Career and Jobs

The 53 Lessons I Wished I Learned (And Embraced) Earlier In My Career

Wisdom.

They say it comes with age and experience. And I’d have to agree.

As I mark my 53rd lap around the sun and reflect back on my career, there are lessons I wished I had learned earlier that would have saved me lots of time, worry, and headaches.

Here’s the advice I’d give my younger self:

1. Magnify your impact by sharing your wisdom

Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. But it transforms into something truly powerful when it is shared.

Why? Because all the wisdom in the world is meaningless without application.

Yet many eschew this and choose instead to hoard their insights, fearful of giving them away. They don’t understand a simple truth: sharing your wisdom doesn’t diminish your impact; it amplifies it. And today, the best way to magnify your message is to harness the power and reach of social media.

2. Get your (career) story straight

Everyone has a unique story, but not everyone leverages its power. Properly crafted, your career story helps to differentiate you from your competitors, highlight your value, and to draw others to you. It provides a common thread that weaves together your personal and professional experiences, as well as your transferable skills, making it easy for others to connect the dots. Knowing and being able to articulate your career story clearly is transformative; use it wisely.

3. Clean up your (work) environment

Your environment, which includes your friends, colleagues, location, habits, and lifestyle, impacts you far more—for better or for worse—than you realize. You can’t make a significant, lasting change without altering some elements of it. Real growth happens when we understand whom and what best supports what we want and then align ourselves with those people and places that do. Your environment always wins; make sure it supports your goals.

4. Learn to say no…

If you want to grow your career, you need to learn to say no to almost everything (and everyone) that doesn’t excite you, speak to your values, further your mission in life, or help you achieve your goals. Remember, when you say no to the things and people who no longer serve you, you can say yes to those that do.

5. …But say yes to growth opportunities

Saying yes can be a boon to your career—it opens you up to new challenges and opportunities, invites collaboration, empowers and affirms others, and creates an environment where it’s safe to try, fail, learn and innovate.

6. Work hard to brush up on your soft skills

Emotional intelligence is rooted in them, business leaders swear by them, and they remain in high demand. Soft skills (like empathy, awareness, and listening) are frequently misunderstood and undervalued skills that power career success. 

Those who find a way to combine their hard skills with soft skills create environments that empower and ignite their teams, delight their customers, and fuel sustainable growth.

7. Protect your time

Time is a precious and nonrenewable commodity; it will continue to move forward, and you can never get wasted time back. Your ability to prioritize and focus your attention on tackling work projects is crucial. How and with whom you spend your time and your productivity while doing so demonstrate your focus and commitment to what—and who—matters most. When you master time management, you’ll learn to say no, do, decide, delegate or delete tasks, batch routine tasks, eliminate distractions, embrace mono-tasking, get to know—and work—your own rhythms, and build in breaks to recharge.

8. Become more self-aware

Most think of self-awareness as knowing yourself. Self-aware leaders clearly understand their strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. They are honest about what they want, their skills, and what matters most to them. They also have an accurate perception of what sets them apart and can then use their unique talents to magnify their impact in an environment that best suits them. Conversely, they also understand and acknowledge their blind spots and areas needing improvement.

But self-awareness is not just about knowing how you move through the world; it’s about knowing how your energy affects others. This perspective allows you to understand that everything is connected—your interactions with other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your responses to them in the moment—and all can be enhanced through better self-awareness.

9. Allow your curiosity to lead the way

When you’re curious, you’re open. Open to exploring new ideas, experiences, and possibilities. Open to meeting new people and learning new things. Open to leaving behind outdated mindsets and limiting beliefs to make room for your highest and best self. And it’s that openness—that curiosity—that fuels growth.

10. Smile more

You already possess a simple yet profoundly powerful way to instantly improve your career: smiling. Yep, smiling. Research shows that smiling puts others at ease, makes you magnetic, inspires confidence and trust, is good for you, makes you more creative, and is contagious.

11. Get creative

Creativity is the ability to perceive the world in new ways, find hidden patterns, make connections between seemingly disparate things, and generate innovative solutions. When you’re creative, you’re able to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality. Business leaders agree that to cultivate your creativity, you should ask big questions, pay attention, be open-minded, set aside time to let your mind wander, and not be afraid to take risks.

12. Practice empathy

Simon Sinek, Oprah Winfrey, and Gary Vaynerchuk all cite empathy as an essential leadership skill. To become more empathetic, shift your mindset to put people first, seeing them as human beings rather than a means to the end of a transaction or task, ask thoughtful and probing questions that draw out implications and feelings, which in turn, fosters a deeper connection, and listen more and talk less.

When you practice empathy, you’ll better understand your customers, colleagues, and partners and then be able to use those insights in ways to better serve and communicate with them.

