I feel so fortunate to be where I am in my career. But it wasn’t a bump-free road to get here, and it required a lot of late nights, early mornings and good ol’ fashioned hard work. So instead of sharing my best career advice, I wanted to share five of my biggest mistakes in hopes that it helps even one other woman in her professional journey.
I’ve learned so much from the people around me, and owe much of my success to a combination of the people in my personal life and the mentors in my professional life.
I’m now at a point where I feel successful. I’m proud of the leader and manager I’ve become; I’m confident presenting and sharing my opinions in a room full of esteemed brand marketers; I feel comfortable delicately walking the balance between client service and client counsel.
But I’d lie if I said I didn’t have a few cringe-worthy moments in my career. Here my five biggest mistakes:
1) Taking everything personally.
Coming out of college, we have big aspirations and expectations for our careers. Why? Because we’re consistently told how awesome we are. Especially if you’re a good student like I was, you’re used to positive affirmation.
But that doesn’t happen in the real world. Sometimes, you’re just plain wrong.
I’ll never forget the first time a tough client called me out for something. I was 24 and working 10-12 hour days — doing everything I possibly could for this brand I was working on. And instead of giving me kudos, my client ripped me apart in an email for emailing the wrong person internally (which I thought was the right thing to do). I ran into the bathroom and was beside myself with tears. I was working so hard, and this was what I got?
But more years of experience (and this book) have helped me realize: I can’t get defensive or take everything to heart. There will always be a crisis — it’s the nature of what I do. But all getting upset or defensive does is delay the process of fixing the problem. It’s best to just take a deep breath and move on. Doing so will show your maturity to those above you.
2) Riding the power trip.
My first agency was very hierarchical. And starting at the bottom of the food chain was rough. I was constantly stepped on by everyone above me — whether one level above, or four. I hated it, and wanted nothing more than to get out from under the stampede that felt like every day.
So the first time I was ever promoted, I totally flexed my new one-level-above-you muscles. I did the same thing everyone else had done to me: I pushed around those below me with a ruthless demeanor.
But as I prepared to leave my first agency, I realized all that negativity was doing was making me more unhappy. I made a conscious decision to change who I was as a manager and leader when I moved to my next job, and I truly think it’s led to me being more happy in the workplace. Nothing is more rewarding than people you manage telling you they love working for you or that you’ve shaped who they are as a professional. (Don’t worry — I’m still tough when I need to be!)
3) Responding to anger-inducing emails right away.
This is a big one. When someone sends you an email that pisses you off — whether internal (below or above you) or a client or partner — wait to press send on your response.
During my above said unhappy power trip phase, I used to fire back right away all the time. It led to me feeling a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable by my reactions later on, and frankly, poor relationships with my coworkers. Even if someone was totally wrong, or an intern didn’t fully read the instructions in my email (my biggest pet peeve!), there’s no reason to be a total asshole back.
Because I find it cathartic to type a response back when I’m really fired up, my new strategy is to start a reply but wait to send it. I’ll hit reply, delete everyone off the “to” line and start drafting what I want to say. Then I’ll click “save” and wait 20-30 minutes before re-opening the email draft. I almost always end up deleting a good 25% of what I initially wrote and toning down the language. Plus, I think there’s something to be said for making people wait for your response.
4) Always being the martyr.
This is the story of my career. For years, I was a subtle martyr — always raising my hand despite having a full plate, silently logging time put in on weekends, passively sending emails at 10 pm on a weeknight. I never wanted to be a complainer, so I would just wait (and pray) for someone to notice and reduce my workload while also giving me the kudos I deserved.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work like that.
No one is going to play your mom at work. If everyone thinks you’re a workaholic, they’ll treat you like one, and you’ll never really escape that always-on lifestyle. While it’s certainly not good to be a complainer, I’ve learned to be unafraid to raise my hand for help or turn down a project when appropriate. Sure, there will always be that new business pitch or new opportunity that may be worth temporarily sacrificing your sanity for growth, but it’s important to know when that is the case and when it isn’t. Otherwise you might find yourself wasting your good years at the office.
5) Fearing change.
It took me awhile to leave my first agency, because it felt like I had it so good there. I had moved up super quickly and had great clout in the company. I was comfortable with my colleagues and leaders, and I generally liked the clients I was working on.
But I knew deep down that I had hit a brick wall, and was no longer learning. I was stuck in a rut, feeling really uninspired and unchallenged. And I felt like that for over a year before I did anything about it.
Moving on to my second agency was the best thing I ever did. Not only did I significantly increase what I was making, I opened myself up to new and exciting opportunities that truly challenged me to my core. I would lie if I said it wasn’t hard at first, but now I love where I’m at. I’ve continued to grow and gain perspective, and I’m so happy I have both experiences at both agencies to fuel who I am as a professional. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to move on.