"He who dares to teach must never cease to learn."
-- John Cotton Dana

Throughout the past 20 years, I've been privileged to experience some very different types of work. Sure, I've felt the joy (and struggle) of pursuing my passion--but I've also had jobs that others would consider very unglamorous.

Since I began this column more than a year ago, a number of readers have reached out to me for advice on their own work lives. The individual situations differ, but most questions are variations of the following:

I try my best to respond to these requests, since I love connecting with readers. I always emphasize that I never tell people what to do, because they're the ones responsible for the decisions they make and their consequences.

But I'm always happy to relay principles that I feel have proved successful in my experience.

Looking back, here are a few of the lessons I've passed on:

Happiness is an attitude, not a set of circumstances.

I've had jobs that I really loved, and I've had jobs that weren't my cup of tea.

But you can make any work enjoyable--by focusing on the positive.

One of my first jobs was delivering pizza for a small restaurant, just five minutes from home. Sure, my car smelled like food all the time. And I had to do more dishes than I could have ever imagined.

But I tried to focus on the bright side: Tips were great. My job basically consisted of cruising around town, listening to my favorite tunes. And of course, I got all the pizza I could eat for free.

Most important, I earned the right--once and for all--to say that my career began at the age of 18, as a professional driver.

You can learn to do anything.

The great thing about today is, you can find education for just about any practical skill online.

Do you want to learn how to code? How about fix cars? Or become a better writer?

The resources are out there to learn just about anything.

But no matter how many online courses you take or videos you watch, and regardless of the formal education you've received, true learning comes down to doing.

For example, if you ever start working for yourself, you'll have to learn marketing, sales, and finance--in addition to everything else.

But don't be intimidated: Find others who are good at what you want to learn, and observe. Seek out mentors; ask for feedback. Then, practice.

It takes time, but remember: Everyone was "the new guy" at some point.

Everyone needs to feel appreciated.

I had the privilege of learning from some really great mentors, who taught me to look for the potential and focus on the positive.

As I've had the privilege to lead teams through the years, I've seen firsthand the true value in commending authentically and regularly. People crave to be acknowledged for their work, and they deserve to be shown appreciation.

So as you learn what your colleagues and members of your team do well, tell them.

Because that will inspire them to do more of it.

But they also need (constructive) criticism.

No matter how good we get at something, we can still learn from others. It's human nature to make mistakes, and sometimes we lose perspective.

If you see someone with a bad habit or damaging behavior, help him or her by speaking up. (Here's an emotionally intelligent way to give constructive criticism.)

Of course, you don't have to correct everything "wrong" that you see (imagine how annoying that would be if the roles were reversed). But if a behavior is truly detrimental, it's in everyone's best interests to address it.

Of course, if you're in the habit of praising authentically, constructive criticism becomes much easier to deliver. And don't forget that it goes both ways; in fact, you can be proactive and ask others for feedback to help you improve.

When done right, constructive criticism helps avoid groupthink, promotes a collaborative culture--and inspires you and your team members to have one another's back.

Schedule time to think.

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day--and go from meeting to meeting or task to task without taking the time we need to reflect.

But when we schedule time to pause, we can ask the important questions, like:

  • What mistakes have I made recently?
  • What have I done right?
  • How can I learn from each of these experiences?
  • What do I want to accomplish this week or month? How about this year? The next five years?

Many use their commute or meal break for "think time." But never underestimate the power of one or two hours of pure, concentrated reflection--a.k.a. sitting at your desk in peace and quiet. (Additionally, recording your thoughts in a journal can help solidify them in your mind.)  

Above All

These lessons aren't special. I've learned most of them through the years by falling flat on my face, picking myself up, and trying to see what I did wrong.

As you do the same, remember this: Those mistakes aren't failures.

They're just more opportunities to learn.