Seven years ago, I left the college chapter of my life (arguably one of the best times of my life!), and embarked on the much-longer chapter of my career. There have been many plot twists throughout the journey so far, but each has brought its own flavor to my story.
While I do not consider myself a “seasoned professional” by ANY means, I do think I’ve figured one or two things out. I know things now that I would have killed to know seven years ago. (OK, maybe not killed…) I can still picture my bright-eyed, brand-new professional woman self, with all her grand ideas of what it looked and felt like to be out in the world and leaving her mark. I picture her with a slightly rueful smile, as I know now how very clueless she was.
If given the great gift of a time machine, I have a few things I’d like to go back and impart on myself. Things that might help me find my way on that career path a little sooner, tips that (had I known them) might have helped me hit my “professional stride” with confidence.
If you’ve recently entered the workforce, congratulations! I humbly ask you to at least peruse the list below and see what sticks. For those of you who have earned your “seasoned professional” badge, please feel free to leave knowledge of your own in the comments!
- Get organized – immediately. Remember how, in college, you lived and died by syllabi, class schedules, and a planner? Well, your workplace does not come with the first two, so grab that planner and start color coding. Make tags in your email program, set reminders on your computer and phone, set up separate calendar categories – whatever works for you, figure out a system ASAP and stick with it.
- Do a good job. There’s more to this one, I promise. Many newcomers to the office think the best way to get ahead is to be overly eager and downright flamboyant with their accomplishments. Want to know what has a longer shelf life? Being a good worker. Even if no one notices, be thorough, be consistent, and get the job done. You might not be the “cool kid” of the office, but I can almost guarantee you’ll become “most likely to succeed.”
- Find your communication stride. How you communicate with your clients and colleagues will depend on your workplace and industry, so learn the lingo! Once you’ve determined “tone,” find your voice. Your email language is often the first impression others get of you, so make sure it’s portraying the professional you want to be known as. Someone with typos, way too many exclamation points, and casual greetings is probably not going to have the best reputation.
- Fail with style. You’re going to fail. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll become a better professional. The key to failing is learning how to do it gracefully. When you mess up, take ownership, but don’t stop there. Figure out the next step and present that with your acknowledgement of the failure. Pretending you didn’t fail or moping around and apologizing profusely for something not going right will not help anything.
As I looked back on what I wish I had known, a few things came to my mind of what I would still like to know. Some things that I’ve only just begun to grasp and know that they will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Again, you seasoned professionals, I’d love some feedback!
- How can I grow my network? How do I find “my people?” What’s the best way to fill my contacts list with meaningful relationships with other professionals? How can I be a good member of a network?
- Is work/life balance something I can ever find? Is there a secret to leaving your work at work? How do I make family a priority when it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get through my work list?
- What’s the best way to “plug in?” How do I find and keep friendships? What does church membership even look like for a woman who works and is also a mom?
I hope my sentimental time hop is something you needed to read. What are some things you wish you could tell yourself a few years ago? I’m excited to see what the next seven years hold and where my story takes me. Now, I’m off to set a reminder to revisit this blog in seven years…