10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 22

jonWhen I graduated from my big state university back in 2008, I had a print-editorial journalism degree, a few months of experience from a corporate communications internship, and a couple of classic Ann Taylor shift dresses that my mom bought for me. Asking questions, writing stories, and dressing the part were pretty much my only skills.

Today, I work for one of the world’s largest consulting firms and spend my time with extremely bright colleagues helping companies improve. This career path was made possible thanks to a group of amazing mentors and leaders I’ve worked with over the past seven years, each of whom took the time to give me feedback and help me grow and learn from my many mistakes (and by many, I mean millions).

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and share some of this hard-earned career wisdom with my 22-year-old self. I’d choose the moment she was crying in her Pontiac G6 on the way home from her first day on the job and tell her to get a grip. Then, I would tell her to do these ten things to help shape her career:

#1 Be accountable for everything that crosses your desk.

If something ends up in your inbox, and you’re expected to take action on it, that counts as crossing your desk. Proof-read. Ask questions. Understand the content, who needs it, what they need to do with it, how, why and when. It’s the fastest way to become indispensable, and will help you to build trust, credibility and ultimately demonstrate that you’re ready for more responsibility.

#2 Never allow yourself to think that you are the smartest person in the room.

You may be a Harvard-educated genius who can perform long division in your head faster than a calculator, but assume that you know the least. Make it your job to learn what other people know. Ask questions, listen, and then ask more questions.

#3 Take notes on everything you hear.

In business, knowledge is power. Understanding the details that no one else bothered to record will give you an edge. Keep your notes organized, and reference them when the topics come up in the future. I use thin paper notebooks and mechanical pencils, and love to write direct quotes so I can say things like “So-and-so leader said X during Y meeting, and I think that means we should consider doing Z in addition to A, B, and C that we are discussing today.” I promise you’ll amaze others, and be amazed at how powerful your notes can be.

#4 Ask for advice and help from people who you want to be more like someday.

This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people ask for (and follow) advice. People love to talk about themselves, and I have never received a negative response when I’ve asked someone: “What did you do when you were in my position that helped you get to where you are today?”

#5 Always be willing to get your hands dirty.

It might not sound fun, but it’s an opportunity to prove your work ethic and develop new skills. I work with senior partners who are willing to reformat PowerPoint slides and I respect them so much more for it.

#6 Be respectful to everyone you encounter.

Whether they are the CEO of your company, the janitor of the building, or a waiter at a restaurant, being universally respectful is not only a good way to live your life: it will benefit your career. Your reputation is built on informal feedback, from both inside and outside your organization. (And I personally know several very influential janitors, administrative assistants, and baristas.)

#7 Whether you know it or not, you teach others how to treat you.

The two data points people have about how to treat you are how you treat others (see ‘be respectful to everyone’) and how you allow yourself to be treated. One day, you will face a situation that raises an internal red flag and it is your responsibility to recognize it and respond in a way that you would want your best friend or future daughter to respond if they were in the same scenario. If someone asks you to lie to a client or misreport information, you’re being disrespected. If someone asks you to pick up their dry cleaning, organize their father’s funeral, or any other personal request (especially on company hours), you’re being disrespected. Say no. If you’re not comfortable saying no, find a different way to refuse. My favorite way starts with “What I can do for you is… [insert favorable alternative, such as ‘recommend a great concierge service’].”

#8 Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable.

Someone told me this when I started my first job, and it’s helped to shape my career. You show up to work every day not just to do the job they hired you to do, but to grow, develop and stay relevant in the work force. If you’re comfortable, bored, or find yourself counting down the minutes until the day ends, that’s a major sign that something needs to change. Talk to your manager about expanding your responsibilities, taking on a new role, or start polishing up your resume for the hunt for your next challenge.

#9 On that same note, take on challenges that scare you.

Every time that I’ve been asked to do something and thought “I don’t know if I am smart enough, skilled enough, fast enough… etc.” I proved myself wrong, and become more skilled and confident because of it. Say yes to every opportunity to make yourself smarter and more successful. If you’re scared, fake-it-’til-you-make-it by asking for help from those who can do it.

#10 Assume positive intent.

Don’t waste your energy analyzing things you have no control over, such as other people’s thoughts. Take comments for face value, and assume the best. The time you save from dissecting every word of that email or that meeting will be better spent on almost anything else.

This article was written by Colleen Bordeaux.

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