Dear (career) diary: 10 career tips I’d tell my former self

It’d be hard to argue against the fact that the best lessons in life come from thinking back on our own past experiences. “Hindsight is 20/20” after all, and it helps us learn lessons like … I should have expected more (from myself and others) or I should have tried harder or I should have listened less to others.

But when it comes to your career, if you’re early on in your career or brand new to job searching altogether you, unfortunately, don’t have that bank of experience to look back on and learn from. And then, what ends up happening is you have to rely on mostly gut instinct and second-hand opinion when navigating your career. Right?

Well, that’s the point of this list. To provide a few real life, useful career tips that anyone who’s been through their first few jobs successfully would want to share with their younger selves and people who are just getting their career started.

1. Time is too precious to waste

One might assume that at the end of the day, what typically matters the most is the result … not how much time it took to reach that result. But that strikes two ways: you want to put in the effort to get your desired outcome, but you also don’t want to spend more time on something when the result won’t be much better than if you were to spend a bit less time.

How this applies to your career is that idea that sheerly spending more time on work doesn’t make you a better employee. On the contrary, it’s getting results out of the work you do. Your goal then should be to use your energy and inspiration wisely and always focus on meaningful results.

2. Find your dream job

It is important to at least try to start thinking early on in your career (or as early as possible!) what your personal dream job is. Typically, a dream job doesn’t just fall into your lap, no matter how hard you search for it or how good of a person you are. It takes self-reflection, hard work, and yes – luck. Therefore, it is crucial to take time for yourself and find out what you are good at and also what you might not be as talented at but that you like to do and want to improve on.

Remember also that finding a dream job goes hand in hand with finding a dream company where you can do that job, so once you do find some clarity on what job role will make you happiest and most fulfilled, put some energy into researching the right company to let your talents shine.

3. Never underestimate the impact of your own decisions (big and small)

At any point in life, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of your own decisions. And the reason this concept matters especially in your career is that just because you’ve decided on a career path at one point in your life and are currently in a job, that does not necessarily mean you’re committed to that choice forever and that’s where you’ll end up for the rest of your life. It’s totally within your power to take your career in a different direction if you feel that it’s time for a career change.

Key advice: keep your mind open to new possibilities and decisions, because only with this flexible mindset can you find happiness in your career in the long term.

4. Remember, it’s just a job …

… and not your entire life. So-called workaholics, self-employed company owners and entrepreneurs might beg to differ, but even if you strive to do your job well and with 100% of heart and soul day-in and day-out, when all is said and done … your job doesn’t define who you are as a human being.

Yes, you can (and should!) try to gain as much positivity and pride in the work that you do, but in order to have a healthy, balanced life, you simply have to clock-out and have some sort of life outside of your job.

5. Do not stop

The last thing you should do in your career is to stay in the exact same position for too long – literally and figuratively – without learning and growing new experiences and skills. This is especially true in today’s working environment, when competition can be fierce and

So do not stop when you have the opportunity to move forward. Set goals and work to achieve them.

6. Dare to address topics with anyone and everyone

Regardless of who you might need to have a conversation with, you should dare to address things that matter to you. Because let’s be honest: your conversation partner is a human like everyone else and in most cases, having a real conversation is the only way to resolve whatever is on your mind.

The key to this is smart communication: tailor your message to the person you’re talking to, take your time, listen, and make sure you’re in the right headspace when having the conversation (calm and composed, as opposed to emotional and impulsive).

7. Learn to stay calm

There are a whole range of different situations that might happen throughout your career that will leave you surprised, disappointed, angry, frustrated or any one of a number of challenging emotions. And while every situation is unique, sometimes the best course of action is just to sit back and stay calm.

This is a lesson in emotional intelligence and restraint, really. It’ll serve you well to show calm and restraint when things go haywire because it both commands respect among your peers and also allows you to reach positive outcomes faster than if you weren’t able to keep calm.

8. Start early on dealing with finances

Taking care of your own finances is part of growing up. Therefore, it pays (pun intended!) to think ahead of your own financial future sooner than later. This means doing things like taking advantage of all of the benefits your company offers, setting up a savings account that you consistently contribute to, giving yourself financial milestones to aim for, creating a budget and sticking to it, just to name a few.

9. Tune out the people who say you can’t do it … and just do it

This advice can stand on its own as life advice too, which is don’t let other’s opinions get in your way. Sure, easier said than done – it’s literally in our human nature to seek approval and acceptance! The goal isn’t to shut people’s opinions out completely though, it’s about trusting in yourself and letting your own beliefs lead the way when you are really convinced of something.

10. Work should be enjoyable

If your company’s goals, values or the people in it just aren’t a great match for you and your lifestyle, to the point where you’re unhappy at work more often than you care to admit, then it’s time to face the music and get out of there. Because although work can’t be 100% fun and games, you should at least find a sense of joy and fulfillment in your work. If you look forward to Friday morning and dread Mondays, you clearly have not found the right employer yet.