Six years may not seem like a lot of time, but it feels like it for my career. It seems like only yesterday I was a wide-eyed student working in New York City as an editorial intern for HGTV Magazine. Now, I’m a badass lady boss working in Southern California on her own time with her own international client base. So much has happened between these two chapters of life: a lot of ups, just as many downs, and everything in-between.
Though I still have much to experience, I’d like to think I’ve learned some things that can apply to anyone, wherever they are in their career. I don’t profess to know it all; in fact, some of my advice could be considered counterintuitive. What I do know with absolute certainty is that if I hadn’t come to these realizations, I wouldn’t be where I am right now writing this to you.
If I could stand in front of the young, hungry, scrappy Allison of 2012 knowing all that lied ahead for her—a strong corporate career followed by successful entrepreneurship—here’s what I would say…
If you were really at risk, you’d know about it
Early in my career, I was constantly worried. I would become consumed by the slightest mistake—even something I anticipated would become a mistake—for fear that I’d get fired for it. For example, a friendly email from my boss asking when she could expect a project would be translated as “I’m fed up waiting for you, you’re done here!” My mom gave me this piece of advice and it’s stayed with me ever since. If you were really at risk—of getting a warning or being fired—you’d know about it. You wouldn’t have to question it. Trust me. Try your best not to overthink everything.
You can’t make everyone happy
I had this great friend when I started out in corporate: we’d take walks together and even go shopping during lunch breaks. We talked about almost everything and confided in each other—that is, until I was promoted to Assistant Manager. I couldn’t believe the immediate change in my “friend’s” disposition. She was cold and short-tempered with me while seemingly kind to everyone else on our team. I learned the hard way that while you hope others will support your success, you can’t make everyone happy. The tension continued for almost a year until this person left the company (p.s. good call on remaining professional at all times; it wasn’t easy but very necessary).
Be the hardest-working employee, period
You’re going to have to work hard to get what you want, and it won’t always be fun or pretty. In fact, if you’re in a typical corporate environment you’ll sometimes feel taken advantage of. When I was in corporate, I remembered being the first person to enter the office—not just within my immediate team, but the entire company—for months on end. I would turn on the lights at 5 a.m. and leave sometimes as late as 7 p.m.
This is one of my most vivid memories: flipping the switch and watching the lights go on in a ripple effect down the cubicles. When I was promoted to Director of Brand Strategy for the company’s content marketing division, I would sometimes work up to 15 hours a day. These long hours weren’t some “badge of honor” or competition to be the best; it’s simply what I needed to do to deliver my best work. Now that I’ve been working for myself for the last 2.5 years—never having to leave home or answer to anyone but myself—I’d say the long hours were well worth it. Remember that you’re not entitled to anything. You must earn it.
You eat an elephant one bite at a time
Another great piece of advice from mom! Early in my career, I would get overwhelmed at the thought of everything I had to do: blast out the bi-weekly eNewsletter, respond to client emails, proofread my colleague’s press release, start our quarterly white paper. My chest would tighten, and my vision would even start to go blurry. Every time this happened—which was a lot—my mom would simply ask, “How do you eat an elephant?” and I would reply, “One bite at a time.” You can’t do everything all at once. Pick a task and complete it. Then, the next. Take things one step at a time. And if you don’t finish everything you want or need to? Embrace the opportunity to be the first person in the office the next day ;)
No matter what, the sun will rise tomorrow
You’re going to screw up. It’s a fact of life. And if you’re anything like me—a self-criticizing perfectionist—it’s going to feel like you’re dying when you do. When you make a mistake, remember point #1, then remember that no matter what—no matter how bad it can possibly get—the Earth will keep turning and the sun will rise tomorrow. Life is not over. I understand it’s easier said than done, but just pick yourself up and keep going. Mastering this skill takes a lot of time, practice and self-love.
Make plans, but know when to adjust them
Early in my career, I had a hard time balancing and prioritizing tasks. I had this running document titled “SCHEDULE” where I would neatly outline that day’s tasks, by the hour, from the moment I arrived to the moment I left for the day. Back then, I thought this plan was foolproof.
I still use this doc (I find I need the structure), but my schedule management has drastically changed. I used to feel like a failure if I couldn’t finish every task in the time I had carefully allotted myself. So much so, that I would stay late just to finish the list of tasks in the order I had arranged them. In time, I came to understand that it’s not only okay but necessary to adjust to maximize efficiency and personal well-being. If you’re feeling sluggish and can’t get out of the slump, adjust your schedule to work on less intensive projects for the day. If a client deadline tightens, don’t be afraid to put off work that you know isn’t due for another week or two. Be flexible. You’ll thank yourself for it.
There are so many other pieces of advice I’d give: find a mentor, don’t be afraid of upper management (they’re no different than yourself, I promise). Hopefully these pieces of advice guide, motivate and inspire.
You may also like from Allison:
Allison is a Freelance Content Marketer and Author of “The Everyday Woman’s Guide to Entrepreneurship.” She helps disruptive brands drive extraordinary outcomes as a writer extraordinaire, and in her spare time consults female entrepreneurs as a personal brand strategist. She loves helping women discover their innermost power and confidence, which is what she believes to be the most effective drivers of sustainable change and long-term success.