Five Career Lessons From the Trenches

Five Career Lessons From the Trenches

There’s lots I wish I’d known as a young professional. Besides the obvious inexperience that comes with being a newbie, growing up in a small, working-class town did little to prepare me for my career in business or legal. While in some ways the best lessons are those you learn on your own, sharing some of my observations below just might help you avoid some of the missteps I’ve made. Read on and leave a comment or share some of your own nuggets of wisdom.

  1. That boss of yours isn’t going to change. If you want a better boss, you’ll need to move on or change your mindset. This was a particularly difficult thing for me to accept because I am one of the biggest optimists I know. Most of my bosses and supervisors have been talented leaders who have helped me grow as a professional. However, I’ve learned from a couple of outliers that I must either develop a new way of thinking about/dealing with/reacting to them, or find another gig. That’s it – those are the choices. Don’t waste months or years simply hoping that things will be different. Your chances of hitting the lottery are better.
  2. Always pitch your promotion to the ultimate decision-maker. You lose control of your candidacy if you rely solely on someone else’s pitch, even if that person is your biggest fan. Keeping stakeholders – such as your immediate supervisor – in the loop can be critical and good politics. However, you need to pitch you. No one can convey your passion, skills, talents and fit for the bigger role like you can. Internal recommendations and your reputation should be part of your messaging, but you owe it to yourself to get an audience with the decision-maker(s) if you can do it responsibly.
  3. Don’t be intimidated by that overly self-promoting colleague. The loudest and proudest colleagues aren’t necessarily the most talented, admired, or even the most valued by leadership. These types have simply proven they know how to make noise. Stay in your lane, focus on your contributions, and do not take a back seat or defer to them. Ensure you get credit for all of your good ideas, too.
  4. Your comfortable job isn’t necessarily good for you or your career. The comfortable and familiar job that no longer challenges you isn’t good for you or your long term goals. (Wait – you DO have career goals, right?) Remaining in your comfort zone can be a choice driven by deeply personal factors, such as having a child or caring for a family member. I’ve been there, and I’m not talking about those situations. What I’m talking about is letting fear hold you in that soul-killing job you grew out of years ago and that bores you to tears. If you aren’t gaining new skills or being stretched, consider your options.
  5. Finding great mentors and role models is important and takes work. Most of the professional women in my circle and extended network didn’t talk about mentors until about ten years ago. We had each other, but we floated around and made significant decisions without the benefit of a mature and experienced sounding board. Don’t rely solely on your assigned, in-house mentor to motivate, inspire, or help you level-up your skills. It wasn’t until mid-career that I discovered the importance of finding women and men to admire and emulate.

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