What were the top mistakes you made early on in your career? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Everyone makes mistakes when they're just starting out in their career. I made several significant ones which I learned from.
- Not looking before I leaped. Several times I switched jobs to work on a new technology or at an exciting new place. I kept seeing unique jobs doing unique things and thinking "this is the only chance I'll have!" It took me a while to realize that the jobs never wound up being as exciting as I expected. And, that a 'unique opportunity' is a very rare thing. The reality is, it is not usually a meaningfully unique opportunity. And even when it is, it's just another thing. Everything is unique, but not meaningfully so.
- Working unsustainably hard. I pushed myself too hard, trying to keep up with or beat my peers, to be the best, not to make mistakes, and so on. Within two years I was miserable, burned out, and difficult to be around. I left the company as a result, missing out on being a 'Microsoft Millionaire' and creating some luggage it took a while to work around. My career certainly suffered as a result.
- Manage, don't dictate. In the first team I managed, I believed I was the technically strongest person in the group. When my team wrote code or proposed solutions, if I saw a better way to do it - and I always did - I had them change to my way. This alienated them, removed any sense of personal ownership and pride they might have felt, and ultimately hurt the project.
- Treating people equally is unfair. I used to go out of my way to treat people equally, believing that was the most fair. When you're talking about communicating and management, it's not. That equal treatment inevitably talks over the heads of some and wastes the time of others.
Here's what I learned:
- Even unique jobs aren't unique. In other words, you'll find other opportunities to do something like them. Don't jump out of what you're already doing and into something new just because you think you may never have a chance to do anything like it again: this is rarely true. And make sure you learn a bit about that sexy new field before jumping into it, to give you more realistic expectations of the day-to-day work.
- Focus on communication. Communication is about saying things so the listener receives the message you want, not just saying things in a way you think is perfect. If you want five different people to get the same message, you might need to say it three different ways with three very different levels of detail. The same goes for effective managing. Focus on getting your message received, not just on sending it fairly.
- Don't push yourself too hard. If you work too hard, you burn yourself out, and the project and perhaps company loses you. If you're not putting in enough effort, your boss will let you know. If you're feeling like you're putting in more than you can afford, let your boss know. Find a happy medium. If it can't be at your current job, take your time and find a job where you can work at the required pace forever. Pushing yourself too hard for too long hurts not just you, but everyone around you.
- Give people room. If you're ever a manager, don't worry about things getting done the best they possibly can: worry about your people learning from what they do. Let them feel ownership and pride, as long as what they're producing is good enough. Teach them how it could be better, but don't force them. Create an environment where they can make mistakes without it being catastrophic: these are the best way to learn.
Maybe these mistakes and lessons will resonate with you. If they do, it will probably be because you have already made them.
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