Francis de Sales once wrote, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.”
De Sales gave solid career advice. Some things you can only learn by doing—whether that means overcoming a fear of failure, embracing mistakes as part of the learning process, or persevering through major obstacles.
Even those of us who’ve had ample internship opportunities, mentors, and trusted colleagues have made big mistakes on our career journeys. Work-life balance is elusive. Professional decisions are sometimes a leap of faith.
To help you navigate the biggest career mistakes, we asked experienced professional women for the best career advice they’d share with their younger selves if given the chance. They may not be the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world, but these are working women just like you. Here are thirteen things they wish they’d done differently.
01. Keep an open mind.
“Remain open to avenues you never thought you’d consider. ‘Bloom where you’re planted,’ but be prepared to leave an abusive or unhealthy environment.” –Amanda, 38, attorney
02. Throw your hat in the ring.
“Make people tell you no. . . . I did a lot of comparing myself to the ‘ultimate,’ or the best person who could do that job, rather than my peers, and so I undervalued what I could bring to things. . . . I had to have confidence that I would learn, or learn to ask the right questions of mentors, to adapt to the challenge.” –Meghan, 29, mental health clinician
03. Don’t just do it for the money.
“Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you need to receive a paycheck to be worthy or successful. After all, money is NOT life’s greatest reward; love is.” –Sara, 38, homemaker
04. Have patience.
“Patience to learn, patience to build relationships with colleagues and management, patience when something didn’t come naturally to me . . . I surely lacked patience early in my career and now at the beginning of my thirties am just starting to take my own advice.” –Andrea, 30, advertising account manager
05. Forge your own path.
“Don’t look to other people to define your niche or vision. Only you can determine that. Nobody decides when it’s ‘over’ except you.” –Jody, 35, singer
06. Believe in yourself.
“Own your power and authority! In your actions. With your voice. Through your body language!” –Christine, 37, entrepreneur and management consultant
07. Don’t neglect self-care.
“Even if the world is falling apart, you need a few minutes to deep breathe, eat, drink, void, and take care of yourself.” –Jennifer, 37, registered nurse and Zumba instructor
08. Be humble.
“Accept when you’re wrong, seek guidance, make changes to be better, never stop learning.” –Ashley, 29, teacher
09. Seek guidance.
“It’s OK to ask questions, just ask them from the right people. Take the time to learn the foundational skills well, and then add your own personal touch.” –Therese, 31, pediatric nurse
10. Don’t count your regrets.
“Regrets? No. Everything that has happened to me has helped me grow into who I am even if I had heartbreak along the way.” –Katherine, 30, emergency medical technician
11. Take the high road.
“You are young, and it’s normal for things at work to bother you. Let the little things slide, but big things like respect should never be compromised at work. Always be professional. Take the high road even when it feels unfair. You will never regret that! Your professionalism is worth gold. Don’t let anyone take that away from you, no matter what the circumstance is.” –Maria, 28, teacher
12. Let work be work.
“Be professional. Dress appropriately and conservatively. Be on time. Be respectful of others. Agree to disagree at times. Keep your personal life out.” –Lisa, 58, administrative assistant and receptionist
13. Accept that it’s going to be hard.
“Anything worth doing is usually difficult. Don’t be overly influenced by others’ personal decisions regarding their career paths. Blaze a trail, even if you don’t feel like you have a road map or a lot of peer camaraderie along the way. . . . Be easy on the person but tough on the work.” –Natalie, 33, strategic planning executive
Whether you’re just starting out, celebrating a milestone anniversary, or trying to figure out what’s next, you can never go wrong with doing your best and being true to yourself. That way, when someone asks, “What do you do?” you’ll have much more than a title to be proud of.
Photo Credit: Greg Finck