10 Life Lessons Guaranteed to Advance Your Career

career life lessons

By Marty Nemko


Many people end up having to learn the hard way. Here are some ideas that help make your career road more rewarding and less painful.

1. Don't sell out for "stuff."
Shopaholism requires you to make lots of money. And most employers who pay employees lots of money do so because the work is difficult, distasteful, spiritually empty, and/or requires absurdly long work hours. That's a high price to pay for designer-labels, a fancy address, or car nameplate. If you find your contentment in productivity, creative outlets, and relationships as opposed to in buying "stuff," you won't need to pursue such a financially remunerative career. Instead, you can pursue one you'd find more fun-for example, one in a startup, a creative field, or work for a cause you believe in.


2. Make it fun.
There's usually a more less fun way to get things done. If you do it the most arduous way, the benefit is usually outweighed by your tending to procrastinate the tasks and overall less contentment with your work life. As you decide what to do and how to do it, keep asking yourself, "What's the fun way?" Usually, you'll find the work gets done faster and, ironically, often better.

3. Be a storyteller.
Most people are more affected by story than by statistics. Story appeals to the emotion, which is what motivates most people's behavior change. That's why so many articles start with, "Mary Johnson..." and only after the audience is hooked, do they mention statistics, facts, etc. So, have three anecdotes ready to tell at any networking event or even for water-cooler convo. And certainly, pepper your talks with anecdotes, whether it's a two-minute presentation at a meeting, a keynote address, or even a toast at your friend's wedding.

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4. Be low-maintenance.
You pay a big price for being high-maintenance. No matter how competent you are, especially in today's busy times, your boss and co-workers are probably on max, so your complaint or even your new idea may not be welcome. If your boss or workgroup's plate is already full, they simply may not be open to adding something else or changing gears. Even asking too many questions can be annoying. Of course the workplace and indeed society would be better if all that weren't true, but alas, it is. In most workplaces, even if you're the boss, it's safest to simply keep on keeping on with a pleasant look on your face. That's true even in your personal life.


5. Don't brag about yourself; brag about others.
Don't try to show how smart or good you are. Usually, it's wise to prioritize making others feel good about themselves.


6. Everything matters enough to try.
Almost nothing matters enough to get angry.


7. Pick your battles.
Especially don't fight a mega-trend. You have little chance to change people's foundational views: political, religious, work ethic, etc.

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8. Maximize your contribution to your workplace's retirement plan.
401(k), 403(b), or, if you're self-employed, to a SEP-IRA. One of the most widely recommended places to invest such funds is a Vanguard all-in-one fund. Don't be tempted to overdiversify, putting your money in lots of places. It adds to your paperwork and makes it difficult to follow how you're doing. All-in-one funds provide considerable diversification at low cost, and they're all on one statement.


9. Hire for intelligence and drive; train for skills.
You can far more readily teach people a skill or information than to make them smarter or harder-working.


10. Never look back.
Boris Nemko, a Holocaust survivor, rarely talked about the experience. When asked why, he said, "The Nazis took five years from my life. I won't give them one minute more. Never look back, always take the next step forward." Pretty good advice.


The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on MartyNemko.com. He posts here every Monday.


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TJ Searl

I disagree with the point that says "don't ask too many questions". Don't ask questions that you can easily find the answer to yourself. Being self-taught is the ultimate show of initiative and I've never seen an environment where such effort went unnoticed. But only an idiot would stand by and wallow in ignorance simply for fear of irritating someone. The best bosses are also teachers because they know that, sooner or later, someone is going to have to replace them and it behooves everyone to have that person be competent. Not all people have the patience for that, though, and if that's the situation you're in, the key is to know when, where, and how to ask. And even if your boss isn't receptive, there is likely someone in the office who gets it and won't mind taking the time to help you understand. But keep asking questions. It's the only way to learn.

January 30 2013 at 4:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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