Oh, to be 22 years old again! All of my body parts firm, none of my joints creaky. And the energy – tons of it! But would I really want to be in my early twenties again? Eh, probably not, but it’s fun to imagine what I would say if I could travel in a time machine and go talk to my younger self.
LinkedIn is running a series called #IfIWere22 in which LinkedIn members are encouraged to write career advice to their younger selves. So I joined in and wrote Career Advice for My 22 Year Old Self. As I wrote the piece for buttoned-down LinkedIn, more personal thoughts kept popping into my mind. So, go on over and read the LinkedIn post for some useful career advice. And read below to learn how my character was forged during those first exhilarating, uncertain and important years of my career.
If I could chat with my younger self, I would sit her down and give her a preview of the very interesting things that she had yet to encounter. I would lovingly take Jennifer-at-22’s hand, look her in the eye and tell her . . .
When your boss tells you that her boss thinks you “walk around too much” in the office and wonders what you do all day, stand tall. Be confident that your “walking around” is helps you get to know the 200 sales associates in the huge department store where you work. As their assistant personnel manager, it’s vital that you know them. It’s called building employee engagement and it will reap dividends for years to come, setting the stage for future leadership opportunities.
When the Queen Bee senior HR manager makes a dramatic big deal because you set down your notepad on “her” (empty) chair at an all-company meeting, declaring loudly, “Oh, no. It’s OK. I’ll just go to the BACK OF THE ROOM and sit there. I mean, this was my chair, but that’s fine . . . “ do not apologize profusely and offer to sit elsewhere. Know that this is Queen Bee’s issue, not yours. Apologize briefly, then sit down and hold your head high. You did nothing wrong. This is the way that some people act at work, but fortunately, in your career, you will work with far more people who are completely secure in their power and will not verbally berate you for such a small infraction.
As an Assistant Buyer for a department store, when you go in search of a shipment of sweaters and find yourself alone on the dock with the Dock Manager and he leers at you suggestively and makes inappropriate comments about being able to see through your skirt, stare him straight in the eye and keep it all business. Ignore his comment, ask for the shipping manifold. Even though your face is bright red, do not give him the satisfaction that he’s rattled you. He thinks he’s a gift to all women. But you know he’s a slimy jerk and his actions are reprehensible. This interaction will give you the compassion you need in future HR discussions about sexual harassment and its damaging effects in the workplace.
Normally, it’s not a good idea to listen to office gossip, but in some cases take heed. Several women have warned you to stay away from the vice president Mr. “X” during after work gatherings because his hands wander after a few drinks. Attendance at these events will bolster your career, so go and have a good time. But drink only soft drinks and watch in amazement (from the opposite end of the table where Mr. X sits) as you see that yes, indeed he does have hands that are way too friendly. This is also slimy, reprehensible behavior and it shows you that sometimes people in positions of authority abuse their power. This observation sets the stage for learning about the difference between leading with the power of one’s job title and leading from one’s character, all of which will roll up into a book you will someday author.
True stories, each and every one, and they happened within the first few years of my career. These situations occurred nearly three decades ago and I’d like to think that they are simply a sign of the times. Sadly, the stories I hear—today—from colleagues, close friends and clients tells me that these types of scenarios still play out with discouraging frequency even in the year 2014. I don’t regret the way I handled myself during these interactions. I did manage to maintain reasonable equanimity and more importantly, I learned something from each of these trying situations. I was young and 22. And I dealt with work life in the best way I knew how, given my experience at the time. Thankfully, it was enough.
What would you tell your younger self?