Career, Professional Development

Mistakes I made at work–and how I learned from them

Fast Company has a tremendous amount of great insight on careers and professionalism. Because I’m a sucker for any advice with the phrase “under 30” in the headline, this piece–10 Career Lessons You Should Learn By Your 30s–is a real winner in my book.

The entire piece is worth a read, but the list includes some cringe-worthy examples:

  • Your dream job is a dud
  • You blew a big presentation
  • You have a nightmare boss

I’ve certainly made/encountered several of this list’s scenarios… and fingers crossed that I won’t hit the remainders by the time I do turn 30!

But I have a few to add to this list.

Not bargaining for higher pay or more benefits. At my first job, I was offered $13 an hour (ha.)–and I took it, no questions asked. Whoops. Even in the early stages of your career, your initial earnings set you on an income trajectory throughout your career. Not negotiating for more pay each time you switch jobs or get promoted can lead to a considerable amount of lost earnings–even $1 million or more, depending on your profession or industry. Even the most tight-wad of hiring managers can spare a little more on an employee they want. Remember that bargaining for more, whether you’re a new employee or in the midst of a review process, isn’t limited to pay and health insurance. You can ask for more vacation time, a semi-flexible schedule, the opportunity to telework. Worst that can happen is that someone says no to your request. You’ll never know what you can get without asking.

Not speaking up about something that you’re unhappy about. When I started a new job a few years ago, I was stuck at a desk far away from my teammates. My boss’s intention for this decision came from a good place, as I was working as a writer and do need relative peace and quiet to think, process, and draft, but I felt isolated from the group. It took me longer to form important relationships with my colleagues because we didn’t have that working proximity, and I didn’t go out of my way to reach out to them. Today, voicing my concern about this type of situation seems like a no-brainer (and, when I encountered a similar situation at my current workplace, I did speak up), but this is an example of how important it is for an employee to recognize negative environmental factors that can be changed and then act to affect change. Having that experience taught me how crucial one’s workspace is to their overall happiness, and that it’s up to an employer to make sure the workspace is making the employee happy.

Gossiping. Venting to one of your colleagues is one thing, sharing background information in order to inform a colleague on a situation is another thing–and then there’s gossip, chatter that contains no productive quality besides making those participating feel better about themselves by putting someone else down. I certainly participated in gossip-fests so that I could be accepted by the Mean Girls Club at a job I had several years ago as an undergraduate. How silly does this sound now? (Spoiler alert: Being buddies with the malicious gossipers doesn’t forever insulate you from being the subject of such trash-talk.) If there is no positive outcome to a conversation about someone else, then don’t do it, and set boundaries so that you can keep a healthy distance from the worst offenders.

With the right perspective, any seeming mistake you make at work can be a lesson. What lessons have you learned at work?

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