3 Pieces of Career Advice People Usually Learn Too Late in Life

As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Youth is wasted on the young,” and we’ve experienced the truth of that statement ourselves when our best career insights come five years too late—arriving just in time for us to groan, “I wish I’d figured this out sooner!”

too late career

With that in mind, we’ve gathered three pieces of career advice people usually learn too late in life and hope they reach you sooner than they reached us.

1. It’s not a zero-sum game

It can be easy to become competitive, try to outperform others, and engage in rivalries in pursuit of career goals, but we save time and improve our mental health when we realize success isn’t a zero-sum game.

For the uninitiated, a zero-sum game represents a situation in which one person’s gain is another person’s loss. If you’re sharing a pizza, for example, each piece eaten by one person is a piece that can’t be eaten by another. In the end, there will be always be zero pizza, and whoever ate the most got the most.

Unlike pizza, a successful career is not zero-sum, nor is it predicated on overcoming others. Rather, success is built on our ability to develop relationships, work with diverse groups of people, and augment our knowledge and skills with those of our coworkers. The triumphs of our coworkers don’t diminish from a pool of potential successes—a rising tide lifts all boats. Or, in this case, the office’s rising success lifts all of us.

2. Failure can be productive

Failure hurts. There’s the feeling that maybe you aren’t as talented, skillful, or worthy as you hoped to be. And, if your failure is made public, others may think the worst about you, too.

We’ve learned—and continue to learn—that failure can be productive if you let it.

To make your experience productive, take the time to evaluate why you failed. Determine what needs to change or if the project should be discarded. This evaluation helps us learn from our mistakes. Even if we ultimately discard the work, failure prevents long-term procrastination and helps us move on.

3. Remember lifestyle when planning career goals

When we were young, we obsessed over what we’d be when we grew up. We were far less concerned with how we’d achieve a meaningful personal lifestyle. That was a mistake, as both aspects of life help define who we are.

Plan lifestyle goals in tandem with your career goals. You don’t want a constant tug-of-war between your career and your best life. Ideally, the two will complement each other.

A career may be intellectually stimulating or spiritually moving but not provide a six-figure salary. If that’s for you, go for it! Just be sure to plan your finances accordingly. Similarly, if your ideal life centers on family, think about what kind of work will facilitate that. If the pay is phenomenal but the schedule busy, is it worth the sacrifice?

Granted, priorities and circumstances change. Our point is to consider the give-and-take of lifestyle and career when deciding how to pursue your goals. And because things change, don’t forget to take some time to reevaluate your goals and your path toward them (ideally every year or so).

Of course, there are many more insights we wished we’d learned earlier in life. These pieces of career advice are important because they taught us to stop worrying and relax. They’ve helped us find passion in what we do, not what teenage us wish we did. They’ve helped us move past our shortcomings and find work-life balance. The result? A happier career.

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