If I could go back in time to warn myself about my career path, I would have said, “Krizia, listen to your gut.” I love being a journalist, but it took my making a lot of mistakes to get here. If only I had allowed myself to have more influence on my future than pressures from my parents, teachers, and even my own fears.
While we all make mistakes, I’m saddened to admit I could have avoided a great deal of misery from making myself into someone I thought I ought to be. Rather than taking a straighter, happier path into the editorial world, I devoted anxiety, money, years, and all-nighters studying to become a doctor even when I knew deep down it wasn’t the profession for me.
Many early millennials—women in particular—will tell you it’s much easier to find valuable career advice today (thanks to incredibly smart resources like Career Contessa, Your Career Girl, The Muse, and more). Much of this guidance comes from the generosity and humility of women who share the personal lessons they’ve learned from their mistakes. Here, three women share their career miscalculations in hopes of helping you steer clear of your own.
Working From a Place of Fear
Sophie Caldecott isn’t just a writer; she’s a storytelling strategist. She has helped people and businesses grow through her words, her research, and her insights into the way readers and audiences interact with content. She’s brilliant, and I’m fortunate to call her a former colleague and a forever friend. Sophie shares how her bad habit was “definitely working from a place of fear.” Haven’t we all? It was “affecting decisions I made about pricing and which jobs I took/looked for,” she says.
THE SOLUTION: If you’re working from a place of feeling “not good enough,” businessman, author, and public speaker Gary Vaynerchuk talks about the value of self-awareness in this Inc. article:
Self-awareness allows people to recognize what things they do best so they can then go hard on those aspects of their life. It also helps you accept your weaknesses ... while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.
Write a list of your career strengths and weakness. Be exhaustive, and be honest. Accepting your weaknesses will help you avoid making career choices that simply aren’t right for you. Meanwhile, playing to your strengths helps develop your confidence in the value you add through your work.
Working From a Place of Perfection
You may recognize world-renowned concert pianist Vivian Choi from the Verily x Uniqlo profile on how personal style influences her performance. She is so wholly dedicated to her art that she always keeps her nails bare. “I can feel the weight of the polish when I’m playing,” she says. “Finger contact with the instrument is of utmost importance to a pianist, and that cannot be compromised in any way.” One might call her a perfectionist. While it can be a good thing, Vivian admits that it has sometimes led her to “Procrastination rooted in OCD-ness!”
THE SOLUTION: As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I know the struggles of avoiding starting on a project because I want my ideas to be perfect. But the best ideas usually start out as mistakes we make and improve upon—after all, most of the world’s finest music didn’t started out how it sounds in the end.
Rather than stalling on taking action at work, use this time to start breaking down your big goal into small daily goals. If you’d like to become an amazing presenter, for instance, commit to speaking up more in meetings whether in group or one-on-one settings. You’ll be surprised by what you learn from reiterating your work, and you’ll be far more satisfied with the final results.
Working at a Place without Barriers
Having a career where personal and professional relationships commingle may sound ideal, but manager Emily M. learned the hard way how this isn’t necessarily the case. At her first job in an office setting, Emily noticed that conversations about topics unrelated to work happened every day, “sometimes even throughout the day.” While she was unsure about this practice at first, Emily eventually let her guard down to form deep friendships with her colleagues. She would go out for drinks and even workout with them. “Going to work felt like getting to hang out with my friends,” she admits. “But I learned the hard way that without those boundaries, it's easy to get burned—both by coworkers and even bosses. To make matters worse, those burns hurt even more when it feels like they're coming from a friend, even when it's in a professional setting.” Emily ended up finding herself in a position that cost her a career setback.
Emily experienced a mistake many of us make early in our careers: blurring personal and professional lines with people at work. “Even when people have the best of intentions and aren't out to throw you under the bus, boundaries are important. … Having established boundaries helps protect you from the mistakes others make,” she says. Emily believes that vulnerability should be reserved for close friends and people who have truly earned your trust.
THE SOLUTION: If you find yourself in a similar situation, Emily has advice on how to change that unhealthy dynamic: define the lines with your words and actions. “Now when a co-worker presses for details about my personal life,” Emily reveals, “I hold back on sharing it with them. When they start to vent or gossip about others on our team, I've learned to be the one who says to stop. I've started being really intentional about any times or places I might socialize with my coworkers outside of the office.” It’s fine to be on friendly terms with the people you work with, but think twice about whether a friendship makes it possible to retain a healthy professional relationship at work, and proceed with caution.
As these real women’s stories attest, we can unintentionally hurt our career potential if we act from a position of fear, an obsession with perfection, or a place without boundaries. These mistakes are more common than you might think, so if you’ve experienced one of these setbacks firsthand, you’re not alone! Learning from them allowed each woman I spoke with to grow in understanding of her best potential and make wiser choices for her future. Turn your pain into gain, and go enjoy a career path that’s more authentically you.