10 Essential Life-Changing Career Lessons

Monday, September 3, 2018
Fatou Darboe

Image Credit: Talk About Chair

We spend around 14 percent of our life at work, assuming a lifespan of 76 years. For some of us, that percentage is much higher.

That makes it one of the most important activities we do in our adult lives. So, we should try to make the most out of it, right?

Most of us don’t. In fact, there are some things most of us would’ve liked to know at the very beginning of our careers.

The good news is that it’s never too late to learn essential career lessons most people don’t learn until too late in life.

Your Career Journey

Think of your career as an epic journey. It doesn’t have to be a Homer’s Odyssey but the idea is to envision yourself as a traveler on a career path. Perhaps you’re one of these types of travelers:

  • Maybe you don’t know where to go. You roam every day, eat, sleep and repeat.

  • Perhaps you want to go to a great destination but don’t know where and take random advice.

  • Perhaps you know where you want to go but don’t have the right transport to go there.

  • Or maybe you know where you want to go and frequently go there, always upgrading the ride.

Which one are you?

The fourth type of traveler represents the most optimal direction to take for a successful career. Why? Because this traveler knows where they are going and goes there with a purpose; meaning they also create the best (and most impactful) method of getting to their final destination.

A lot of successful individuals and entrepreneurs started off being one of the three types of travelers before becoming the fourth.

Anyone can do the same. All that is required is a known career destination: the purpose behind everything that one does. Knowing the final journey is the first step to a fulfilling career.

While a lucky few know their purpose early on in life, most of us use trial and error to figure out our own. These questions could help anyone figure out purpose or direction in life:

  1. What are the three most important things for you in life?

  2. Who are your role models?

  3. What type of work/career makes you forget that you’re even working?

  4. What compliments have you received for any unique skills you possess?

  5. How do you want your resume, or LinkedIn profile, to look when you retire?

To fast track the journey, take advice from the wisdom of past travelers.

There is Nothing Like the “Perfect Job”

Perfect jobs only exist in movies and TV shows. In the real world, every career has its own set of excitements, challenges, opportunities and restrictions.

So instead of hunting for that perfect job, it’s easier and wiser to work on making the current one better.

If you’re not happy at work, try to get at the cause of the unhappiness. Could it be your working hours? Location? Boss? Team? Your skills? Attitude?

Sometimes, a minor change in any of those factors could boost happiness and satisfaction at work. It’s something that requires some thought, then action, to change the situation to a more favorable one.

That doesn’t mean staying at a job you hate. In fact, that would be the worst advice.

Many people convince themselves to stay at a job that makes them miserable because they need the cash or can’t find another job.

However, spending time in a toxic workplace could make one a miserable person in their personal life, and could even affect their health.

Knowing that you deserve better could enable you to take steps towards feeling better.

Remember That You Are Expendable

Perhaps you saved your team, or company, from a major disaster recently. Maybe you even proposed a new product line or department.

You may think that is all that’s required of you to secure your position and career for years to come. That the company should be grateful to you.

Unfortunately, the hard reality is that is far from the truth. The truth is that you are expendable. Everyone is. Even your boss or CEO of the company.

The best thing to do is to treat every project or assignment you work on as your last one – consistently work like your career or job depends on it. A change in perspective ensures that you remain sharp and that your efforts are impactful.

Harness Your Unique Superpower

There is plenty of talent in today’s workforce. Information is readily available, and everything is gradually getting automated. Staying relevant and continuously creating value essential.

Indeed, “generalists” are dying off. The future belongs to micro-specialists.

Perhaps identify and work on developing your super micro niche within your team, company and industry. A niche could make you indispensable to your company and help you develop your own personal brand.

The Little Things Matter

Significant projects and successes are important to your career. But often, the small additional efforts that you make out of your own interest are the ones that readily make an impact.

We come across many situations where we can do something small, be it an offer to help others, propose new ideas, compliment someone, or do something creative at work.

Once you start experiencing joy in doing the small things, you may find it hard to stop doing them. The little things could take you a long way in your career, and life after it.

Invest in Yourself

In addition to saving and investing earnings wisely, putting aside a specific amount each month to invest in oneself and one’s personal growth is highly essential.  

That could mean buying new books, taking online courses, attending training programs and conferences or even learning a new language.

Highly successful people do it all the time. They invest in attaining more knowledge and polishing up their skills. It’s an investment that creates gains which multiply throughout a career; increasing value along the way.

There are so many options for personal development readily available today. All that is needed is the willpower to start. It can be as simple as a free online course.

Personal development is continuous. Perhaps begin by learning everything about the field you’re in and related fields. Become the expert that people can turn to.

