10 Lessons I’d Share With My 21-Year Old Self
When I was 21, I used to envy people who always seemed to know what they wanted to do with their lives. These are the people who got a great job straight out of college or wanted to be a veterinarian since they were like nine. I’d think, gee, at nine, I was more concerned with getting my shoes on and money ready in time to catch the ice cream truck before it passed my house. That’s conviction though too, right?
Truth be told, all the college in the world couldn’t prepare me for what happens in the “real world.” At some point we all start wet behind the ears and ready to take on the world. If you’re a seasoned professional, your ears are probably now as dry as the Sahara desert.
At first, it seemed like a great idea to think you’ll land your dream job, work your way into a long-term rewarding management role, and everything will fall into place as you build a family or travel the world — and find the perfect work-life balance. Fast-forward to the desert, the path is often quite different (you know, the path that doesn’t get mentioned during motivational speeches).
After experiencing a few doses of reality, I started to collect my own life notes as to how to approach my career. I learned not to worry if things don’t always happened the way I wanted them to. Everything happens exactly the way it should.
Here’s a few tough lessons I’d share with my 21-year old self.
1. Not everyone is your friend. You may have a manager or mentor that loves you when showing you the ropes, but becomes your mortal enemy once he or she finds out you’re smarter.
2. You will often do more than your manager. You may not get the guidance or training you expect because they are either experienced, burnt out, or just waiting to retire.
3. Being “good” is not always good. Being the best on your team means more work than those who suck and sometimes less pay.
4. All pay is not equal (or fair). Your mediocre colleague may make more money than you because they a.) Have been with the company since the original rugs were installed b.) Excel in “look at what I can do” pony tricks or c.) Know someone who knows someone.
5. Speak up or it’ll look easy. You need to send late night emails so that your manager knows you had to bust your butt to complete a project due to the poor planning of others (or else they think it got done via osmosis.)
6. Your best is not always wanted. There are times when management only wants you give 40 percent if it means being able to check a project off the list faster.
7. All battles are not worth the fight. Sometimes you will have to back down sometimes— not because you’re wrong — but because your sanity is more important than being right.
8. There will be breakdowns. You will have many days throughout your career when you blow up because you’ve had enough and will feel so much better afterwards, even if you looked “bad” and get reprimanded for your outburst.
9. People will surprise you. The person who you thought you’d get along with isn’t always going to be your ally; the person who you initially bumped heads with sometimes becomes your business partner in crime.
10. Your personal brand is the key to success. Building a strong personal brand will be crucial, and necessary, to achieving long-term success and elevating your career.
Ultimately, there are many lessons you will learn that will knock you off your feet. But there are also many amazing experiences waiting for you that will lead the way for a greater sense of clarity that you never imagined.
You thrive as a professional not only due to the knowledge and talent you earned, but also by being a strategic thinker who grew as a result of the very same lessons that challenged you.
Marietta Gentles Crawford is a writer, personal brand strategist, and author of From Nine to Thrive: A Guide to Building Your Personal Brand and Elevating Your Career. With over ten years’ experience climbing through top corporate and government brands as a writer and trainer, her passion is inspiring professionals to dare mediocrity.
©Marietta Gentles Crawford, 2017. All rights reserved.