10 Things I Learned Along the Way

During my Incredibly Successful Career (ISC) I’ve had some good and bad but always instructive experiences. Face it, work can be hard.  That’s why it’s called work.  But work doesn’t have to be a drudge.  It can be rewarding. For those of you who haven’t quite found the Holy Grail of work satisfaction, these might help.  They all helped me, some much later when I reflected upon them.  Now you don’t have to wait and reflect, you can just memorize these.

1.  Don’t dwell on mistakes.  Learn from them.  If you have never made a mistake please ascend to heaven and leave the rest of us alone.  The point is that mistakes happen and they will happen again.  You can wallow in them and become caught up in woe or you can move on with the wisdom gained from what happened.  Trust me, the learning from mistakes is much more profound than the learning from successes.

2.  Give credit and take some too.  It’s okay to be that selfless person who deflects the spotlight onto others.  Your colleagues love it when you praise them.  But if nobody ever knows what you accomplished or what your contribution was, you may become relegated to the shadows.  That can ultimately become a dead end.  So when you are asked Who did that? go ahead and raise your hand… assuming, of course, you did that.

3.  You can’t hear a thing if you’re not listening.  I was once told by a client that I was a great listener.  I asked him what he meant.  He said:  “Too many people want to provide an answer before they really know the problem.  They think they will get extra credit somehow for providing a solution to a problem that may not exist.  They talk too much and never really listen to what my needs are.”  Wow.  Advice I never forgot.  It’s amazing how much you can learn when you truly listen to what is being said — and not being said.

4.  Empowering others is powerful.   A lot of my success came from the work done by others.  I found that when they did well, I did too.  My epiphany came when I was editing a plan submitted to me for my review.  As I started changing stuff, it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t correcting mistakes, I was making it the way I would say and do it.  So instead of changing it, I returned it to the person and told her it was an excellent plan and to go ahead.  Giving others the freedom and authority to accomplish stuff and not second guessing them is the best way to get things done.   Having the self-confidence to let them do their thing can be scary but is ultimately rewarding for everyone.

5.  Always take your work seriously, never yourself.   I’ve worked with a few self-important assholes (SIA) along the way.  You know who they are — they dominate meetings and conversations by being loud, not necessarily wise.   They are credit-takers.   They are finger-pointers who spend inordinate time placing blame.   They want everyone to know they are a big deal.  They choose to pontificate and intimidate.  Give me the self-effacing, calm, problem-solving person who is making a difference.  She isn’t an SIA because she has earned the respect of her peers by solving problems and collaborating in ways that make the work actually interesting and fun.

6.  Be on time.  If you can be ten minutes late, you can be ten minutes early.  Arriving late  is all about you.  It’s  selfish and disrespectful.  It will cause others to think less of you and not take you seriously — since you chose not to take their time seriously.

7.  The first thing you write is never right.  I have edited this post several times.  Just as you need a filter from your brain to your mouth, you need to exercise control from your brain to your fingers.  Good writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Great writing is a function of editing.

8.  Simplify.  Distilling complex situations into a clear course of action is hard. Creating mountains of power point slides and reams of booklets can cause the recipient to wonder if you really have an idea or solution.  I once was part of a pitch to a potential mega-client in which our team was composed of ten people, each with a speaking role, with lots of power point and presentation boards covering a multitude of scenarios over three hours.  We lost to a competitor who had two people present three compelling ideas in half an hour.  We had no real idea, just a lot of adjectives.  Know the difference.

9.  Be yourself, all dressed up.  My dad taught me this.  You should not have a “business” behavior and language.  I’ve known some folks whose voices dropped an octave when they were making a presentation.  And I’ve known a lot of people who use business speak, but all they’re really doing is using jargon instead of providing actual knowledge or insight.  Use the same words in business that you would use among friends and family.  One exception: Never use the word “cool.” Cool needs to be retired.

10.  Do the best you can and nothing else matters. 

Bonus Round

11.  Honor thyself.  You have the obligation and responsibility to have a job you truly enjoy — work that matters.  Be selfish about it.  Only you can decide what is right for you.  If your mantra is “I’m just happy to have a job,” you need to get a new mantra.

12.  Do what’s right.  There will always be moments when you are faced with a tough choice.  Let your moral compass guide you.  It clarifies.  It simplifies.  It keeps your conscience in good shape.


6 responses to this post.

  1. I enjoyed the lessons you have learned, thanks for sharing ! If I may, I suggest a simple rule as well that demonstrates many of your learned-lessons simply: Return phone calls.

    Many times people suffer from the “I’m so busy, or too busy” attitude and decide to ignore a person trying to reach them, by waiting for that person to continue to call the “too busy” person back. In my humble opinion (IMHO). Self importance attitudes lead to lost opportunities. Take the time to return the call, if the deal or conversation is not what you want, simply thank the person for their time and effort and say “goodbye.”


  2. Oh yeah and emails too. The ones that get me are the ones who initiate the call/email to me and when I return it they never respond. Huh?


  3. Posted by Kristen Schiebel on April 21, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Love it!


  4. Posted by Tracy Guza on April 22, 2010 at 6:12 am

    This list is perfect and timely to me. Simplify. If only every creative agency could heed this advice. Smoke and mirrors never solves client challenges. I also appreciate the advice to be on time and do what is right. The world of work would be a better place if everyone would observe even one or two of these premises.

    Thanks for once again teaching me a lot!


  5. Oh, Jan, you’ve done it again. Just when your previous posts have me snickering, you come through with dead-on advice. I was lucky enough to hear your perspectives face-to-face for many years. Nice to see they transfer to the virtual world, too.


    • Thanks for the kind words John. I’m having a lot of fun with the blog and it’s really gratifying to hear from people like you who I have so much respect for. As for the snickering stuff you can be sure there will be more…there is so much lunacy out there it’s pretty easy.


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