25 Things You Should Have Learned Yesterday
and Should Practice Tomorrow
(and every day after…)
How many times have you muttered to yourself, Wish I’d known that
before?!!! The fact of the matter is this: if you take the
time now to harvest some important lessons, not just from last year
but from your whole working life, you can make this year and the next
ones much happier and more fulfilling. And yourself more successful in
Let’s get clear. The list could be much longer. But 25 is a great
number. This list is not ranked by importance, so don’t lose track of
either end of the list. If you want to be happy and successful you’ll
have to get better at multi-tasking all these diverse things.
1. Think strategically: No matter your age, think about your work
life as a story arc: starting out, getting experience, earning more,
having more authority, mentoring, eventual retirement. As you
progress along this paradigm, ask how each action serves your
2. Treat other people well: There’s no profession that doesn’t
involve others, whether you’re a doctor or a bus driver. The nicer
you are, the nicer you’ll feel. The kinder you are, the more others
will help you succeed. The more good-will you generate, the quicker
your working hours will go.
3. Do a + and – list annually: If you wake up dreading going to work
you probably already know the minuses outnumber the pluses. But
do a checklist of where your working world ranks on a scale of 1-
10. Think about everything from salary to commute time, chances
for learning and advancement to whether you love or loathe your
colleagues. Do this every year within a month of your birthday or
4. Review your resume annually: It’s easy to forget how good you
are or that you might need to prove it to someone new later. Ditto
that you might be stuck and not changing in your current job. Keep
your resume up to date with newly acquired skill sets and
accomplishments. If you’re ever unemployed you’d need to update
it for real. This’ll give you perspective and a big leg up.
5. Keep your options open. Even if you like your job, keep your
eyes and ears open. Listen to how other people talk about their
days, their duties, and their bosses. Pay attention to what they say
about advancement and openings. Look at WW, the Sunday
classifieds, or job boards to see what’s out there, and to learn what
people will pay for what you do.
6. If you’re not happy, look around. Do everything above and
follow up with a resume. Be sure to say your search is confidential
in your cover letter. Whether or not your phone rings or email
chimes will help you litmus test your value and options, as well as
how you represent your experience.
7. Have private email. Best would be if to avoid anything except
work while at work. No forwarding cat videos or pictures of your
friends or weekends. Work time is for work. And be extra very
especially absolutely certain not to use your employer’s server to
look for another job. Nothing you do on their email is confidential.
8. Don’t gossip. None of us is immune to the lure of gossip. We all
enjoy the secret thrill of watching others go down in flames or be
exposed as adulterers or failures. But whatever you say about
others will fuel the flames when you commit some gross negligence
you cannot conceal. It happens to everyone. Be kind, and hope
others return the favor.
9. Don’t schtupp at work Don’t have affairs with bosses, colleagues,
or subordinates. Temptations may feel strong but NO reason is
good enough if you want to keep your job. ‘Nuff said.
10. Be careful what you post on social networking. Prospective
employers often google applicants. Unless you want them to see
you drunk and topless screaming Aaaarrrggghhhh!!!! in your
Pirate’s Day costume, keep those pics among you and your closest
friends. If you’ve been stupid in the past, scrub your image before
you ask someone new to pay you to be their new face.
11. Befriend all gatekeepers. Being able to get into the folks you
want to see can make or break you. In many organizations these
folks also monitor their bosses voice and email. If you want your
messages to get through be nice. Nothing smarmy but know their
names and make sure they like you.
12. Find good mentors. No one is successful on their own. Identify
folks higher on the food chain (one or two rungs) who seem
successful and to share your values. Meet with them to ask for
their help moving up. It may cost you some time helping on a pet
project, or a couple of beers, but could also pay off.
13. Don’t be a suck-up. Trust me, you’re a lot more transparent
than you think. No one likes a false flatterer, even the person
whose butt you are kissing. It’ll show and cost you more than
whatever benefits you hope to receive.
14. Be helpful. This doesn’t contradict the last one. You should be
available to lend a hand to help anyone out of a jam, friendly, and
courteous. Think Boy Scout instead of scam artist. You’ll need
folks to like you in order to succeed, and it’s hard to know what
you’ll need from whom when.
15. Don’t $&#% up!! No one is perfect but you can make
sure your work is spell-checked, proofed, cross-balanced, tallies,
and has the right dates, footers, phone numbers, footnotes, etc
whatever your field is. No one succeeds on their own. Having a
buddy to help with deadlines is important. Good people working
together make each other look better and your 8-5 more
16. Negotiate early and often. The best time to get a raise is before
you walk in the door. Once you have an offer, ask if there’s any
more they can give as base pay, or if you can be assured of a
raise after your probationary review. Yes it’s scary, but they’ve
just selected you. Cross your fingers, smile, and ask.
17. Keep asking questions. The more you know the better you’ll be
able to navigate office politics, stay ahead of possible lay-offs, or
get to the front of the line for upcoming promotions. Don’t act like
a spy, but an interested, gung-ho team player.
18. Learn new skills. Doing the same old same old too often will
make you dull. Be inquisitive about who’s doing what, and where
there’s room for you to do something new, learn a new technique,
or otherwise expand your skill set. You’ll look better to your
bosses and to future employers.
19. Casual doesn’t mean stained. Take a weekend to inventory
your work wardrobe. If things are spotted or ill-fitting, toss them
and buy something new (or used but clean). Even if you repeat
wearing the same clothes, you’ll look better than looking like you
don’t care about the impression you give others. Remember, no
matter your job description, you’re always selling yourself.
20. Make sure people see your extra effort. No one likes a
braggart. But if you go the extra distance and put in the extra
time, make sure the right folks know it. Send an important email
after hours; volunteer for the crunch deadline; become the person
people know they can rely on for that extra time and input. It’ll
pay off later.
21. Use charm and chutzpah. People like being around people who
make them feel good. Don’t become known as the class clown,
but be the one who people smile at sincerely when you walk into a
meeting. Be brave enough to tell the truth when it is called for,
and nice enough in how you deliver it.
22. Stay healthy. That’s everything from avoiding junk food in
vending machines to walking at lunch time. Take stairs instead of
elevators and short breaks regularly to drink water. Even if that
means walking in the rain or around the lobby of a building, get
your brain the oxygen it needs to keep your grey matter moving.
23. Don’t be a 2/47 slave. It’s fine to keep your smart phone
handy. But employers are hard to retrain. If they think you’ll
answer nights and weekends they will come to expect it. Make
sure you get regular detoxifying breaks from work. Everyone
needs time to get refreshed even if it’s a stay-cation of yard work
and movies. All work and no play will make you dull as an old
kitchen knife, and just as useful.
24. Choose to be happy. Even a bad job pays the rent. If you aren’t
wealthy and cannot afford to wait for your dream job, take
whatever’s closest to it. Look for the best you can in your current
circumstances, even if you need to give yourself a pep talk every
morning. Set goals about how to optimize your reality.
25. Make your own good luck. Just like the essential truth about
losing weight always comes down to eating less and moving more,
the essential truth about work is that you’re the person who has
to look out for yourself. That means knowing when to stay and
when to look for something better, when to ask for a raise and
when to wait, and choosing whom to trust.
These commandments are designed to help you jumpstart a good look
at your working world. Read them a couple of times and think about
which ones you think you need to act on. Ultimately, the most
important thing you can do is to ask yourself regularly Can I do better?
If the answer’s yes, then start doing.