13. Be brave enough to use this four-letter word

View vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness. When we find the courage to ask for help, modeling vulnerability, it creates a positive ripple effect. We permit others to do the same, creating a culture and environment of openness and collaboration. We lead with empathy, which enhances connection and communication, and builds trust.

14. Change your perspective

Your perspective is the lens by which you view yourself, your career, and the world. It affects the story you tell yourself and the story you tell others. It impacts your potential, and according to Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, it’s also the quickest path to success and happiness.

“Listen, if there is anything I could wish on you, more than my work ethic, or my energy, or my charisma, it would be the mindset and perspective,” Vaynerchuk said in a recent article. “So much of our lives is predicated on how we look at the situations that surround us.”

15. Move past your fear and stop hiding

Fear is a powerful emotion. It often masquerades as a cloak of protection, keeping us from doing things that may cause us harm. But sometimes, the real damage comes from the inaction that fear enables.

We avoid those things that make us uncomfortable at all costs, but there is no growth in the status quo. Sooner or later, that caution and those fears that prevent you from getting hurt or put on the spot stagnate you.

Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear; it’s time to stop hiding and go for it.

16. It’s not about you

Far too often, we assume that everyone thinks, behaves, and communicates the same way we do. Worse, we make the mistake of focusing our sales pitches and communication about us rather than our intended audiences.

No matter your industry or profession, four words have the power to change your results instantly: It’s not about you.

The finest leaders understand that by putting others first and adopting a service mindset, they can improve their communication and connection, establish trust, deepen relationships, and build business.

17. Learn to be more charismatic

Charisma is more than being engaging or witty. We’re attracted to those who truly listen to us, who give us their undivided focus and leave us feeling seen and heard, those who dare to be vulnerable and who genuinely want to connect and share and treat us with respect and kindness. And in return, we offer our unwavering attention and trust.

At its essence, charisma isn’t just about your likability or ability to tell a good story. Instead, its real power has less to do with you and everything to do with how you make others feel.

18. Focus on attention and trust

Seth Godin suggests that “the currencies of anybody who wants to make change happen right now are attention and trust. And they’re in a virtuous cycle. You don’t get attention unless you’re trusted. You don’t get trusted unless you get attention.”

Kindness and respect ultimately earn attention and trust. You can demonstrate both by differentiating between good and bad attention (something that aligns with your beliefs and will be positively received), not trying to game the system (don’t use a power play to try to influence people), and by being generous (not selfish, expecting something in return).

19. Become an excellent listener

Sir Richard Branson sums up his leadership credo in five words: “Listen more than you talk.”

The benefits of listening are numerous. Active listening demonstrates respect, builds trust, and makes people feel valued. It creates a virtuous cycle: we naturally gravitate toward those who listen to us, and when we feel heard, we open up and share. Active listening also allows leaders to learn about things, both good and bad, so they can discover new ideas and opportunities as well as detect—and get creative about solving—potential problems when they’re still in their infancy.

20.-22. Embrace the power trifecta: clarity, consistency & discipline

By focusing on clarity, consistency, and discipline, you’ll improve your communication, enhance your thought leadership, and bolster your personal brand.

When you’re clear, everything becomes easier. People understand you, what you offer, your value, what differentiates you, how you can help them, and how they can assist you. Clarity helps others know, like, and trust you. Having clarity also enables you to align your goals with a plan to achieve them—and stay away from the things that can derail you.

Consistency is about aligning and maintaining your “voice” and look and feel in all your communications. It’s the way you present yourself, the way you sound, the way you write, all of the visual and verbal touchpoints. So much so that people come to expect—and anticipate—your specific point of view and unique perspective. Whether you realize it or not, you send a message to the world about who you are and what you’re about. Rather than make your consumers, customers, and clients guess who you are and what you stand for, make sure to communicate your intended message by maintaining consistency.

Without discipline, you run the risk of trying to be all things to all people. And doing so lowers your competitive advantage and waters down your offering. Worse, people won’t know what to think of you (if they think of you at all). Instead, focus on what you do best, and let the other things fade into the background. Promote those one or two areas in your wheelhouse and your expertise in helping others so that your name becomes synonymous with those skills. In this way, restraint can be your biggest ally.

23. Take action—now

Taking action is the one surefire antidote to combat career anxiety, doubt, and fear. Action begets more action. When you use awareness to make action an intentional habit, you train yourself to continue to take action. Over time, those small behavior changes creatively shake things up and breathe new life into old methods and routines. And combined with focused action, that newfound clarity will bring you something even better: success.

24. Dare to be a “career contrarian”

“Career contrarians” share the ability to adopt an often unpopular perspective and make it work for them. Instead of conforming to conventional or practical approaches, education, or paths, they seek alternative means to career fulfillment. This means they realize that there is more than one path to success (and it’s probably non-linear), are comfortable being uncomfortable (even, and especially, when they fail), trust their gut, play the long game, eliminate the negative self-talk, and understand that taking an alternative path may inspire someone else to do it, as well.

