3 work lessons I learned in my 20s that saved my career

I’m thankful for all of the great career lessons I learned in my 20s. Thanks to the poor decisions and mistakes I made (and yes, there were a lot of those) I started off my 30s feeling prepared to kick butt in the workplace. As I reflect back on what many people refer to as “their selfish years,” here are three of the most important lessons I learned.

You won’t make it if you fake it

In my early 20s, I was overly concerned with giving others the impression I was smart and knew it all. Even if I didn’t understand what someone was saying or asking I would nod my head and act as if I did.

This behavior backfired in a few ways—I’d leave meetings confused, disengaged and unprepared to work on my action items AND there were times I had to confess that I pretended to know something.

Needless to say, this didn’t contribute to the “smart” image I was trying to convey and significantly put my reputation at risk. Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes early on and am now upfront and honest with myself and others about what I know…and don’t know.

Work-life balance is critical

Early in my career, I naively thought the best way to get ahead was to eat, sleep and breathe work. After a few years of ignoring myself and working too much, I found myself burnt out, disengaged and depleted of creativity. This showed in my work quality and productivity.

After years of demonstrating workaholic like behavior, I finally broke free of my bad habits (well, most of them anyway). I started leaving work at a reasonable hour, made exercising a part of my daily routine and limited myself to no more than three hours of computer time on the weekends. Today, I am now healthier and more balanced, which has led me to have a more fulfilling and successful career.

You can’t do it alone

To put it mildly, I had a bit of an ego in my 20s. I was overly defensive, continually compared myself to others, and all too often craved attention and recognition. While it pains me to admit it, I rarely put others’ needs and ideas before my own.

Reality, for me, set in when I started noticing others didn’t want to work with me on projects. I had learned this was because I had gained a reputation of stealing the spotlight and not being a team player.

Although hearing this hurt, it was the kick in the pants I needed to become more collaborative and open-minded. Nowadays, I am humble, team-focused and never forget to take my co-workers’ thoughts and feelings into account.

Surviving my 20s in the workplace was hard but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. I’m now a better and wiser person who can’t wait to see what her 30s will bring.

What important career lessons did you learn in your 20s?

Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “3 work lessons I learned in my 20s that saved my career”

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jessica @TheMissJessie. I couldn’t agree with you more! I love the quote, “Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”

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