Looking Back on My Career
I don’t know how you are, but early on in my career, I was very focused and driven. I thought if I kept my head down, nose to the grindstone, worked really hard, and demonstrated my intelligence, I’d get ahead. In a way, I looked at the path to career success much as an equation I could solve – and boy do I like solving mathematical equations! However, the path to success is actually better compared to an art form. There are seemingly simple, yet profound, truths I learned along the way. I only wish I had learned some of these important career lessons sooner.
10 Important Business Lessons I Wish I Knew in My 20s
Without further delay, here are ten simple, yet profound and important, business lessons I would impart to my younger self. These are not ranked, but listed only in alphabetical order.
1. Ask for help.
Often early on in my career, I would have this internal dialog with myself that went something like this… Should I already know the answer to this question? Am I going to be looked down upon for not already knowing this? Does everyone else around me already know the answer to this? Can I get by with pretending I know the answer?
There is a misconception floating around in the business world (particularly in highly competitive companies) that asking for help is a sign of weakness or deficiency. But this mindset can be so completely destructive to professional growth!
Instead of focusing on the microscopic moment, step back at look at the big picture. Asking for help and asking questions can actually increase your chances of longterm success. So, set aside the potential embarrassment and the perceived risks of asking questions, and ask.
2. Be patient.
No matter how smart you are, how high your grades were, how heavily you were recruited, how many people you know at the company… Very few people go directly from college to the C-suite. CEOs aren’t built over night. You have to put in the work. You have to put in the time.
Particularly in this day and age of instant gratification, we are so accustomed to getting what we want immediately. However, some things in life take time. But along the way, you will be building valuable skills and amassing priceless experience. You cannot learn these lessons in school. You need to learn them by experience. And these experiences and lessons will catapult you into being a great leader – at the right time.
Success takes time.
3. Be your own biggest advocate.
Now, I am not talking about self aggrandizement here. This is not a case of “tooting your own horn”, so to speak.
What I’m speaking about here is owning your own career path. No one knows better what you’d like to achieve than you. No one knows better the path you’d like to take than you. No one knows the work you produce, the strengths you have, nor the skills you possess better than you.
And this personal advocacy is an ongoing process — a marathon, not a sprint. This is where I personally tripped up with this concept. When I started at a company, I quickly built a great alliance of advocates and mentors. I had a strong group of executives who believed in me and told me I was a rising star within the company. We plotted out my career path meticulously.
However, then a setback occurred. As luck would have it, we had an unexpected changing of the guard at the top of the company. In mere months, everyone who advocated for me was gone. And in some ways, I was ill-prepared and ill-equipped to advocate for myself. Lesson learned!
4. Don’t fly solo.
You need to build a 360 degree alliance. Build up a network all around you that believes in you, will vouch for you, can help you. I’ll talk more about the importance of building a network in lesson number eight.
For this point, I’d like to point out the importance of surrounding yourself with great people all around. So, yes, you definitely need a mentor or coach, as I mention in lesson number six. But in addition to that mentor or coach, you need advocates, you need cheerleaders, you need colleagues at the same point in their career as you. You also need to build connections across organizational boundaries. For example, if you’re in accounting, be sure to get to know the folks in sales and operations. Also, build a great team around you of people who are happy and excited to work for you.
Basically, you want to approach your work in a way that, if asked, everyone would have something positive to say about you. Maybe it’s your work ethic, maybe it’s how you treat them, maybe it’s your technical skills.
Bottom line: treat people well.
5. Don’t panic when setbacks occur.
For many of us, setbacks can seem fatal. Particularly if we are perfectionists, any bump in the road can upset our psyche. But you know what? The path to success is rarely ever a straight line; more commonly, the path to success is a circuitous bumpy road with lots of twists and turns in the road.
In fact, we may be better served not to think of success as a destination at all. The journey itself is what matters. Every one of us has experienced set backs. There was one time in particular I got passed over for a promotion I knew I merited. But we have to trust that everything happens for a reason. So, just keep on keeping on! Don’t give up. Or, Sir Winston Churchill put it much more eloquently: