stress about your early career

The following article was written by a colleague reflecting on their early career

A fraction of a fraction of advice is impactful

We hear it time and time again. The unsolicited advice we get from our peers and our mentors regarding our early careers. Most of this advice is decent advice. But decent advice isn’t going to get you anywhere. More than that, this advice isn’t impactful – can you recall any of the advice that you’ve received in the past 12 months? I’d wager that most can recall a few things. Of those few tidbits, you’ve probably taken to heart a fraction.

So, a fraction of a fraction of this advice is meaningful. How much of this advice is in the form of consolation when you screw up? You botch a technical presentation or score a poor performance review. You vent to your friends and your mentors. Usually, and naturally, you’ll get affirmation that it’s not your fault. Or that there’s a misunderstanding. Or… or… [insert excuse here].

When I say stress, I mean it

I’m not saying that this is bad. In fact, I’d argue that this serves a necessary social function. But don’t let that get in the way of learning from your mistakes (if that’s what you want to do). If you have aspirations to own your own organization, work for yourself, climb the corporate ladder, or any combination, you’ll need to experience self-advice.

When I say self-advice, I mean a lesson that you’ve truly reflected upon and internalized. That poor performance review – dissect it. Sure, there could be a misunderstanding with your boss or with your colleagues, but what’s the source of that misunderstanding? Honestly, getting critical feedback from a performance review is pretty rare. So I’d take that and run with it.

Make a lot of mistakes early on

I can’t emphasize this next point enough: MAKE A LOT OF HONEST MISTAKES EARLY ON.

Seriously. Mess up big time. Embarrass yourself. I don’t mean act like a jerk and behave like an animal. I mean, work at 100mph and with total confidence. Speak up and screw up. What I lacked most in my early career was confidence. Of course I didn’t know the material. I was cautious in my approach. I didn’t make many mistakes because I didn’t take any risks. I missed out on learning opportunities.

Early on in anything, you have to stress about it. Yes, there’s an optimum level of stress that provides a balance of drive and motivation. What I mean is, you have to:

  • Take risks
  • Make mistakes
  • Stress over them
  • Learn from them

To me, stressing over these mistakes looks like listening to criticism and feedback (constructive or not; just listen) or assessing your feelings of embarrassment and failure.

A mistake or failure is an opportunity. Take inventory of them. Reflect on them. Write about them. Objectively dissect them.

That’s what stressing over my early career should’ve looked like. We always hear that the road to success is paved with failures. I try to take that literally. The more mistakes I make, the closer I am to succeeding in what I truly want (which is a topic of discussion for another day).

Take it personal

Yes, take it personal. You’re not doing nearly enough to learn from the ample opportunities found in your mistakes. Trust me. If you’re in your early career or starting something new for the first time – take the time to screw something up while moving at 100mph and with 100% confidence. It’ll be worth it.