Career advice for my younger self

Recent conversations with a colleague got me thinking about the career advice I’d have given my young self, knowing now what I didn’t know then. Of course, my young self wouldn’t have listened anyway. But suppose for one moment that I hadn’t been a headstrong, tenacious little madam, and had been prepared to take advice from someone older and little wiser (read: more cynical), this is what I would have heard.

  1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Unless you’re a professional sportsman, you’re not expected to reach the pinnacle of your career at 25. Companies aren’t successfully run by enthusiasm alone. It takes years to develop practical business skills, and learn the politics of the business world. Take some time to learn about how people behave in the workplace. Observe and reflect on how the best teams work effectively together. It will help you to understand the principles of what makes a business run smoothly – key to success in any field.

2. A plan is no bad thing

I used to sneer at people who had five year plans. Some even had ten year plans. And yes, some of them have followed it to the letter and are now very successful. As a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, I always felt that even if you had a plan, something would derail it.

That’s life isn’t it? But hindsight tells me it’s always much easier to work towards a goal, and even if you plan just for the next year or two, you’ll be able to check you’re on track, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing at those moments when you’re feeling frustrated. It also prevents coasting, and that’s a dangerous habit to get into.

3. Use your stepping stones

That said, each new job has taken me on a path, and though they’ve been different, this path has allowed me to gain new skills on each rung of the career ladder, all of them useful to my current role. Sometimes you end up in a job you don’t really want to be doing. But even those jobs will teach you a skill you can take forward in your career, so turn these crappy jobs into opportunities to broaden your horizons.

4. Find out what you like

There are so many jobs out there that no one tells us about when we’re young. It’s only when you go out into the world of work that you discover the possibilities. Sometimes what we think we want to do, actually turns out to be pretty crap. Try as many things in the field you want to work in, as you possibly can. You’ll find out where your skills lie, and make useful contacts along the way.

5. Be rational not emotional

It’s really hard if you’re a passionate, emotional person to think in black and white terms. But if business has taught me anything, it’s that you’ll get nowhere without rigour and reason behind your opinions. If you know that you’re right about something, and someone else is wrong, arm yourself with facts and figures, and present yourself professionally. Reign in your desire to rant. It’s about what you say and not how you say it if you want to make your mark.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Some things will matter to you much more than they should. And that’s OK. It shows you care about your work. But don’t get hung up on the little things. As one of my old bosses used to say ‘no one will die.’ In the same vein sometimes you’ll have to choose your battles. So get used to letting some of the smaller things go, and concentrate on the ones that really have an impact.

7. Never stop learning

Take every opportunity to learn. Being on a learning curve and stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to develop yourself. It will also stop you resting on your laurels and getting bored. Never assume you know everything. No one knows everything!

8. You’re worth it

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman and we don’t have the ego that many men do, but I’ve spent much of my working life not standing up for myself enough when it comes to salaries and promotions. As a result I know I’m underplaying my value and I kick myself again and again that I haven’t had the confidence in my career to ‘big myself up’ in the way some people manage to. Know your worth, and ensure you’re making good use of the results you achieve. If you don’t, no one else will.