43 Career Lessons at Age 43
I graduated high school a year early and never went to college. I spent my 20’s doing all manner of random jobs including administrative support, car washing, and food service. Somewhere in the middle of my 30’s, after getting married and having kids, I discovered what I was good at. After that, it took me another five years to be able to get an actual job in digital communications. But once I got started, I went all out. The career I have now is really the result of obsessively going after every opportunity related to my field that I could find since 2010. I played above my level and got rejected many times over, but anytime someone decided to give me an opportunity, I ran with it.
Oh yes, I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way. I still do. I always will. But at age 43, I am doing work that I love and being offered opportunities I used to only dream about.
So, I’ve decided to take some time and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned in the past 10 years with regard to my career. Some of this may seem self-evident, especially to people who are more experienced and/or educated than me (which is, like, most of the people I know). But I think it’s important to take inventory every once in a while, and maybe by sharing my lessons I’ll inspire someone like me who is praying their heart out to matter; who is desperate for a chance to prove themselves and looking for any opportunity that they can use to learn and grow.
Here are 43 Career Lessons I’ve Learned by Age 43:
- There’s a difference between education and experience. They are not interchangeable. Both have value.
- You should constantly be seeking BOTH education and experience throughout your entire career. Be proactive about it, even if you have to be creative about how you do it.
- People who have special knowledge, experience or perspectives should be given more weight when it comes to planning and executing projects. That is, not everyone’s opinions are equal in every circumstance. Not even yours.
- You’re never going to make everyone happy. That doesn’t mean you should go ahead and be a jerk.
- Passion is important, but not nearly as important as you are led to believe.
- Self-discipline is a hell of a lot more important than you are led to believe.
- Your home-life and work-life should be in harmony. When they are, there’s a seamless transition between the two realms.
- Being smart is great, but knowing how to work well with others is even better.
- Respect must be earned.
- The vast majority of problems/conflicts at work are a result of ego clashes. Keep your ego in check.
- You can be an introvert and still be a team player.
- Say Thank You to everyone. Even people who you think don’t need to hear it. They probably need to hear it most.
- Keep a mental distance between yourself and your work so that you can remain objective about the quality of work you produce. That is, don’t build your entire identity on your work or you will lose perspective.
- No one is going to care about you or your career more than you do, so don’t expect it.
- HOW you do things is as important (and sometimes more important) than WHAT you are doing.
- Learn how to take constructive criticism, and regularly seek it out at every age/stage of your career.
- No one owes you a goddamn thing, so be grateful when people with influence do things for you.
- Be on time whether meeting with your boss or someone who reports to you. Being chronically late is disrespectful in professional environments.
- Don’t bring your phone to meetings.
- Ask questions even if you are afraid of looking stupid.
- Seek mentors, and then for god’s sake listen to them.
- Your reputation is everything. Protect it, guard it and take steps to rectify anything that threatens to tarnish it.
- Consistency is always valued by people in charge. Be consistent and you’ll become indispensable.
- Learn how to have hard conversations with others. Don’t shy away from them. Those conversations are hard, but they keep bad feelings from building up over time and corroding your work culture.
- Let other people define their own roles as much as possible.
- No one is self-made.
- Be free with your advice, support, references, and feedback. If you never say no when someone asks these things, I guarantee you’ll never be without them, either.
- Don’t reheat fish in the communal microwave.
- Most people don’t bring 100% of themselves to a work environment. You have NO IDEA what else they are dealing with in their lives outside of your office.
- Excellence is a habit.
- Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals is essential to making any kind of professional progress. All five of these elements need to be present for you to leverage the benefit of goal-setting.
- Asking for help when you need it is a sign of maturity.
- The most successful and useful people in a work environment are mission-focused.
- The most destructive people in a work environment are focused on themselves.
- Great leaders don’t need to remind people that they are leaders.
- Great leaders aren’t self-proclaimed martyrs.
- There are natural rhythms to the way things happen in the world, including industry. Work with those.
- Be tough on ideas, but stay kind to people. #Brieism
- People thrive in controlled environments where they know what is expected of them. Too many variables is a recipe for disaster. Lock that shit down, and communicate expectations clearly.
- Multi-tasking is bullshit.
- Nothing great is ever accomplished by ‘setting and forgetting’ processes. Regularly reviewing and revising your processes is essential for keeping you out of a rut.
- You don’t have to like people, or even agree with them to get shit done. People who think you do are a liability.
- You can get surprisingly far just by showing up.
And one more thing I’ve learned:
Instant gratification is great, but there are few things in your entire time on this planet that will feel as good as working on a long and complicated project that takes shape over months–even years–and bears real fruit from your labor. That satisfaction is deep and meaningful, and we get few opportunities to do things like this during the short time we are alive. These are legacy projects…things that will continue to do good even after we are gone. Seek those out. Enjoy the struggle. Celebrate milestones. There’s nothing like it.