25. Don’t be so hard on yourself

Anyone else have an inner critic? We’re often harder on ourselves than any boss or client could ever be. The next time things don’t go as planned, instead of beating yourself up, try treating yourself the supportive way you would a treasured friend or colleague by swapping self-criticism for supportive self-talk.

26. Sell your destiny, not your history

The baggage we hold on to from our past professional lives and former careers can weigh us down. Let go of those people and things that support your history, not your destiny, so you can position yourself for what you want now.

27. Embrace progress over perfection

You know those amazing business and thought leaders we all admire? The ones we place high up on a pedestal, touting their business acumen and wisdom? Spoiler alert: they’re not perfect, nor do they try to be. In fact, eschewing perfection in favor of progress might be the secret to their success.

28. Build in time to reflect

In a world where external demands and a cacophony of noise bombard us, taking the time to turn inward and think deeply may be the ultimate luxury. To get the most out of reflection, be intentional with your time, slow down and stop multitasking, eliminate distractions, get up and outside, allow your mind to wander, pay attention to what bubbles up, and record and review your thoughts so you can take action.

29. Focus on upping your “know, like, trust” factor

We prefer first to have a sense of who we’re dealing with before partnering or doing business, tend to align ourselves with those with whom we feel a certain affinity, and value the recommendations of those we consider a friend or colleague.

Up your “know, like, trust” factor by sharing your insights and experiences, keeping others in mind when communicating, listening more, treating people with kindness and respect, and focusing on relationships over transactions.

30. Understand the difference between busy and productive

Busy people take on everything and offer unfettered access to their time, expertise, and attention, leaving them exhausted and wondering what they’ve accomplished. Productive people set boundaries and manage their time, treating it like the valuable and precious commodity it is.

31. Shift your perspective

Your perspective is the lens by which you view yourself, your career, and the world. It affects the story you tell yourself and the story you tell others. It impacts your potential, and according to Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, it’s also the quickest path to success and happiness.

“Listen, if there is anything I could wish on you, more than my work ethic, or my energy, or my charisma, it would be the mindset and perspective,” Vaynerchuk said in a recent article. “So much of our lives is predicated on how we look at the situations that surround us.”

32. Let vulnerability be your superpower

View vulnerability as a strength, not as a weakness. When we’re brave enough to ask for help, we model vulnerability, creating a positive ripple effect. We permit others to do the same, creating a culture and environment of openness and collaboration. We lead with empathy, which enhances connection and communication, and builds trust.

33. You are something specific to a special few

Remember, your aim is not to try to be all things to all people (which only makes you a watered-down version no one wants), but to be something specific to a special few. Don’t be afraid to niche down and get hyper-specific about what you do, who and how you serve, and what sets you apart. This will draw the right people to you and send the wrong ones on their way.

34. Relationships are the foundation of everything

At its core, business is about relationships. No matter your job function or title, to succeed, you must interact with others. This includes your boss and colleagues as well as your customers and partners, so focus on cultivating relationships over transactions to build trust and connection.

35 . Small shifts can help you reframe trying times

Try shifting from “I’m going through this” to “I’m growing through this” and swap “have to” with “get to.” Going through something is deflating and passive, whereas growing through something is action-oriented, positive, and empowering. And when you swap out an “I have to” with “I get to,” everything changes. Having to do something feels like a chore; getting to do something feels like a reward. 

36. Words have tremendous power

Words are like water—they are essential for life but can quickly destroy one as well. A well-spoken word can support, encourage, uplift, and an unkind one can leave a lingering wound. Your words are your choice; choose wisely.

37. It’s okay not to know everything

Someone who says they have all the answers rarely does. There is power in saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Uttering those words isn’t an indication of ignorance; it’s a signal of your willingness to do what it takes to find a solution.

Remember, you get more experienced from experience, so don’t fret about your lack of knowledge; be eager to learn and volunteer for assignments to expand your knowledge base.

38. Knowing what motivates you will help you understand your values

Are you motivated by money? A desire to make an impact? Is having autonomy the ultimate for you? Paying attention to what motivates you can provide clues to your values and what matters most. When you can recognize these things, you’ll know to look for them as you evaluate future career opportunities.

39. Make it easy for others

Despite their similarities, simple isn’t always easy; it takes discipline and a conscious and intentional effort to make something less confusing, complex, and difficult to understand or do. But in the context of your career, it’s worth it.

When you do the hard work of simplifying things for your intended audience—your boss, partner, client, prospect, or potential employer—you make it easy for them to do business with you.