Be Solutions Driven

Remember Murphy’s Law? “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”? There are many instances in a typical career where even the best preparations won’t allow everything to go well. Things just south.

The best strategy to prepare oneself for those challenges is to talk about a problem only if one has possible solutions to it. Impart this philosophy to other members on your team.

In remembering that things always fall through, having a backup plan for everything is essential.

Part of becoming a good solution-finder is to listen. Listening can save you a significant amount of time and money; inspire creativity, and can solve a lot of problems. People will also see that you care about their ideas and opinions.

Listening also brings about full understanding of a situation. Without that understanding, one could waste time solving the wrong problem or providing the wrong solution.

Do Your Boss’ Job

Many good leaders have the ability to take as much off their boss’ plate as possible so that they can showcase their ability to take on a higher level of responsibilities while becoming indispensable to the team.

It is the best (and perhaps the easiest) path to fast career growth: take up most of your boss’ responsibilities and do well on them consistently.

Over a period, you will become known as the person that gets things done—big or small—with minimal supervision. That is one of the key skills expected of future leaders.

One way to start on this path is to think from your boss’ perspective. Understand his or her goals and align yourself with them. Take the initiative to work on tasks before you’re asked to do so. You may be surprised by the impact it will have.

It is indeed the easiest way to get a promotion without asking for it. Supervisors will see that you consistently exhibit the skills to operate at the next level already.

Market Yourself

Most people, especially really talented ones, get stuck at a certain point in their career because they don’t market their work in the right way.

You may be able to write code while you are asleep, finish assignments way before their deadlines or be the most qualified employee. Those qualities or strengths don’t matter if you are unable to showcase them in a concise and attractive manner to key stakeholders.

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people, but one can work on becoming a good marketer through practice. That’s where effective communication, presentation, etiquette and other skills come into play to advance one’s career.

No matter which industry you’re in, this advice applies. Brand yourself, your team and company in an impressive manner to all your key stakeholders to open up career-changing doors you never knew existed.

Always Remember: You’re Not Alone

We live in a time where everything: from information, tips, how-to-guides, courses, etc., are available at our fingertips. Therefore, you may feel that you can do it all on your own rather than depending on others.

Sure, your drive, talent and hard work may give your career the boost you need. But if you work in a team, you will need to manage and bring out the best in others in order to progress. And that requires new skills which take time and patience to develop.

Being a great team player requires caring for others, having their back and creating an environment where every team member can bring out their best. Putting the team’s goals and vision above yours is crucial.

Indeed, being a great manager or leader requires one to empower the team and strengthen their vision. One also needs to provide constructive feedback and create an environment of camaraderie.

It is also important to surround yourself with people who motivate and push you to grow. Remember, those around you will determine part of your success. Your social networks matter. So surround yourself with positive people who want to see the best of you and want to see you grow.

Learn to Manage Stress

Everyone goes through stress at some point in their career. Research shows that short-term stress can make us more productive and vigilant, even bring out the best in us. But research also indicates that chronic stress takes a high toll on our emotional and physical well-being.

Managing stress is something that everyone needs to be good at—whether you’re just joining the workforce or you’re a seasoned CEO.

The best antidote to stress, according to psychologists, is to pause, take a deep breath, and think about your situation from an outsider’s perspective.

Then you can identify the aspects of the situation that you can control and the elements that you cannot control. The next step is to understand that you really shouldn’t worry about the forces that are beyond your control. It’s a fruitless pursuit.

For things that are under your control, research shows that your decision-making capacity can be severely diminished if you are under stress because of panic hormones, which inhibit your full decision-making capacity.

So instead of worrying, think about tasks and activities that you should be doing right now to take control of the solution. It is one of the best ways to beat stress.

Indeed, worrying doesn’t solve anything—it just amplifies fear and anxiety. And the antidote to fear is action.

You won’t achieve your goals if you are afraid to pursue an idea or are worried about what others think about you. When you push past the worry and fear, you will find that you were concerned for nothing.

It is essential that you take care of your overall health. You are not a machine. You need to go at your own pace and listen to your body as no amount of success or money can get you a new one.

Part of de-stressing is spending time away from the office and more time with friends and family. Life is not about work and client meetings. When you focus all your time and energy on providing for your family, you may miss out on what’s most important: precious time with your family.

Map Your Unique Journey, with A Little Help

It is important to mention that none of these tips are sure-fire ways of transforming your career instantly. You should instead see them as footprints left by thousands of people who have taken the career journey you’re on before.

Perhaps one of the tips covered above resonates deeply with you. Use them to hasten and fuel a journey towards your dream career destination. The ride begins today.