As a person solidly on my way to corporate middle management, I feel like I have learned a few career lessons the hard way that I’d love to share with you all. Through lots of trial and error, I’ve developed a bit of an ethos for how I approach my work. I’m still learning every day, but I’d love to share the lessons I’ve already internalized in the hope that they’ll help you take a bit of a leap on your own career journey.
Here are the 10 career commandments that I live by:
- Be Kind – this is so incredibly important to me. I don’t want to sacrifice my humanity for the sake of money and, if you think about it, people who view the workplace as a big competition where they have to undercut others in pursuit of titles and dollars have decided that the humanity element isn’t very important to them. That life isn’t for me. I’d rather sacrifice promotions and money to hold onto my belief that people deserve to be treated with kindness and humanity. I approach all of my work with a kindness-first perspective and I hope the people I work with notice. If not, at least I know that my ideals are still in tact.
- Don’t be Scared of Tough Conversations – if you grew up in a household where conflict is a dirty word, this one isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it. I’ve learned to be unafraid to have tough conversations with people I work with, whether it’s a request to rework a proposal, or to directly address someone who has given tough feedback about me to my manager. You have to be willing to address things head on or they are just going to fester. A bonus for this one is if you generally treat people with kindness, these tough conversations are a bit easier.
- Do your Shit – have the reputation as someone who does the things they say they’ll do. It’s so obvious, but just doing this one thing will make you better than most of the people you’ll work with by default. I think people have good intentions, but they often overpromise and underdeliver. Try to do the opposite.
- Admit when you mess up…right away – We’ve all had that moment where we realize we missed a big deadline or forgot to call someone we promised to. It happens. Acknowledge it right away to the person counting on you. Do not try to cover it up, do not hope they won’t notice. Just be frank and let them know you made a mistake. We’re all human and it happens and it will be okay as long as you take responsibility.
- Take Feedback with a Grain of Salt – man, people love to give feedback, especially in the corporate workplace. You have informal feedback, formal feedback, annual performance assessments. They’re all designed to tell you what you’re doing wrong and what you need to work on to do better. My problem with this sometimes is that it is so focused on the negative. You can spend all your time correcting the things that are hard for you, or you can lean into the things that light you up and do those really well. I choose the latter, so when feedback comes in for me about a personality trait that is just part of me and hard for me to change, I try to disregard it. Otherwise, I’ll fixate on changing something that’s almost impossible and will feel bad about myself. The caveat here is that sometimes we’re blind to things that we can easily improve or that are really irritating to others. If you get feedback about something like that, do your best to correct it and then move forward. Don’t let the feedback debilitate you.
- Say What you Want – a few months ago, I got really upset that someone got promoted ahead of me. Yes, it’s petty, but it happens. I realized, though, that I had not actually let my manager, director and HR rep know that I was keenly interested in a promotion and working toward that. The moment I asked, it happened soon after. It’s the old saying, closed mouths don’t get fed. Say what you want, whether it’s a person reporting to you, a new assignment, a promotion. Be willing to put in the work, but people can’t read your mind. You have to be a bit of a squeaky wheel sometimes and make sure that people are on the same page as your hopes and dreams.
- Do What Interests you as much as Possible – this is so obvious, but do everything in your power to be the best at the things you’re most interested in. I’ll give you an example for the field I’m in – brand management. It involves both consumer marketing and general business management. I don’t really love the business management side, so I don’t take on projects related to that side of the business if I can avoid it. My goal is to be totally competent, but not awesome at it. Why? Because I want to spend as much of my time on the side of the business that I love. I do the extra work and really pay attention to the details of the consumer side of the business so that I am known for my skills in consumer marketing. It leads to cooler projects and new assignments related to my interests and helps me avoid an assignment where I feel dead inside because I do not enjoy the subject matter.
- Speak up when you’re Overwhelmed – it can be scary to raise your hand and say you have too much on your plate. There’s always that fear lurking that they’ll realize that you aren’t cut out for the job or that you’re not dependable, but it just doesn’t happen like that. If you don’t speak up when you’re overwhelmed, you’ll end up with high blood pressure (been there) or scary, stress-filled dreams (been there, too) or you’ll make a major mistake because you can’t keep up with everything (yep, been there, too). For every business, we make puts and calls all the time about what’s most important to get done. Sometimes you have to sit down with your manager and recalibrate what’s possible and important for you to achieve.
- Keep Records – it’s tough to pause amidst the busy to keep records, but I never regret it. I try to write myself a note about projects I finish, or great feedback I receive or a committee I join in real time. It helps when it comes time to write my PA and I’m sitting in front of the computer like a dummy with absolutely no recollection of what happened over the past twelve months.
- Find your System – there are so, so many ways to work, all kinds of organizing systems and tips and tricks out there. Whether you’re digitally integrated with Outlook or prefer an analog system for to dos, find and commit to your system. If you haven’t found your system yet, sign up for every class you can and read every self-help book on personal organization until you find something that works for you. Then, do it. All the time. It will give you such a calm mind. It might seem like more work to write things down, but it’s worth it. Eventually, it will feel like second nature and you won’t be able to imagine your life without it.