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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Career Lessons Successful People Are Sharing With You (So Listen Up!)


My first job was as a playground leader. I spent my teenage summers working at a park about two miles from my house. A few of my close friends worked there, too, and it was a blast. But while some may say it’s an “easy” job because I just got to hang out with kids all day, that was far from the truth.

With only 10 leaders and an average of 80 kids—sometimes over 100—there were a ton of different tasks to keep track of. And after five summers working there, I learned a lot. I learned that cheese puffs are addicting, some crafts are actually really hard (even though they say ages three and up), and that Kool-Aid can stain your hands a different color for the whole day.

But most of all, I learned the importance of being organized in order to manage several things at once, with the ultimate goal of keeping the kids alive. I learned how to go to bed at a normal time so I could be early for work each morning. And when I became a head leader for the last two summers of that gig, I learned that getting a promotion isn’t all rainbows and unicorns—sure, I got a raise (50 cents an hour—woohoo!) and more responsibility, but I also all of a sudden felt an immense amount of pressure to prove to my fellow leaders, who were also good friends, that I deserved the position.

You may not think your first job meant much, but every single opportunity teaches you qualities that are absolutely vital throughout the rest of your career. These five highly successful individuals shared the most valuable thing they learned from their first positions on LinkedIn recently, and I strongly recommend you use these tidbits to grow in your career, too.

1. Embrace the Challenges

Now is the time to choose the rocky road instead of the paved path. You may have to move many obstacles on your journey to success, but when you arrive you will be much stronger for the effort.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Choosing the easy way out usually only pays off in the short-term, not in the long run; and this is especially true for your career, too. The first embassy appointment Ban Ki-moon chose was understaffed, which presented him with a lot of challenges. But it was tackling these head on that got him to where he is today, as he wouldn’t have learned how to overcome them if he’d chosen a more “comfortable” position at another embassy.

So, don’t shy away from the opportunities that seem hard to you. Because even though they may seem tedious and frustrating at times, you’ll be building a solid foundation for the rest of your career. And choosing the easy road? Well, it will be easy, but it will also be really boring and not get you very far.

2. Be Courageous

Many of you think the keys you need for success depend on how you grew up financially, who you know, where you went to school, or having the luxury to accept an unpaid or low-paying internship. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What makes you stand out in this world far above anyone else is when others look at you and can see that spark in your eye, hear the passion in your words, feel the love that you have for others, and witness that fearless energy to conquer any task in front of you.

Suze Orman, Television Host, Author, Motivational Speaker, Producer

Orman had nothing when she first started pursuing her dream. And when she received $50,000 from friends and neighbors to start her own restaurant, she lost it (ouch). But she didn’t let any setbacks, small or colossal, stop her from forging ahead. Having the courage to figure out how to overcome any obstacles you may come across is key to following your dreams and finding success.

3. Learn Just as Much About the People as You Do the Job

I learned so much about people from all different backgrounds, understood the importance of getting to work on time, sticking to a schedule, being patient and inclusive, and navigating group dynamics. It became so clear to me that everyone, no matter what their limitations, has something to offer. Part of our jobs as human beings is recognizing that. That’s what I learned that summer.

Katie Couric, Yahoo Global News Anchor

It’s not just those in the customer service industry who need to learn people skills—it’s everyone. Because every single job involves working with others to some extent. And understanding how people can be different than you and see things from other perspectives than you do is extremely important.

Once you understand how someone else ticks, it’ll be so much easier to figure out how to best work with him or her. We’re not all the same—and that is a good thing.

4. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Any Skill

From this job and the others, I learned things like punctuality, leadership and teamwork. Some people call these ‘soft skills,’ but I’ve never really liked that term. It suggests that they’re not very important, but the truth is there’s nothing soft about showing up on time ready to work.

Tom Perez, Secretary of Labor at the U.S. Department of Labor

When writing our resumes and cover letters, there’s a lot of emphasis on the experience we have and the skills we’ve honed. But what’s missing from these pieces of paper are the basic characteristics you need to be a good worker; and while these may not provide you with the specific experience you need for a certain job, they still apply to virtually every position out there.

After all, no matter where you’re working and what you’re doing, no manager likes a chronically tardy employee, right?

5. Always Make Time to Listen—and Listen Well

Active listening is a vital skill for any leader. It builds and strengthens relationships between customers and brands, or managers and employees. It helps leaders appreciate that everyone has something to contribute to the business, the brand, the reputation.

Meg Whitman, CEO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working or how far you’ve moved up the ladder—you’re never going to know everything. And if you try to act like you do, well, that just leads to sub-par results. But if you keep your ears open to everyone who has something to say, you’ll end up with the tools to put together a top notch product or solve some of the most critical issues.

You never know where that first job will take you—Barack Obama’s first gig was scooping ice cream, after all (which sounds more fun than being responsible for an entire country)—but if you take the time to learn from it, it’s bound to take you in any direction you end up wanting to go. Even if that path is a little rocky or windy—you’ll get there.

What did you learn from your first job? Tell me on Twitter!