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Lessons Learned in My 20’s

I’ve been thinking lately about lessons learned when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I have a few tips to (some) millennials – the drivers, some say, of the new workplace. I say “some” because there are two kinds of people in the workplace, regardless of age:

  1. Those who are a “sponge”: driven by a creative passion to work at learning and achieving, while having the confidence and willingness to acquire knowledge from others in and out of the workplace.

  2. Those who are driven by mental, physical, and intellectual relaxation and comfort.

Those in the first category are often trailblazers and high achievers; those in the second may succeed to a degree, but they’re often low productivity, low output individuals.

It’s been over 40 years since I started working as a journalist. Looking back, I agreed to do some pretty crazy things at a very young age: I was 17 when I did my first broadcast radio newscast; 21 when I was an assignment editor at a major market TV news operation; 24 when I worked for NBC News Elections as a state manager; 26 when I was a news manager in a newsroom of 110 people.

I was completely inexperienced and relatively unqualified to be hired for all of those positions.

Did I have the technical knowledge to perform well when I took on each of those challenges? Absolutely not! But the more important truth is this: I was determined to hyper-work and “learn myself up” to the standard those positions required quickly before I had a chance to fail miserably.

I learned early on to say “yes” to every provocative opportunity that was beyond my level of experience. Those opportunities that didn’t somehow move my skills beyond where I was were simply…well… of no great meaning to me.

In a strange way, my greatest asset in those early days was my ignorance. When you don’t know any better, you can create strong, nontraditional solutions to whatever the challenge you have in front of you. But those solutions have to be informed by understanding and acutely observing the basic standard of excellence in whatever it is you’re working on.

Here are five things I think you should live by as you grow in your career:

  1. Always say yes to “impossible” opportunities. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and do things you haven’t done before.

  2. Work like a dog… and then some. Work relentlessly to achieve your personal standard of excellence – but guard yourself against burnout!

  3. Look in the mirror. Really grill yourself. Criticize your own work & invite others to, as well. Improve standards daily. But remember: self-criticism should never turn into self-loathing.

  4. Don’t worry about lifestyle. Enjoy your life, with home-work balance – but don’t get too much down time: you’ll lose your edge and risk getting mentally and creatively lazy.

  5. Leave arrogance at the door. Just because you’re doing well, that doesn’t mean you’re indispensable. Humble people keep growing; arrogant people tend to flame out.


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