While I wish I had learned these at the beginning of my career, the hard-earned lessons have added much to my life now.
It’s college graduation season, and I couldn’t be prouder of the students I’ve taught who will be throwing their caps in the air. This year also marks 10 years since I graduated from college, so it’s a bittersweet time of reflection for me.
I’m often asked for career advice from my students. Apart from industry-specific advice I dispense, I’ve recently had a chance to consider more character-building lessons I’ve learned along the way. While I wish I had learned these at the beginning of my career, the hard-earned lessons have added much to my life now.
Don’t compare your daily life to someone else’s highlight reel. I am part of the millennial generation (make of that what you will), and I do see a crisis of sorts among others like me, bolstered by a culture of instant gratification and public success. In a social media world, it’s easy to succumb to feeling like you constantly have to brag and prove yourself. Not a moment goes by that I’m not hounded by photos of people I know winning awards, meeting famous people, jet-setting to wonderful places … which constantly makes me feel stressed that I’m not doing enough. If I could go back in time I’d tell myself to stop focusing on how well others are doing, and think more deeply about the impact I’d like to have with my work, and how impact takes time. When we constantly compare ourselves to others on social media, it can leave us feeling deeply ungrateful and unsatisfied.
Appreciate others in public, criticize in private. Every person who has had an impact on my professional life had one thing in common: They championed me in public and shared negative feedback or advice on how to improve in private. Genuinely complimenting someone on a job well done (or something inspiring about them) can often open a wonderful channel of communication, which can lead to professional development opportunities and even career breaks. Conversely, being highly vocally critical of people often erodes trust. My rule of thumb is: If you have something bad to say, consider whether articulating that in public will have any positive consequence. Most of the time, the answer is no. The only exception to this is calling out racist or otherwise offensive behavior.
Walk away from it if it feels wrong. Earlier in my career, I took on jobs and opportunities because they sounded prestigious, often ignoring warning signs that they weren’t the right fit. For one job, I was interviewed only by men, and saw almost no racial diversity as I walked around the office during interviews. Yet, when I was offered the job, I didn’t have the courage to turn it down. It was the wrong decision for me. If I could go back in time and revisit the decision, I would tell my younger self to be brave enough to turn down the wrong opportunities.
Go towards it if it feels right. As a mother, it’s incredible for me to observe how much my toddler uses his instincts to gauge right from wrong. But as we grow, we are conditioned to tune our gut out in favor of what others say – especially, the “experts.” Instead, spend time alone to tune into what motivates you professionally, where you see yourself being fulfilled at work, and what you envision for your future. I grew up in a community where I was told that professional careers were limited to law, medicine, engineering or business. Listening to my gut about my love for writing and storytelling became a key factor in me pushing back all other advice. I’m glad I listened.
Congratulations, Class of 2018!