September 25, 2022
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Work advice to help you succeed in your career

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(Emma Kumer/The Washington Post)

A good mentor can transform the way you approach your career. They can share their perspective and offer advice as someone who is rooting for your success.

We asked Washington Post readers to share the advice from their mentors that has helped them the most. More than 300 wrote in to offer up their best work lessons across a broad range of industries. It turns out, no matter what you do, some advice is universal.

“‘No matter how bad the situation, never lie. A lie will just make things worse.’ This is universal advice at the Milwaukee County House of Correction. I retired from there as the correction manager, while giving the same advice as I walked out the door for the last time.” — Michael Anderson, 65, Greenfield, Wis.

“Make time to meet with your supervisor and discuss problems that bother you before you reach your breaking point. Don’t let things build and build inside; meet and discuss them before small things become big problems.” — Wayne Alden IV, 43, San Diego

“Make the decision. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, just that a decision is made so you can move forward. If it’s wrong you can always correct later, but indecision gets you nowhere.” — Cheryl Downes McCoy, 56, Oakland, Calif.

“Never give someone a blank piece of paper. Give them a draft, however bad, so they have a starting point.” — Katherine Kirkland, 70, Edgewater, Md.

“‘Assume good intentions’ of those we work for, or with, or those we interact with as part of our job.” — D’Anne Brownell, 71, Solvang, Calif.

“As I was burning the (literal) midnight oil getting a big report finished for one of my first corporate survey research clients, a senior colleague said, ‘Remember to think of your career as a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t, you will burn out long before you ever get to the finish line, which is still many decades down a very long road for you.’ He was right. As a professor now two and a half decades later, I have regularly repeated that sage wisdom to some of my harder-charging undergrads at Dartmouth when they are feeling unnecessarily stressed due to unsustainable levels of perfectionism.” — Deborah Brooks, 51, Hanover, N.H.

“Your workplace can function without you. Don’t endanger your health trying to work when you are sick, and take your vacation time.” — Maggie Holder, 65, Pittsburgh

Regarding leading a risky project: ‘This initiative isn’t about you. It’s about our organization. You didn’t decide to go this direction — we all did. We are all responsible for its success.’” — Sue Monahan, 58, Oregon

“I made a dreadful mistake that wasted $10,000. I asked my boss if I was fired, and he said, ‘I’m not firing you. I just spent $10,000 training you!’ That approach influenced the way I managed others for many years.” — Tim Goncharoff, 67, Fairfield, Calif.

“One of the first things my mentor told me was this: ‘Other than the occasional birthday party, managers hate surprises.’ Always loop them in on both the good and bad.” — Adam Reiff, 56, Noblesville, Ind.

Money and career advancement

“Sign up for and put a set amount of money into your retirement account before you get your first paycheck. That way you will never really ‘miss’ it, because you never had it to spend in the first place. You will be shocked how much money is in there when you retire.” — Michelle Majewski, 49, Anaheim, Calif.

“You cannot get what you need, like a raise or a new laptop, unless you say what you need. You can’t assume your boss will know what it is. So, ask.” — Carla Barnwell, 66, Urbana, Ill.

“’No one will be more invested in your work than you are.’ Meaning, if you want something, you need to believe in your own work and worth, and be willing to advocate for what you want. You can’t count on people to just happen to notice you.” — Rayna Flye, 40, Portland, Ore.

“Decisions are made about your career every day. Make sure you are the one making them.” — Mike Clare, 35, Washington, D.C.

What is the best advice you have ever received from a work mentor? Share it in the comments.



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