom from failure if it hurts. The deeper it hurts, the more the lesson will sink in.

And if you push the envelope when you’re young – when you can afford to fail over and over and still have time to recover – you’ll get comfortable with the risk-reward tradeoff, learn your tolerance for risk, and gain valuable life experience. And that’s how you end up with a nice big safety net when you’re older.

If your work doesn’t inspire you, find work that does.

Inspirational leadership fluff is all the rage these days, particularly on social media. But the kind of strength you need to lift yourself up when the rug’s been pulled out from under you – which happens regularly in the real business world – doesn’t come from a book or a blog, but from inside you.

Besides, if your work doesn’t inspire you, you’re in the wrong line of work.

As I always say, life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the same with your work. A big part of making it to the finish line in good shape is having the courage to enter the race, the judgement to overcome obstacles, and the tenacity to stick with it. There are loads of ways to do that; your job is to find a path that works for you. Don’t settle until you do.

Portions of this post originally appeared on FoxBusiness.com

Image credit Charles Haynes via Flickr (modified)