Letter to My Younger Self on Careers

I often get tapped for advice by those who are just starting out in their careers. That got me thinking about what advice I would have given my younger self – the journalism graduate just getting a toehold in the work world. Here are a few nuggets of advice I would offer:

Focus on what matters. A large paycheck at a prestigious organization may seem inviting, but happiness at work primarily involves four things:

• Working with people you like
• Having a boss who takes an interest in your career
• Doing something that uses your skills
• Being able to make progress every day

Yes, you want to make a good living. And it’s impressive to work for a big-name company. But not at the expense of the items listed above.

Learn everything you can. Gain as much knowledge as possible early in your career so you can take those skills with you. Even if you don’t enjoy all aspects of the work, you can still use that experience as an opportunity to discover what you like and don’t like, which will help inform your next career move.

Ask for a raise before you have one foot out the door. Don’t assume the lack of a raise means you aren’t doing a bang-up job; it may just mean that your manager is so busy with his or her own projects, that benchmarking your pay (or even spending two minutes thinking about it) isn’t a top priority, or even a bottom one. Benchmark your own pay, and don’t feel sheepish about asking for a pay bump when you deserve it. I guarantee you that your colleagues are proactively engaging in these conversations.

Don’t be a mood sponge. It’s easy to assume that a brusque email or curt nod in the morning from your manager means you’re on shaky ground. Nine times out of 10, that’s not the case. Your boss has lots of things on his or her mind, so don’t take it personally. Also, don’t let a bitter coworker suck you into a negativity vortex. Distance yourself from people who bring you down, and focus more time on the people you like and whom you can learn from.

You don’t have to stay at a miserable job for a year. If a car accident seems like an attractive alternative to showing up for work, it’s time to move on, no matter how long you’ve been in your current spot. A wise person once said, “If you’re in a bad situation, get out of it.” That especially goes for jobs. Sure, it’s not ideal to leave a company after a few months, but if your job breaks your spirit, it’s time to go. Pronto.

What would you tell your younger self just starting out in your career? Please share your thoughts below.