Ever wish you could travel back in time and tell your younger self a thing or two – particularly about career success? I do. I wish I could speak to 20-year-old me, and share a whole pile of career advice that would make the next decade or so a lot easier.
Of course, 20-year-old me wouldn’t listen to word of it. So, there’s that…
So, because I know how much everyone loves unsolicited advice, I’ll share these pearls of wisdom with you instead. And with the world.
Here are 10 pieces of advice I’d give younger me if I could. I hope you find them useful.
It’s not about you. Everyone is the protagonist in their own story. The trick is to ask yourself what their story is about. When it comes to your career, always think about what others need, not what you need. Nobody cares that you need a job, they care about what you can bring to their organization. Nobody has to pay you because you need money. They will pay you because you contribute in some way to making them money. That’s how businesses work. So, don’t take things personally.
Pick your battles. Fight for what is truly important, what you believe in, and what is right. But don’t fight over everything. If you do, you’ll just be seen as old Fighty McFighterson, and people won’t take you seriously when something really does matter. In fact, they’ll stop taking you seriously at all. Before going to battle over something, ask yourself what will be lost if you lose. If nothing (and in many cases it will be nothing), let it go.
Listen more than you talk. This is a really hard one for me. But I work at it. Sometimes you just need to shut up. Similarly, when you’re about to talk, sometimes it can be very useful to take a second and ask yourself if what you’re about to say really needs to be said. When in a heated discussion or argument, in meetings, and in many other situations, you can usually learn a lot more by shutting up and listening than by talking.
Be nice to everyone. It’s all about who you know. And you never know who someone knows, who someone might become someday, or who might be able to help you, even if they don’t seem like they can do so right now. So, be nice to everyone. Honestly though, the real reason to be nice to people isn’t because you might get something out of it. You should be nice to everyone because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t gossip. While this is just part of being nice, know that gossip is dangerous, and will hurt you as well as others. Don’t do it. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Not everyone is on your side. While you should always be nice, the truth is that people can be pretty rotten. True story: I recently found out that someone I was working with was taking credit for a large amount of my work (which they could do because I work remotely, and had little to no contact with the company CEO). Play your cards close to your chest, and never reveal more information than you have to, until you really know someone (and then, do you ever really know someone?). Be careful who you trust.
Take direction. If you can listen, learn, and take direction with grace, you can go very far in life. It’s those who have a hard time taking criticism and instructions who get nowhere. How can you get better at anything if you won’t learn from people who are smarter and more experienced than you?
Oh, you think nobody is smarter than you? If that’s what you think, then everyone is probably smarter than you.
Underpromise and overdeliver. Never promise more than you can deliver. People will be disappointed in you, and they won’t want to work with you. Always do the opposite, and promise slightly less than you believe you can deliver. Then you are sure to meet expectations, and probably even exceed them. When someone gets more than they expected, they are happy. And this makes you look awesome.
You are expendable. No matter how great you are, you’re always expendable. This often has nothing to do with you (see item #1) but with others’ inability to see your value, and it is their loss. Never get too comfortable. You can be asked to leave at any time.
Make a graceful exit. When the times comes that you are asked to leave – and at some point it will — do so with grace. No matter how angry or hurt you might be, be gracious. Thank people for their time and for any help they have provided you, and don’t leave a mess. You want to leave a positive impression of calm and strength of character. This will make them wonder if they have made a terrible mistake, while bad behaviour will reinforce the idea that they made the right decision.