CAREER DEVELOPMENT / SEP. 28, 2014
version 5, draft 5

17 Career Lessons I'd Teach My Younger Self

Having spent more than 20 years working for a global pharmaceutical company, I’m often asked about three things: what lessons I learned during my time in the corporate world; what advice I would give to someone just starting out; and what, if anything, I would do anything differently. To cover all three, below are my accumulated hindsights -  my most important career lessons, in no particular order. If I could teach these lessons to my younger self, I’d do so in a heartbeat. 

  • Work is just that – work.

No matter how passionate you are about what you do, don’t define yourself by your work. You’re much more than that. Make sure you have other interests that will inspire and engage you. Otherwise you’ll become a bore – to yourself and everyone else.

  • Never complain.

Find a way to solve an issue – if something is important enough to you, you’ll find a way. Better still, find several, viable solutions. Then present these to your boss or colleagues. Someone once shared a great quote by William Arthur Ward: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Be the optimist.

  • You’re judged on your judgment.

What you do is as important as what you don’t do. What you say is as important as what you don’t say.

  • Don’t make enemies with anyone.

Treat everyone as important. You could one day be working with them.

  • Always be prepared – do your homework.

It’s easy to get caught out because you haven’t considered all the angles or different viewpoints that others may have. Not doing your homework may lead you to the wrong conclusions, which may cause others to doubt your judgement.

  • Criticism is often better than praise.

Growing your ego won’t grow you as a person.

  • Aim to work with the best people possible.

They will inspire you and make you and everything you do so much better.

  • Stop trying to control everything and everyone.

If you know that someone can do a task better than you can, let them. There’s no shame in that. And you’ll learn from them.

  • Get a mentor.

Having a mentor is probably the most important investment I made in my career. A good mentor will give you an independent view of your career and will act in your best interests.

  • Don’t undervalue failure.

Failure, at the very least, means you’ve been brave enough to try. It means you know how not to do something.

  • Networking will help your career.

Get to know the right people and maintain contact with them. Build networks of people that have the power and the desire to help you.

  • Know why you do what you do.

This can have a profound impact on the way you feel about your job and how you do it.

  • Imagine your name is written on everything you produce.

This will change how you approach a task.

  • Aim to surround yourself with good people.

Good people will make your contributions bigger. Those who don’t have your best interests at heart will do the opposite.

  • Make other people look good.

 To use a couple of clichés, no man is an island – there’s always someone there to oil the wheels of progress.  If you’re in a leadership position, you will be judged on the influence you exert on your team’s output rather than your own individual contribution.

  • Play to win. 

This will help you develop your potential and raise your expectations of yourself. It may help to know that the greatest competition is yourself. Playing to win will also do your reputation no end of good.

  • Always do the right thing. Always.

  If you say “yes” to something, what are you saying “no” to?  Look at the costs of not doing the right thing. Then do the right thing.

Look at the deeper meaning of these career lessons and try to implement them in your professional life. Meanwhile, feel free to share some of your own lessons that you’ve learnt in the comments section below.

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