A lot happens in a decade, especially the first decade of your career. Recently, I turned 30, and I reflected on my work experience thus far and was surprised by how drastically my mindset and beliefs about work ethic have shifted over the years. Today, I’m highlighting four major beliefs about my career that changed during my twenties.
Belief #1: You need to prove you’re dedicated by always being available.
Growing up, my dad left home to go to work before the sun was up, and to this day, he is still one of the hardest working people that I know. His exemplary work ethic no doubt helped cultivate my own.
At my first full-time job, I got to work an hour before anyone else to prep and get organized for the day. Once the actual work day was over, I spent at least another 45 minutes to an hour doing more work. See, it wasn’t just me. I worked with an all-star team of passionate people who worked long hours, collaborated on projects and consistently crushed their goals. I wanted all of that too, so I did what they did.
After a handful of years and a couple more jobs, I began to work all the time, being available 24/7 to take work calls at all hours of the day and night, completing last-minute to-do’s for my boss, and helping teammates out with research and projects. I couldn’t separate my work from myself, even if I tried. After some time, wanting to be seen as dedicated morphed into getting taken advantage of because people knew I wouldn’t say no. Once this became the norm, that’s when my burnout began. This recent Buzzfeed article perfectly nailed that sentiment and how I felt.
I knew things needed to change, so before I started working at my current workplace, I made a decision to respect myself and my life more by not working all the time. I pledged to have some kind of “work-life balance” in my life and stuck to it from day one on the job. Guess what? I did it, and it all started with my mindset.
See, you don’t have to be available all the time to show your dedication. You need to be fully present while you’re at work, be a good listener and give it your all while you’re there. Set boundaries that your colleagues learn and you re-enforce when needed. This shift was a huge win for developing a healthier mindset around what it means to be “dedicated.”
Belief #2: Work needs to be done perfectly.
Since I can remember, I have been a perfectionist, refusing to stop until a project seems flawless. While it served me well in school (I was basically a straight A student), it did not serve me quite the same way in the real world.
At times, I found myself thinking that I was working so much more than my colleagues, and it caused me to resent some of them. What I didn’t realize was that they didn’t have the same near-perfect standards that I do, and they were functioning in a “done is better than perfect” kind of mindset. At the time, I was so afraid to fail that even the thought of not doing something 100 percent correct made me cringe.
What helped me in making a breakthrough in my perfectionist tendencies was actually a summer of managing six interns. Despite my perfectionist tendencies, I had to coach the interns through various projects and experiences, facilitate meetings and provide them with feedback. In this role, I realized that I wanted to see their work sooner rather than later to be able to give them quick, actionable feedback instead of waiting until the day of a deadline and seeing a completely done project that missed the mark. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head, and my mindset instantly changed. The “done is better than perfect” idea has become one of my professional mantras (I actually have it printed it out and taped into my planner next to my to-do list).
What happened at work when I let go of my perfectionist mindset? I became more productive, more efficient, less critical of myself and colleagues and actually learned to give and take constructive criticism in a way that is growth-oriented.
Belief #3: You have to be an expert to add value at work.
You know that perfectionist tendency I mentioned above? Imposter Syndrome goes hand-in-hand with it, and I dealt with both.
In my early career, I was so eager to perform well all the while nervous as hell about not knowing enough. I wanted to continue to be the “golden child” in my career like I was in my family and school life. But guess what? You are not the expert when you’re fresh out of school, you have a lot of learning on-the-job to do. I acted like a sponge and took in as much information as I could while filtering through what was useful and what was not. I kept quiet and worked with my head down for years because I didn’t think I had much to contribute while I was still learning the ropes.
One day, a new colleague started at my workplace, and she first listened to our workplace’s current status and then shared a variety of innovative ideas on how to be more effective and efficient with our work moving forward. I was blown away by her initiative. That moment that came and went in a blink of an eye breathed new-found confidence and excitement inside of me that had been missing since I had started working.
After that experience, I made a promise to myself that I would speak up more in meetings, share helpful resources and take initiative to add value to my work and my team. I also started a few work culture initiatives that I had been considering, which included hosting optional book share ‘n learns (like a lunch ‘n learn but sharing out about a book you recently read), organizing a clothing swap, and creating an annual spirit week. I now realize that every single person, including myself, knows something that someone else doesn’t. We can all learn from each other in big and small ways.
Belief #4: Working hard will undoubtedly lead to success.
This was one of the hardest lessons I learned in my twenties. See, I used to think that if you worked hard, you would be successful. That’s pretty much how my life worked while growing up, anyway.
The world doesn’t always function this way, though. After moving to New York City and working myself to the bone, I was laid off from my full-time job and left with a shattered ego and nowhere to go. I laid in bed crying for hours, as embarrassed as I’d ever been and devastated that someone else didn’t believe in me or my work ethic. How could I work so hard and be so easily dismissed?
However, a silver lining was there waiting for me to catch a breath before it presented itself. I soon realized that the world might’ve actually had my back all along in this situation. I was so far in that I couldn’t see what a terrible fit my workplace was –– my boss was a non-profit version of the Devil Wears Prada, I wasn’t taken seriously, got barked at on a daily basis and dreaded going into work each day.
Although I would’ve done anything in my power to prove myself because that’s how I operated, it simply wasn’t a good cultural fit. I realized that working hard for people who don’t appreciate or value you will never make you feel successful. By getting laid off, I had three months of unemployment and time to figure out what I truly wanted to do next in my career.
As you can see, so much has changed for me. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. If I hadn’t taken the time to dissect my work experiences, I might still be a workaholic, a total perfectionist, dealing with Imposter Syndrome and believing that all the hard work I put in always serve me well, but I now know better.
Time and experiences create your career, and you have to decide how to react to those experiences and what beliefs to keep or change in order to grow and improve in your professional life.
How have your own career beliefs shifted in your twenties?