Finding our way through a myriad of professional circumstances is often a confusing and mistake-riddled venture. From how to handle a difficult co-worker, to asking for your first raise, we have all floundered at one stage or another, and certainly I (Dr. Hinson) have failed in countless small and big (and medium) ways.
But - do not fear, there are always lessons to be learned from other's experiences, especially those that have come before you and blazed a (somewhat crooked) trail. Enter an edited collection of reflections compiled by Jessica Bacal, the director of the Wurtele Center for Work and Life at Smith College. Inspired by the stories of successful women in her life and on her bookshelf, Bacal set out to gather advice and resources from some of the most influential women in business.
Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong is chocked full of vulnerable storytelling and invaluable tips, too many in fact to cover in a short review. Instead, I've decided to select the 6 most relevant lessons to me as a way of highlighting the scope of the book and it's value to working professional women.
Failure is a part of the work. Many of the women in the book discuss the troubling perception that women are meant to perform perfectly in the professional world. Women already have enough barriers without setting our own. This book reminded me that I should wear my failures as a badge of honor, because they are a record of all the times I have believed in myself enough to step forward and take a risk. As Star Trek's Captain Kirk (a person who failed and failed spectacularly) once said, "We learn by doing."
Find your tribe. Though not every work experience will include wonderfully supportive colleagues, you will encounter people throughout your professional life that will stand in your corner, help you create, and challenge your assertions. Truly the best work is done in collaboration, and we all need a little help from our friends, so surround yourself with people who will help you thrive and grow in any environment.
- Be yourself, be honest, and be flawed. Living authentically and being true to yourself is one helluva challenge, never mind fulfilling it in a professional setting. Yet, we are our best selves when we strive for this goal. One of my favorite phrases is, "I am an imperfect person." We are all imperfect people, admitting to our flaws, particularly where work is concerned keeps us honest and allows other people to be flawed as well. As Cheryl Strayed noted, "We're all rough drafts."
- Love your work or find work you love. We've all taken jobs out of necessity, but when you're concerned not only with your career development but your personal development, it pays to listen to your gut and trust your instincts. I always liked Sheryl Sandberg's analogy of our careers as a jungle gym instead of a ladder. None of our careers are a straight line and so it's vital to remember, as Luma Mufleh argued, that "life is about doing what you love" and we may have to climb around a little before we find our spot.
- Know you limitations and ask for help. Too often women feel as though they cannot ask questions or ask for help, for fear of being perceived as weak or unqualified. Part of changing the way women work (and are worked with) involves changing the way we behave. None of us can do this alone (see #2) and none of us have all the answers. This may seem oversimplified, but it's something that I forget to remind myself, so I'm doing it now.
- Practice self-care. Dr. Donnelly and I have both written about the importance of self-care before, and it is something we defend fiercely, for ourselves, each other, and all our friends. Whatever this looks like for you, do it, make the time, take a breath, go for a walk, or meet a friend. Experimentation is key for this, it may take you a while to figure out what helps you recharge, but the more flexible our work environments become, the more fluid our boundaries become as well. One of Ruth Reichl's best tips was "your best investment is yourself" - how can we make an impact when we burnout?
These tips may help you, or you might want to read the book and reflect on a different list of lessons. What professional mistakes have shaped your career? What do you wish you could tell your younger self? What is your favorite book when you need advice? Get in touch and share your thoughts with us!