As you might guess, I love gathering career advice from books. The majority of quotes I use for the newsletter can be applied some way or another to your career. But sometimes, what’s helped me the most has been advice from real people: advice that hasn’t become a quote (yet), per se, but feel incredibly powerful and just so, well, real. And since this is graduation season, there is no better time to go over them (including one I wish I could give to my 22-year-old self).
Without further ado, here are the 10 pieces of best career advice I’ve ever heard.
1. Don’t be afraid of failure.
This one was advice Jill Fraser, CEO and co-founder of luxury handbag line Jill Milan gave in her interview with PD. It really resonated with me because I’ve experienced paralyzing fear of failure, many times. What really helped overcome that fear was actually failing a bunch of times and getting up each time–which strangely, ended up with me becoming more confident than before never failing. Counter-intuitively, the worst case scenario isn’t trying and failing–it’s never trying anything at all. So just do, do, and do.
2. You shouldn’t have to sell yourself.
This one is from one of my dear friends who is a legit rock star in her field. She explained that a job search process is like dating: in order to make a true match, you shouldn’t have to sell yourself so they like you. They should like you just the way you are–so don’t think of any interviews or application process as “pitching” or “selling.” And whether you’re interviewing or already working, never “sell” yourself short–be confident about your value (again, like in dating).
3. Remember, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
This one comes courtesy of my father, who was a business development exec at Hyundai for most of his career. He said this to me before I went in for my first job interview–and it has made all the difference in how I see the relationship between me and the workplace. Whether you are working for someone, or negotiating a deal with a potential partner, they are *not* doing you a favor by giving you a job or revenue. It’s happening because it benefits both sides. This perspective has given me confidence and the correct amount of sense of obligation.
4. In any business conversation, listen first. Talk later and less.
Another one of my dad’s gems: this advice has truly benefited me so much over the years. The biggest mistake I see people make in meetings or conversations is talking way too much, especially at the beginning. Sit back and allow the other side to explain what they are looking for, their goals, etc. Once you understand their position, you can talk in a way that fits your position to theirs. Even if you’re being called to explain yourself first before they say anything (like in a job interview), limit your opening gambit (make it crisp and to the point) so you can listen before you say more. You will never make mistakes this way.
5. If you really want to succeed at something, you’re going to have to make sacrifices. But it won’t feel like sacrifices because you won’t care.
I heard this from Brooke Baldwin, broadcast journalist and host of her own 2-hour show on CNN. But before getting to that point, she spent her college years juggling school with working in the back storage room of a local news station. After college, she was stationed in a small town in West Virginia, where she produced her own local show by waking up at 3 a.m. and going to Chili’s for a night out, while her girl friends were having much more cosmopolitan fun in big cities. But she didn’t mind spending her twenties that way because that was her passion.
6. Just stay true to who you are.
I heard this one from an acquaintance who is a retired finance executive. She had a lot of kind words to say about Peaceful Dumpling and my work, and when I asked for advice, she said the best thing I can do is to just be myself, because that’s my biggest asset. I think that this applies to everyone. Whatever makes you “you” is your biggest asset in going forward. Being true to yourself doesn’t just mean you ignore everyone else or never take feedback: it means you stay true to your vision, values, and goals.
7. Everything always works out in the end, so stress less.
This one is from Kerry Sadetsky, a well-known blogger (of French Revolution) and a book publishing executive. I loved hearing her career story because it had a lot in common with my own (Princeton; blogging; freelance writing; book publishing). Plus, she reassured me that feeling lonely as all get out when writing in cafes (“your office”) is a totally normal phenomenon. Even when you feel anxious about what’s going on in your career, just know that things ultimately all work out.
8. In order to stay the course, you have to look just a little bit ahead.
When I was a wee intern at a fashion label, this was the lesson I got from a totally glamorous French woman who was the collection manager there. I was supposed to make swatches from bolts of diaphanous, imported silk chiffon, and I was cutting it all wrong because it’s really hard to cut straight across such filmy fabric. The trick is to look just a few inches ahead of your shears: not right where you’re cutting, nor the end of the fabric. This could be just a fashion advice but I’ve since then metabolized it much more metaphorically. When you want to accomplish something, you might be overwhelmed if you look all the way to the finish line. Plus, a lot can happen between now and 5 years. But never thinking about the future doesn’t work either. The best course of action has been to focus just on weeks or months ahead, and not getting stuck in the right here and now or the far-off future.
9. You shouldn’t aim to be irreplaceable.
Okay, so this is from me. “In order to be irreplaceacle, one must always be different,” said Coco Chanel. I always thought that in order to be valued, you have to be the best damn employee the organization had ever had, make your position strong (and irreplaceable), and then go from there. But the truth is that absolutely no one is irreplaceable in a workplace that’s not your own. If you place your whole motivation on being the irreplaceably valued member, you might find yourself in a difficult and disappointing position.
Of course, you should absolutely work hard (it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, remember?). But other people shouldn’t have to have so much control over how much value and satisfaction you derive from your work.
10. Do it like you have no backup plans.
Also from me! This is the one advice I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self. (Ugh, where is a time machine when you need one?) Pick something you really can’t endure living without and do it like you have no backup plans. Seriously, don’t even think of a chance of failure. (And if that happens, see #1). You won’t regret anything, I promise.
What’s the best career advice you’ve heard? (Or wish you could’ve heard)?
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Related: Notes to a New Grad
A Fickle Mountain- Finding Your Career Purpose