Career Lessons I’ve Learned in My 30s

Ah, the big 3-0. Depending upon the person, it can be a feared number or merely just another number with no particular significance. When that day came to pass for me, it was nothing more than a number, but little did I know that this turning point would bring such wondrous changes.

My 20s, to put it mildly, were a time of chaos and upsets. A few of those tumultuous events included quitting college, two marriages, two divorces, and feeling lost and unsure where to turn to in my attempts to regain some order in my life. My 20s sound like a blast—do they not? I believe that may be the reason the 30 mark wasn’t something to be feared but was, in fact, something to be embraced—especially when it came to work.

Now, at the ripe age of 34, I am not going to pretend that I have all the answers—in fact, at this ripe old age I can comfortably say “I don’t know,” because that phrase means there is room for growth and new challenges. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers—that’s one work-related lesson I learned in my 30s. Here are some others:

1. Always ask questions

If something doesn’t look right or feel right—trust that instinct. Just because you’re told something is right, don’t be so sure. Nobody has all the answers, and sometimes people, even those in authority, are misinformed without realizing it. While it may be more than a little difficult to search for the right answer and pass that information on—it is still a far better alternative than to continue to work with incorrect information.

2. Leave room for a change in plans

Sometimes it is impossible to know exactly how something will work out—despite how good it looks on paper. Too often, reality does not align with the original concepts. Being prepared for a last-minute job change—financially and/or mentally—will bring you peace of mind, and an escape hatch if you need it.

3. Don’t be afraid to think of (and share) ideas that are different and even weird

Don’t be afraid to think differently and to try something new. Too often, people who have been with one company, position or situation develop something I call “stale eyes.” Stale eyes is the condition where you no longer see the potential to try something new or go about doing something a different way. It’s amazing what a pair of fresh eyes can see in a current system and what ideas they may bring forth. Sometimes the status quo is no longer the most effective or efficient means to accomplish a goal and requires a change-up of sorts. Don’t be afraid to implement those change-ups.

4. Work in every area

Don’t be confined by your job title or your office. Get out and learn the different aspects of a business. Not only will your employer see and appreciate your motivation to learn above and beyond your essential job function, but you will also have a better understanding of what happens and why it happens. This can sometimes lead to you suggesting a possible improvement in the current methods. If nothing else, the mere fact that the “right hand works better when it knows what the left hand is doing” is a benefit in itself.

5. Don’t be afraid to take risks

If there are potential opportunities that come your way—grab them. It can be scary at first, but the outcome is oftentimes worth any potential risk. Don’t have any opportunities coming your way? Make them. Make yourself available when needed, take the initiative when you see something is going awry. The feeling of self-satisfaction—accompanied by your employer seeing your ability to be proactive—is often just the beginning of the rewards and opportunities to come.

6. Don’t be selfish

Don’t think merely in terms of how an action on your part will benefit you via promotion and/or raises. Think of the company and its well-being. Do you see an important but neglected project that is vital to the company? Volunteer your time, skill, and services to attack it. This may or may not lead to instant gratification, but I can assure you that your employer will take note of what you have done.

7. Give and take

A relationship with an employer is not completely different from a personal relationship. There will be times that more is asked of you than you may have intended to give. Likewise, do not be afraid to ask for the things that you need in return. Often if an employer sees you have the ability to give more than what is merely stated in your job title, they will be more willing to give back to you when the time comes.

8. Help others

If you your co-worker wants to learn some of the skills you happen to have acquired, be generous. Offer guidance and share your resources. More often than not, the act of teaching can turn into a learning opportunity all its own. Some employees may feel that their unique skills are their job security and sharing those skills may hurt that security, but they couldn’t be more wrong. An employee who works under those assumptions isn’t a team-player and that can backfire when your co-worker moves on to other jobs, or even when your employer promotes you to a leadership position.

9. You are not just your job description

What is your job title and description? Take it, acknowledge it, and (most importantly) perform it, then toss it. Don’t be anchored down with the mindset that something outside of your title is not your problem. Help where help is needed.

I’ve been employed in businesses, both large and small, and have been fortunate enough to have employers and supervisors who allowed me the opportunity to grow—not only from a professional standpoint—but as an individual. I understand and acknowledge that my situation may not always be so fortunate, but I also adopt the philosophy that the status quo need not be our permanent state of being. I believe that we have the power to change ourselves and our environment. The journey thus far has not been easy, but it’s been worth it because of all the valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Tasha Penwell is from Ohio and currently works at Ohio University Heritage College of Medicine.  She recently graduated with her Master’s degree in Information Systems Management and hopes to pursue her PhD.

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