The year was 2009 and I had been working my first real job out of college for a year as a Marketing Coordinator at a big-time cable network in Los Angeles, CA. I thought I had made the big time working my dream job and living my best life. It was really a wonderful time in my life. I was young, working hard, and had my whole professional life before me.
Although I was livin’ the dream, there was a lot of hard knocks I have learned in these last 10 years of working. Invaluable lessons that have made me the person I am today. Some came easy, some were harder to swallow (see number 8 where I sat in my yearly review and balled my eyes out). It’s always good to reflect back on what you’ve learned and realize how far you’ve come. Here’s my 10 years in review with the 10 lessons I’ve learned.
1. Say yes
You need me to stay late to work on a project? Yes, I’ll do that. You need me to clean the toilets? Sure. Coworkers are having happy hour after work? Yup, I’m there. Saying yes shows you are willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Also, things like happy hours allow you to get to know your coworkers on a personal level. People like working with people they like. So be a person they like.
I said yes to opportunities when I first started out and it served me well. Not only did it help me excel at work, it got me a best friend who kindly took me out on my birthday when I didn’t have anyone in LA when I first moved there. Now she is more like my sister than a friend.
Saying yes shows you are hungry, a team player, and willing to go the extra mile. That’s how you get ahead.
2. Take big calculated risk
“You can always move back home.” That’s what my family and friends would say when I had a bad day in LA or was missing something in North Carolina or just homesick.
I moved out to LA after I finished college and I knew in my gut it was the right decision. Was it scary? Of course! But I knew that I could always move back home. And I eventually did after so many amazing experiences.
3. Be consistent and true to your word
In the vein of saying yes to everything, I was bad early in my 20s about saying yes when friends would ask me to do something, then the day would come. And I’d be tired or not really wanting to do whatever we were going to do, and I’d end up bailing. My dear friend I mentioned earlier started to call me out on it. She’d say don’t commit if you aren’t going to go. The person you made plans with is counting on you.
I know this is a little contradictory to number 1, but when you say yes, make sure you commit to that yes and don’t back out at the last minute. I’ve started using “maybe” a lot (now that I’m more established in my career and can pick and choose a little more what I commit to). And only saying yes when I’m 100%. Don’t bail on people. It’s rude and not how you make lasting connections.
4. Be indispensable, but dispensable
Let me break this one down for you as I know this is a weird one. When you are at a new job or trying to impress the higher ups, you have to be the go-to person. You want to be the person they put on the big accounts, the person they rely and lean on because they know you’ll get the job done (because you’ve said yes to new projects, been consistent, and true to your word). You want them to say, “What would we do without you?”. But if you are trying to get to the next level at work, you also have to be dispensable enough to have someone fill your roll when you have moved up and doing new things.
When I was first starting my career, I was a Marketing Coordinator/Assistant. I was the first permeant assistant that my boss had had (she went through many temps before). I proved myself and became her go-to person for everything. She would tell me how she wasn’t sure how she’d get along without me. That worried me as I was ready to take on a new role and advance at the company. I started writing down where things were and how I was doing things, and we started hiring interns so they could help with the work, but also so I could train them, and she could see others could do it too. She was also smart and knew I wanted more, so she promoted me. I was indispensable, but ultimately dispensable so I could go on to the next advancement and be indispensable there.
I’ll give you another example. A few years ago, I wanted off an account that was wearing me down. I felt like I had stopped growing and learning and was so in the weeds with a client, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I told every leader on my team I talked to that I wanted off the account. “But we don’t have anyone else to give it to, Alice Ann”. I heard that for 3 months (and believe me, I constantly brought it up). So, I took matters into my own hands and kept at it as I didn’t want to hear “no”. I joked that I needed to start a PR campaign with this account showing how amazing it was (in many ways it was, only I had gotten so burnt out I couldn’t recover). I thought about who I could see taking over this account, who would get great experience, and be happy to take on a challenge.
I had a casual conversation with the head of my department at our holiday party that year, and once again, he said “I don’t have anyone to give it to” that’s when I said, “What about (insert person’s name here), she would be great, from that area, and would be up for the challenge”. He said that wasn’t a bad idea, and a few weeks later, I got the call I was coming off that account. Which brings me to my next lesson I’ve learned.
5. Use every opportunity to shine
A holiday party is an opportunity to chat with your coworkers in a more relaxed setting. It’s a fun way to get to know people on a more personal level. But it’s also a way to show leaders you know what you are doing or an opportunity to talk about things you want to do. I used the opportunity to casually mention the account I wanted to come off and told them I had a plan how we could make that happen.
Another time, we had a team building exercise at a conference with our team that I was super jazzed about. We had to come up with skits and do other challenges in a fun relaxed environment. But it was also a competition. And I wanted to win. I had a team of amazing coworkers but they were a little more on the reserved side. Without even realizing it, I took the lead and steered my team to victory by getting everyone’s feedback, but also taking that leader role. I didn’t even realize my boss was watching. He made a comment later about how he was impressed with my leadership skills and I got a promotion 6 months later. I don’t think that was the only reason for the promotion, but I think it showed him I could be a leader on the team. Maybe something he wouldn’t have seen in the day to day of our jobs.
