\”Whatever you are, be a good one.\” Abraham Lincoln

I recently attended a conference for my professional organization. The 3 day conference was an opportunity to meet up with former colleagues from a few, well, ok, MANY, jobs ago as well as current social work students, new social workers and practiced professionals.

As I found myself answering questions such as “What advice do you have for me?” or “How is you are not burned out?, I began thinking about all of the hard won wisdom floating around that conference from those of us who have demonstrated longevity in the field.

I came up with some career advice that I wish I had known as a young professional.

  • Choose a career you have some passion for. People are looking for meaning and happiness to accompany their paycheck. To have a long satisfying career I believe it is necessary to find more than just material success. It is a blessing to work at something you believe in, are interested in and enjoy doing.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Not crazy about your entry level position? Perform it with everything you have! Then think about what moves you can make- what additional knowledge or experience do I need to get the type of job in the field that I really want? For example, after several years in a frustrating entry level position, I realized it was time to make a change. Instead of abandoning the field I took stock of what parts of it I loved and which ones not so much. I put together a plan to get additional education, found the right mentor and I was off to the next stage of my career. I have reinvented my career within the same field several times since then.
  • “Learn to work with people you wouldn’t go to lunch with.” Garry Marshall, film director. Learn to navigate the politics, without selling out. Politics exist to a greater or lesser degree in every industry and job. Learning to communicate effectively and manage different personalities is a winning strategy that helps you be more effective in attaining your goals and obtaining resources for your clients or customers. Let’s face it, good relationships help you get things done!
  • Coping rests with you. Take care of yourself. Get comfortable with setting limits and boundaries. No one is going to care more about your health and well being than you do. You will not be rewarded for being a martyr or victim.
  • Don’t be afraid to move on if you are in a bad situation. Believe in yourself and your abilities.
  • Pursue mastery! Keep learning and growing. Put yourself in learning situations that are a risk, that challenge you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. When I pursued an internship with the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, I aimed for the best! I knew it would be challenging, but the experience of learning from and being critiqued by master therapists has paid dividends throughout my career. Don’t wait for an employer to do this for you. Put together your own career growth plan.
  • Think like a brand. Although an employer pays you to be their employee, never forget that you are a brand. Demonstrate your unique values and skills, no matter where you are.

In conclusion, I wish I could tell you that I was bright enough to know all of these things going in – NOT! Or if you follow this advice your career will progress smoothly, propelling you to success. It probably won’t work quite that way; there will always be ups , downs and bumps in the road! I am fortunate to have a career I love; I do wish I learned some of these lessons just a little sooner!

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