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.

teams: cultivate a culture of ownership

Do you enjoy your current role?

Think about this question beyond the surface. Are you content in your current capacity? Have you always been content in the roles you’ve held? We’d imagine you’re reading this quickly and brushing off the questions. Perhaps you’re perfectly happy, or perfectly unhappy. We doubt that’s all there is to it.

Humor us for a bit. Grab a pen, keyboard, or stylus and take a 15 minutes to reflect. We’ve discussed the power of writing in a previous article, however, a key theme here at @nwlbrand is repetition of foundational principles. Again, take a few minutes to answer, in an exhaustive and stream of consciousness manner (i.e. write words as they come to you without proofreading) the following questions:

  • Am I content in my current capacity?
  • What would I change about my role?
  • What decisions have I made about my current role that I would change?
  • What do I think would happen if I had the opportunity to make these changes?
  • What changes are within my power to make?

Regardless of your opinion of your position, positive or negative, you should routinely take inventory of your condition. Analyze your team and your network. The outcome of this process is a leading indicator of future performance.

Forever a student and teacher

You’re never done learning and you’re never done teaching. Whether or not you recognize your influence on impressionable individuals, the impact is real. This dichotomy of perpetual learning and teaching is paramount to making sense of the present.

This brings us to the crux of the article – cultivating a team culture of ownership. This culture is the result of the countless interactions between team members. The dynamism is complex and an almost natural phenomenon. Recognizing this dynamic allows us to focus on the base unit of this culture – the individual. A culture of ownership is one in which the individual is prioritized and the individual feels as though they own the success of the organization.

Skin in the game

Now think back on your writing exercise. Now think about the Silver Rule (“do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you”). Encourage intentional self-reflection, spontaneous activity and individual passions, and, most importantly, the feeling of purpose. Excavating purpose in your role and for your team will result in skin in the game. As a team member or leader, you require something significant to lose in the event the team fails (and something significant to gain if the team succeeds).

An example

Recently, one of our developers requested he share one of his past reflections regarding his previous role at a large corporation (these reflections are encouraged to be kept secret to avoid any external pressures). His previous position was exhausting. He was living “cash to bank” and felt no ownership in his role. He worked hard, but only did what was minimally required of him. He eventually built what he was lacking, ownership. He was missing the opportunity to build what he wanted and when he wanted (within reasonable expectation of his obligations to his employer).

Working in a team without a culture of expression, spontaneity, and purpose will lead to burnout and de-motivation in one’s personal life. He carries with him now an entrepreneurial attitude and we actively encourage this expression of creativity. We try to honor the silver rule and don’t stifle what we wouldn’t want stifled, that is ownership.

In any case, we wrote this article in response to his passion for silly-fun projects. We wanted to showcase his side-project as we find it an incredibly valuable example. Check out the preview below! Coming soon to the Apple App Store – Squirmy Worm!

https://twitter.com/nwlbrand/status/1276141132288872448?s=20

Closing

We won’t drone on and on about something most likely to be disregarded as trendy common sense. What we’ll leave you with is the importance of encouraging time of written self-reflection in your team. In turn, consistent reflection will lead to a strengthened mental fortitude and more intentional interactions. In the end, this will build a foundation for ownership.