40. Serve, don’t sell

Nobody likes to be sold to, but everyone appreciates someone who consistently provides value, even—and especially—when there’s no financial incentive behind it.

41. Listen to your gut

Even if that job looks good on paper, your Spidey Sense might be telling you something’s off. Learn to trust and listen to your intuition to guide you.

42. Surround yourself with people who see your value even when you do not

This is a biggie. There will be times when seeds of doubt seep in, and you’ll feel like an imposter or someone who doesn’t have what it takes. Make sure that your inner circle includes a few people who remind you why this isn’t true and encourage you to keep going, even when you don’t feel like it.

43. If you’re not changing it, you’re choosing it

In a world where everyone is looking to get ahead by beating the algorithm or upping their level of hustle, the biggest growth hack might be the one hiding in plain sight: harnessing the power of intention.

It’s been said that what you focus on grows, so it follows that where you choose to direct your attention can significantly impact your career progress. But how do you know that you’re focused on the right things? In the same way that being busy does not equal being productive, attention without intention is meaningless. You must make a conscious decision to align your attention with what matters most to you.

44. If you confuse, you’ll lose

If you don’t or can’t articulate why others should work with you, and people don’t understand who you are, what you do, the value you bring, and how you can help, you force them to do the work to decipher the mystery that is you. (Spoiler alert: they probably won’t bother.)

When you confuse, you lose—potential opportunities, clients, projects, promotions, and partners. When communicating, aim for clarity over clever by avoid unnecessary jargon and using simple language. When you’re clear, everything becomes easier. People understand you, what you offer, your value, what differentiates you, how you can help them, and how they can assist you.

45. You can’t shine unless you feed your inner light

It’s absolutely possible to be excellent at something and be miserable doing it. Until you find—and feed—what lights you up, you’ll forever dim your potential.

46. If you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect others to

Confidence starts from within. The stories we tell ourselves are the most important words we speak, so make sure that yours are encouraging, positive, and affirming to support your goals.

47. Envision the possibilities

Henry David Thoreau famously said: “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.” How you view the world—what is and what could be—can greatly impact your career trajectory. It’s the difference between those who blindly accept things as they are and someone whose unique perception creates a vision of what’s possible. Those who possess the ability to see beyond the status quo of situations, products, people, and ideas are the in-demand innovators and creative thinkers companies and clients most value.

48. Invest in yourself

You’ll never regret investing in yourself. Your ability to adapt and learn is essential to the survival and growth of your career, so make a conscious effort to add to your skillset by reading books, watching educational videos, and listening to informative podcasts. Use your curiosity to seek out new ideas, information, and perspectives, even (and especially) if they differ from your own. Aim to be a lifelong learner, and you’ll up your knowledge base—and value.

49. Get moving 

Like muscles, our imagination tends to atrophy when not used. Conquer both by leaving your home or office for an early morning run, a midday walk to a local park, or an after-work sweat session at the gym. Along with strengthening your body, a workout has the added benefit of clearing your mind, allowing you to find new solutions and inspiration where before you had none. Being one with nature is a great way to change your perspective and your ability to reframe a challenging work situation. You’ll also gain clarity, an essential skill for leadership.

50. Challenge yourself to try something new

If you keep doing the same things, you’ll never grow. Get over your fear and jump out of your comfort zone. When you challenge yourself to try something that scares you—leading a pitch to a new client, presenting your department’s quarterly objectives, or asking your boss for more responsibility—you’ll move beyond words to action. And when you successfully master that challenge, you’ll have a newfound confidence. You’ll gain positive attention for your fearlessness and initiative. And your decision to take a leap of faith can be the catalyst for further growth.

51. Get social (in real life)

While I laud social media’s ability to connect people from around the world, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. As restrictions begin to ease up, instead of spending an hour on Insta, use that time to invite a connection to meet over coffee. Or better yet, grab a small group and form an informal mastermind where each member can make introductions to other people and companies and share their expertise and advice. Make it a goal to surround yourself with people who support and challenge you to be the best version of you and who can help you get there.

52. Practice self-care

We’re constantly bombarded with messages of hard-charging executives who never sleep and entrepreneurs who proudly “hustle” 24/7. But we rarely hear the ugly aftermath of that go-go attitude: chronic stress, burnout, fizzled relationships, and disease. The truth is this: you can’t pour—or perform—from an empty cup. To make serious career progress, you can’t neglect your wellbeing. You must build in time to recharge your mind, body, and spirit. That means having the self-awareness to know when you’re reaching your limit— and then taking action to push the reset button. By putting yourself first, you can give more to your boss, colleagues, and clients.

53. Don’t forget to have fun

Younger me spent far too much time worrying about what other people were thinking, what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing, and staying busy being busy. Life is a journey, and your career is part of that journey—make sure you enjoy it.

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