7 Career Lessons to Shift You Into Higher Gear

7 Career Lessons to Shift You Into Higher Gear

You may have recently graduated from college about to start your first job or you may have seen your fair share of offices. Either way these seven career lessons will help you take your career to the next level.

Lesson #1: Small actions over time compound

Reputation, career trajectory, and how others perceive you in the workplace can come down to a handful of things or moments that seem inconsequential or small at the time but compound.

Redwood trees are grown from small seeds that are given time. With every action and conversation, you’re planting small seeds and these seeds can grow into something bigger (sometimes unimaginably bigger) over time. Don’t let small, basic mistakes sabotage your reputation because it only takes a few small snafus for people to lose confidence and faith in your ability to do more important tasks. Trust is a fragile thing and the quicker people can trust you the faster they’ll give you more responsibility.

Examples of small actions:

  • Being on time (always) or early (better)
  • Spending an extra 10-15 minutes reviewing your work and catching basic mistakes before your boss does
  • Structuring your work so it’s easy for others to understand and leverage (good structure/footnotes/formatting)
  • Volunteer for unpleasant tasks without complaint. Do it even when there’s no apparent benefit to you

Lesson #2: Rising tide lifts all boats

You don’t become CEO of a multi-billion dollar public company in your 30s based purely on ability or talent. Your career is a boat and it is at the mercy of tides. No matter how talented you are it’s a lot harder to break out in a sluggish situation/hierarchy/economy than a go-go environment. Even if you’re a superstar at Sluggish Co., your upside trajectory (more often than not) is a fraction of what an average/below average employee achieves at Rocket Ship Co. There’s a reason Eric Schmidt told Sheryl Sandberg to “Get on a Rocket Ship”. I had colleagues accelerate their careers/income/title/responsibility simply because business demand was nosebleed high (go-go economy) and they were at the right place at the right time to ride the wave.

Contrast that to the 2008 bust where earnings/promotions/careers had been clamped down and people were thankful to have jobs let alone moving up. Yes, talent still matters but I think people generally overweight individual talent and underweight economics when evaluating and explaining their career successes.
Sheryl Sandberg once said,

“When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

Lesson #3: Seek opportunities where the outcome is success or failure

You don’t become a star by doing your job. You become a star making things happen. I was once told early in my career that you learn the most in 1) rapidly growing organizations or 2) failing organizations. I’ve been in both kinds of situations and wholeheartedly agree. Get on a rocket ship. It’ll either blow up or put you in orbit. Either way you’ll learn a ton in a short amount of time. Seek jobs where you can get 5-10 years of work experience in 1-2 years.

Lesson #4: Career Tracks & Meritocracies don’t exist

Your career is not a linear, clearly defined trajectory. It will be messy and will move more like a step function.

Lesson #5: You will probably have champions and detractors on day one

One interesting byproduct of the recruiting & hiring process of most organizations is it can create champions & detractors before you even start the job. Some folks might not like how you were brought into the organization (they might have even protested your hiring) and gun for you at every turn while others will give you the benefit of the doubt (even when you don’t deserve one) because they stuck their neck out to hire you. We’re all susceptible to these biases and few people truly evaluate/treat folks on a blank slate.

Lesson #6: You’ll only be known for a few things so make those labels count

People rely on labels as quick filters. Keep this in mind when you pick an industry or company or job role or school because it can serve as an anchor or elevator in the future. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is. You should always be aware of what your “labels” are.

Lesson #7: Nurture and protect your network and your network will nurture & protect you

Pay it forward and help people. Your network will be one of the biggest drivers of your success.

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