By: Jaime Ann Sanborn, MLIS, Instructional Designer | 7/06/2022 |
Every step in a career path provides an opportunity for growth and evolution- IF you take the time to reflect upon your experiences. Over the years, I have collected “lessons” that have shaped me into the person, and employee, that I am today. Some of these lessons could take a lifetime (or many lifetimes) to master but being aware of the need to master them is a sign of positive growth. Self-reflection is the most powerful tool a person can implement and the only way to become a better version of oneself. Through reflection, we can see things objectively, dispassionately, and with the wisdom of hindsight. I created the graphic above to depict the hierarchical representation of the Greatest Lessons Learned in My Career. When I say learned, I certainly do not mean mastered. I am a work in progress, just like all of you. Please allow me to explain.
#5 Slow Down
I was born in New York during a hurricane. Literally. I came into this world with a storm, and I think part of that storm found its way into my very being. Slowing down is hard for me- but absolutely necessary. There is an adage in woodworking that goes, “Measure twice; cut once.” I like to apply that to life in general, but especially to work. If we take more time preparing to act, we will be more effective, accurate, informed, and sensitive when we do act. Best to know what is in the water (or if there even is any water) before jumping in! This is a lesson that I must reflect upon daily to put into practice. I get excited. I want things to happen YESTERDAY. I am a little hurricane. Knowing this about myself helps me to be more conscious of slowing down.
#4 Talk Less, Listen More
When I was a child, no one could shut me up. I started speaking (and reading) at a very young age and wanted to be a part of every conversation. Life taught me (sometimes cruelly) that there is a time and place to speak and share, but more often than not, it is time to listen and allow space for others to speak and share. The only way to truly become an expert at anything is to listen and learn from others. At work, when I speak, it is often to ask questions. I seek out opportunities to learn from my colleagues and listen to their ideas. This is not to say I do not speak my mind. I use my voice to advocate for positive change. I use my voice to share what I know with those who ask for help. I use my voice to foster empathy. I still have much to learn about listening, but I am mindful of this practice. “Talk less, listen more” is my personal mantra. I am not going to learn anything new if all I hear is my own voice.
#3 Be Accountable
Oops, I did it again. The older I become, the more at peace I am with making mistakes. First, they are excellent learning opportunities. Nothing helps a concept stick to your grey matter better than goofing up for all to see. I have found that owning my mistakes not only helps me to (hopefully) never repeat them, but it helps to build trust with my colleagues. The only way out is through! Accountability for my actions shows my team that I am willing to face the music for the betterment of everyone. Not everyone is keen to own their boo-boos and it can be frustrating to have a colleague who never wants to admit that they are fallible. We are each on our own journey towards enlightenment! At the end of the day, the only actions I can control are my own, and I own my actions.
#2 Choose Kind
This one seems like a no-brainer, but sadly, we are all just taller children. For most of my career, I worked with children, and we stressed kindness in everything we taught them. However, adults do not always practice what they preach. In a world where most of our interactions are done through a computer screen, we can become anesthetized and distanced from our human connections. Just like my mantra of Talk Less, Listen More, I often remind myself about The Golden Rule. Practically every religion and philosophy on the planet adheres to some version of this concept of treating others as you wish to be treated. However, it is sometimes forgotten when our nervous systems respond to unexpected stimuli. This can be especially true in a stressful work environment. Kindness is a lesson that is a lifetime in the learning, and I am not always successful. Kindness requires mindfulness, reflection, and a purposeful sense of community. At work (as in life), choosing kind means caring enough about your colleagues to pause, think, reflect, and then act.
#1 Know Yourself
This one may just be the hardest lesson of them all. To know yourself means to allow the grace to love yourself, and to refuse to take part in anything that compromises who you know yourself to be. From our first interactions on the proverbial playground to the halls of high school to the interview room, the conference room, and so on, we let the world slowly chip away at our self-love and identity. Some of us are taught that boundaries are selfish and our accessibility to others should be limitless. We may even be pressured to go against what we know to be right all for the sake of acceptance, community, or employment. Knowing yourself means understanding what you will and will not accept in your life. For example, I believe in inclusivity defined as all people having equitable access to information, civil rights, opportunity, justice, and the means for happiness. Knowing myself means refusing to align with any organization that does not also hold these ideas as non-negotiable.
Of all the lessons I have learned throughout my career, the greatest is that I can never be an inauthentic version of myself. Knowing myself is empowering. It has helped me to have the bandwidth to slow down, talk less/listen more, take accountability, and choose kind. Knowing myself has allowed me to evolve and continue to evolve. Like you, I am a work in progress. There will be many more lessons to learn before the far-off horizon of retirement, but these are the five that I hold close to my heart because they will ultimately make me a better human.