3 Career Lessons Executives Wish They Knew Earlier in Their Careers

There has been no period of change in the workplace quite like the past few years – at least not since the Industrial Revolution. As a result, more people than ever are wondering how to navigate their careers in the face of such change.  

It’s why I asked 3,000 senior executives: “What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started your career?” In this post, I’ll focus on sharing their answers in the form of tips on career success, so you can have a career to be proud of. 

Tip #1: Be so good they can’t ignore you.

The world defaults to ignoring you unless you rise above the mediocrity and become so skilled at what you do that others can’t help but take notice.

I can relate to this. My primary focus is spending countless hours on my craft in pursuit of this standard, trying to make every keynote a little better, everything I write a little more insightful, every course I create a little more engaging.

As a result, I often get asked, “How do you get hired so often as a keynote speaker? What social media strategy do you use? What are the tricks of the trade?”. The truth is, nothing works like word-of-mouth. People see me perform and tell others, “You’ve got to hire this guy.” That only happens when you’re so good they can’t ignore you, which only happens for me because

I focus on putting in the work. There are no shortcuts. Craft first, with craftiness in promoting as a very distant second.

So, how can you apply the challenge, “be so good they can’t ignore you” to your career and success?

Often, in my experience, it comes down to working twice as hard as the job requires on the things that matter most. By being the CEO of your projects (having more knowledge and wisdom about what you’re working than anyone else could ever hope to have). And by expecting to be given nothing. Know that you’ll have to earn it. When you start to feel entitled to something, you spend less time working hard to get it and more time complaining that you don’t have it yet. That’s not a formula for career success.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.

Tip #2: Be an original thinker.

People value original thinking, yet many organizations are filled with sameness and standard thinking.

For example, a CEO of a creative-idea-generating company told me the biggest reason so many companies don’t innovate well is that the ideas they generate are way too close to things they’re already doing. They’re driven by the habit of clinging to the familiar.

It’s easy to get caught thinking and acting in a way that’s a “company norm” (which isn’t always the right norm). Over time, you might find it’s easier to just fall in line with typical thinking, and slowly, you start contributing less and less of your unique gifts to the world. It’s a huge career regret I uncovered in my research, that people had lost their distinctive way of thinking and so had less success and significance than they ever intended. It’s one way that extraordinary careers can become ordinary careers.

Don’t let this happen to you. Protect your unique gifts and original thinking by practicing curiosity, developing healthy skepticism, and by being aware of the danger of the familiar. Having lots of experience with and knowledge about something can be just as dangerous as it is helpful. You can lose objectivity and the familiarity can soon lead to overconfidence, complacency, and a habit of, “let’s just go with what we know.” Falling into this trap can mean far less creative thinking and impactful solutions.

Be an original thinker

Keep a creative mindset and protect the “uniqueness” within you

Tip #3: Never stop learning.

The concept of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset is well-established now. A fixed mindset says you believe your abilities are a fixed trait, a growth mindset says you believe your abilities can grow through effort and learning. Not surprisingly, a growth mindset correlates with career success.

But how do you maintain a learning and growth mindset over your career? By periodically reflecting upon this question:

“What can I learn to advance my career, cause, and curiosity?”

First, consider what you could learn to directly help your career, like having lunch with a mentor who gives great career advice, or intentionally working on communication skills through a public speaking class.

Next, think about what you could learn to help feed your cause, something bigger picture that’s important to you. For example, a cause of mine is kindness, a core value that adds purpose to my life. I’m always fond of learning new things about co-workers to see how I might be able to help or support them.

Finally, what could you learn to feed your curiosity? Maybe you’re interested in astronomy or learning Spanish so you sign up for courses on either.

By the way, learning to feed your cause or curiosity also helps your career because it makes you more well-rounded and helps you find more joy in the learning process, which makes it more likely you’ll develop an overall learning habit – which is vital for sustained success.

Never stop learning

Feel free to learn anything you like, as long as you keep your spirit of learning and growth “lighted up”.

So, for career success, take it from 3,000 successful executives: be so good they can’t ignore you, be an original thinker, and never stop learning.

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