When I graduated college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was lost, confused, and didn’t know where to start. Like many of you, I lacked guidance and support—and had to figure most of it out on my own.

My career path has been anything but linear, but I’ve come to embrace my experiences and lessons learned.

Today, I want to share 7 lessons I’ve learned in my career. Some of these lessons I’ve learned the hard way, and some I’m still learning.

1. Be your own advocate. Sorry to break it to you, but a career prince charming who’s going to swoop in and save you does not exist. Sure, you might have supportive mentors and peers, but no one will advocate for you as you will. Use your voice. Stand up for yourself. Let everyone know that you know your worth and are not afraid to show it.

2. Always take accountability for your actions. I learned this one early on, and it’s an important one to know. If you make a mistake, own it. There is no use making excuses or blaming anyone else (even though you know it may not be entirely your fault). Your pride might take a hit, but admitting you made a mistake shows integrity and maturity.

3. Boundaries are necessary. I learned this one a little too late, and if I’m honest, I’m still a work in progress. Most of my jobs have been on the unconventional side. I’ve had to live out of state for long periods, answer phone calls in the middle of the night, and drop everything I’m doing for the sake of the company’s bottom line. Let’s just say blurry boundaries have been a staple in my career. I’m working on it. 

4. Mind your manners. Manners go a long way. Growing up, my mom would always talk about modales. Of course, as a teen, I would roll my eyes, but now I get it. (Sorry, mom!) Manners matter—especially in the workplace. A simple “thank you” or “good morning” could be the differentiating factor between you and someone else.

5. Things will change, so be prepared. Is it too soon to bring up 2020? The world was changing even before the pandemic, and it will continue to change. The best thing you can do is prepare. Always. You can’t control whether there are layoffs, reorgs, or mergers—but you can take account of what your skills and experience are and be ready if any of those things (or anything else for that matter!) happen. Remember, you are in control.

6. Focus on solutions and not problems. Be solution-oriented. There is always a solution to a problem, even though some may seem impossible. One of my first managers asked me to think of possible solutions before asking her for guidance or support. Although this was challenging at first, it taught me to think critically and independently.

7. Take time to build and nurture relationships. Now more than ever, relationships matter. Keep in touch with former colleagues. Connect with people on LinkedIn. Be of service. Mentor someone. Join a club or organization. Positive relationships are good for your health and your career!

BONUS: Always be on the lookout for opportunities. One of my mentors got her big break when her manager decided not to return after a leave of absence. My mentor wasn’t looking for a promotion, but because she stepped up to the plate and helped out, leadership promoted her. Opportunities are everywhere. Have an open mind. Connect with people outside of your industry. You never know what you are going to find.

What are some lessons you have learned in your career?