Taking every opportunity to shine can make or break your career. It has been one of my most valuable lessons. Speaking of a more “break” moment than a “make”…
6. Never say never
A couple years into working in LA for that big-time cable network, we had some sort of party for a new show and I was invited to go. I found myself talking to my mentor (a VP there who helped me get my job… more on that later) and the head of our Sports department (yeah, the guy that is in charge of all the big fights and sporting events that were aired on the network). I was being my normal chatty self and really killing it with my smarts and wit. The head of sports looked at me at some point in the conversation and said, “We need people like you on my team in New York”. And because I don’t think about anything before I say it, I blurted out “Oh, I’d never live in New York”.
Later that night my mentor pulled me aside and told me to never say never. I might have just lost an opportunity at a really cool big-time job because I said I’d never move to New York. In hindsight, for the right opportunity, I definitely would have moved. At least for a few months. To this day I still think what if I had said, “Sure! I’d love to chat more about opportunities on your team, are you available in the next few days to chat?” Simple as that. I could be running that department by now. Ha!
Moral of the story – never say never. Be open to new opportunities and where that could take you. If the concrete offer is on the table and it doesn’t feel right or you REALLY don’t want to move, then don’t. But at least be open to the possibilities until you get all the facts and the details have been worked out.
7. Come with solutions, not complaints
Over the years I’ve read articles, books, and listened to podcast where big time executives have talked about the best way to impress your boss or get a promotion was come to them with solutions, not complaints. I took that to heart. While I have in the heat of a few moments I’ve gotten annoyed and complained, I try and keep that under wraps at work. I go home and complain to my boyfriend or friends or family if I need to vent it out, but not to my team or manager (while not perfect, I strive to do this). Once I’ve cooled down, I come to my manager with solutions to issues I’m having. No one wants to hear you complain, they want to know how to fix it. So find them solutions and go home with your complaints.
8. Take constructive criticisms and own up to mistakes
This one was a tough one to me. As a recovering perfectionist, it is hard for me when I’m not perfect.
In my last review at the cable network, I had already decided I was going to quit and move back home a few months before that. And because I knew I was quitting, my work slacked slightly, and my bosses noticed. And in that review, they called me out on one project I hadn’t really done to the best of my ability. But the other several things I was working on were great. That one thing brought me to tears right there in that meeting with my manager and VP. Overall, my review was good. Probably a B+ if I had to rate it like a school grade, but I let my emotions and perfectionism get the best of me and couldn’t hold it in. I have never wept so hard in my life (to the point I told everyone else I was sick and had to go home after). And instead of being consoling, my VP told me to toughen up and gave me a “There’s no crying in baseball” type lecture. At the time, I thought, “How dare she be so mean!”. Now I realize she was right. I needed to toughen up and take constructive criticism and own up to my mistakes (and not fall apart in the process).
I am still naturally an emotional person (and that’s OK) but I have worked to not let my emotions get the best of me. Now I can (mostly) hold it together and cry it out to a close friend (or a coworker I trust). And realizing it’s not the end of the world to make mistakes. Learn from them and move on.
9. Don’t doubt yourself
Confidence in yourself is something I’ve worked on my whole life. I would tell myself “You got this” from a very young age even if I didn’t feel like “I had it”. Mind over matter and some power poses work will do the trick.
But what I realized is I DID have it. And if I didn’t, I’d figure it out. I hear my friends all the time saying they don’t think they are qualified for a job they want. But guess what, no one is 100% qualified or they’d be in the same job their whole lives. It’s more about having some of the things and proving you can do the job.
When I moved back to NC and interviewed for my first job back, I wasn’t qualified for the job. I had done marketing, but not specifically digital marketing. But I knew I’m a fast learner and was smart enough to figure it out and that’s what I conveyed in the interview process. I not only got the job, but received a promotion 6 months later for killing it. I knew I could do it, I just needed to be given the chance.
You got this too. If you struggle with confidence, find a hype girl to build that confidence. Find a friend/family member/coworker that believes in you and can hype you up when you are feeling shaky. These kinds of people are crucial in a time of need.
10. Always be networking
If you are new to me, know this, I love networking and connecting with new people. That is my super power. I eat, sleep, and breath it and it is the number one thing that has gotten me to where I am today. Without it, I have no idea where I’d be, but definitely not living my best life (or at least trying to live the best life).
Networking sounds like work and something that isn’t as organic as it really is. I’ve seen people “network” for the sake of networking, and you can tell when it’s not genuine. The person is just trying to figure out what you can do for them. Networking is about making genuine connections with people you find interesting or you have something in common with. Then you can help each other out and empower them to succeed. It’s really as simple as that. Say yes to more things, follow through, and you got this!
Interested in meeting some awesome women in the Raleigh/Durham area? I got you. I started a FREE networking group (called Oak City Society if you didn’t already know from the name of the website) just for that purpose. Helping each other succeed in life and business. You don’t have to be in business in order to network and meet people that will support you in whatever you are doing. Join us! Click here for more information and I hope to see you IRL (in real life) soon. What lessons have you learned in the last 10 years? What has helped you succeed in whatever you are doing? I want to hear from you so please comment below!