It’s hard not to glom on to the symbolism of the year 2020. It’s beautifully symmetrical and it speaks to a clarity of vision. So with both eyes on the future, I offer reflections on what I’ve learned during the last decade of work — and my ideas for approaching the new one.

1. Lead with empathy. If you understand your colleagues and clients, you’ll connect more deeply. If you understand your target market, you’ll create products/services that speak to their needs. Empathy makes us better designers, writers, consultants and humans. 

2. Assume positive intentions. Someone might interrupt or contradict you, but if you focus on the point being made, not the person who made the point, you’ll gain professional maturity faster. Give up second-guessing or toxic gossiping and focus on having constructive conversations. 

3. Be curious and humble. Always ask why. Read voraciously. Attempt new things. When you home in on your strengths and interests, your career will be cloaked in authenticity. Plus, competence builds confidence and self-awareness, which lets you shine lights on your peers. 

4. Feed your career. Plant seeds and nourish them — even when your career is flourishing! Keep learning; attend and engage in conferences, panel discussions and workshops. As your connections grow, you’ll harvest the benefits.

5. Stand up. For yourself. For your values. For your lower back. I wish I had a standing desk a decade ago! Get on your feet; you’ll have more energy and fewer chiropractic bills. As for advocacy, this can be empowering and isolating, but it will also build your character and deepen your values.

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6. Accept and plan for your mortality. This one is simple, in theory: take care of yourself. Take time off, but live within your means and definitely maximize employer matching. Invest in yourself now, while remembering to pay your future self.

7. Gratitude beats attitude. Entitlement does not create long-term success — gratitude, grace and hard work do. You’re not entitled to a promotion or that corner office. Best to earn it. Even better if you pay your success forward. Good deeds offer untold dividends. 

8. “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde said it; you should try to embody it. It’s tempting to want to fit in or be seen a certain way, whether it’s in person or online. But really, just be who you are, ideally with a strong sense of self and a dose of humor. (I’m a sucker for self-deprecation.)

These are all a work in progress — and so are we. Cheers to a new decade!

Rebecca Kraus, Seattle Times Explore columnist
Rebecca Kraus, Seattle Times Explore columnist