Advice from Elsewhere

I got some great advice submissions for my book giveaway contest!

Here are the five winning entries—each of whom will be receiving a copy of my book—plus two honorable mentions that I had to share. I included a quick note explaining what I liked about each one.

Thanks to everyone who participated! Stay tuned for the second and final giveaway—or subscribe to my newsletter for updates.

Winners (in No Particular Order)

Make Life Easier for Bosses and Clients

I have advice! Always think about how to make your boss/client’s life easier. Assume that they are completely slammed with work at all times and don’t remember the thing you’re about to talk to them about–give as concise context as possible, ask your question, and offer the possible solutions and your recommendation.

Marie L.

This is a smart tip for dealing with bosses and clients—and coworkers too, for that matter. There are are so many unavoidable time-wasters in the course of a given workday. Don’t make yourself part of the problem by failing to consider the needs of your colleagues.

Admit Your Weaknesses (So You Can Learn)

It has taken me what feels like entirely too long to realize that we are all essentially children in adult suits, muddling our way through. I have spent a lot of time afraid to speak up, or puffing myself up to look important and like I knew what was going on, because I was sure that everyone around me was full of knowledge and operating with complete certainty. This tied in with a paranoia that it was only a matter of time before everyone discovered that I was the only person making things up as I went along, and when word got out I’d be laughed out of…I don’t know, my workplace, my career field, the working world as a whole? I suppose it’s a form of imposter syndrome. It has however gradually become clear to me that owning up to not being omniscient coupled with a willingness to learn is a much healthier and more productive way to be. It’s those colleagues who come in certain they know everything and thus have no reason to grow or learn who are most difficult to work with, because of course (so far) none have actually been all-knowing so dealing with them is like having a conversation with a brick wall. Not that I blame them, it seem likely they’re operating with the same insecurities I recognized in myself!

I’m finally at a point where a combination of internet research, “I don’t know, let’s try A, and if it doesn’t work, B might be similar enough” logic and asking the people around me gets me through most tasks with reasonable success. Each instance of not knowing how I was going to finish something, but working my way through it one step at a time, makes me feel better about that method—if only I’d started sooner.

Mara S.

This is just excellent advice all around, regardless of career level: people who can honestly assess their shortcomings (and forgive themselves for having them) are going to be more pleasant and more effective colleagues.

Work Is Other People (and Their Conflicts)

The advice I wish I’d been given earlier is more a fact than real advice – I wish I had known that no workplace is perfect and free from interpersonal conflict. There will always be co-workers with whom you do not get along, or co-workers who don’t get along with each other, or bosses that behave in an unreasonable way and clash with someone, or terrible office politics in general… Just like there is conflict in ‘regular’ relationships outside work, there is pretty much always going to be conflict in a workplace in one way or another. Knowing this beforehand would have helped me get going with realistic expectations, and reassured me that it’s not my task to fix this, and that certain things I notice don’t have to do with me, but rather with the way that particular workplace functions.

Patricia S.

Career satisfaction is all about setting achievable goals, and “my coworkers and I will be BFFs” isn’t terribly achievable. If you’re determined to find a totally harmonious workplace, you might never stop job searching.

Don’t Be a Prisoner to Optimism (or Bad Jobs)

My career advice, after 19 years in tech:

While many things in life do get better, jobs rarely do (never, in my experience). If it feels like it’s starting to go south, start looking for a new gig immediately instead of sticking around, hoping the trouble will pass. Maybe the company is starting to fail, maybe it’s just become a bad fit for you (maybe it always was), but it’s probably not going to get better.

Cathy M.

While it’s a good idea to try addressing problems that emerge in your workplace, it’s also true that job searches take a while. If full-on frustration has set in, that’s a sign you might want to start planning your exit.

Don’t Be an Emotional Vampire

Don’t be an emotional vampire at work. Workplaces can get stressy, and talking about the stress can be therapeutic in small doses, but don’t use your coworkers as your primary emotional support when the pressure is on, because they have morale to keep up too. No one expects you to act like Pollyanna when enormous deadlines are looming, but running around shrieking that the sky is falling doesn’t help the other people who are trying to meet their deadlines. This goes double if you are a boss, and you’re supposed to be insulating your team from constant negativity.  Everyone can get more done when the office environment is low-emotion.

If you need to unload your fears that your tasks are just not doable, your manager is paid to absorb your stress. Your other coworkers aren’t, so don’t make them freak out in solidarity.

Marya D.

There’s a fine line between venting and wallowing—the former is acceptable in moderation, but the latter is totally unproductive. Doing your best to remain calm and focused on the task at hand (rather than the stress it produces) will prevent you from tipping over into freakout territory.

Honorable Mentions

Have the Gift of Gab

I wish I had known that being good at politics, is really just a talent of knowing how to talk to people. Apparently, knowing when to shut up and when to talk smack is great for dealing with politics at work (even when you work in the government). I’ve been good at this for the greater majority of my life, but I had no idea it translated to work politics so well.

Daisy E.B.

Another helpful reminder that “work” is basically an ecosystem of colleagues. If you want to get stuff done, you’re going to forge and maintain relationships with everyone else in your office.

Definitions of “Professionalism” Are Context-Dependent

My parents were business people, and I have always prided myself on looking and acting professionally. From retail and customer service jobs in my teenage and college years, to my graduate school “career”. Wait, scratch that last. All of my peers in academia, who were also in their early to mid-20s, as I was when I started, HATED that I had a closet full of trousers and sensible shoes. (It should have been jeans and chucks.) My emails, my demeanor, and my wardrobe were all perceived as snotty and uppity and better-than-thou. I wish I had understood that work culture would differ so much in different broad fields. I already “knew” what I needed to do to show I was a hard worker and a good team member, didn’t observe and adjust, and ended up ostracized and at a disadvantage because I didn’t have peer support at this crazy time in my life. Now that I’m about to graduate with my PhD, I don’t think I’ve changed much (I really don’t) but my advisor can’t stop commenting on it. Maybe it’s just more ok now for me to act like a grownup, since I’m higher up in the graduate student food chain. From what I understand, people whose parents were academics did not encounter this. I will also note that I started in Chicago, city of many businessladies, and ended at a college in Michigan, where local grade schools get the first day of deer hunting season off, so… who knows.

Emily S.

I think it’s important to remember that each region, workplace, and industry has its own quirks. Performing “professionalism” is about finding a balance between your own true self (whatever that is) and whatever’s expected of someone in your particular role.