An article by Karen Vitale to her job-hunting young professional self-inspired me to something similar.

Here are the 8 lessons I wish I could teach myself all those years ago when I just took up my first job:

  1. Follow your dreams – you can apply your skills in more ways than one. When I started out in my career, a number of people in my inner-circle were hyper-critical about my choice to focus on development communication, instead of pursuing the glamour and the money of corporate communication. I knew instinctively that a challenging environment where resources are scarce and my skills are much needed would give me the opportunity to experience more, do more and learn more. I also knew more than anything else, that I had to make a difference in my world. The only form of communication that would allow me to have as much impact on individuals and communities as I dreamed of was development communication. Today, I apply the skills I acquired while travelling our beautiful country’s rural areas to my business and corporate clients. I am often humbled to see the effects of my past “unglamorous” projects and hard work. Just a week ago I visited the SEDA Limpopo Jewellery Incubator that is alive with talent and is creating jobs and skills for many young people. The personal and professional appreciation and satisfaction that following your true passion give, cannot be measured in monetary terms or described in words. My skill set is more diverse and well balanced, thanks to the courage I had to follow an alternative route. I also learned that I can apply my communication skills in ANY setting. I have nothing and nowhere to fear.
  2. Keep the balance. Do the things you love and that light up your soul – often. You can always build a career but you cannot always marry Mr Right and start a family. When the personal opportunities show up, don’t hesitate. Do not wait to get married when you have a solid relationship and do not put off having children because you think you should first build your career. You can do it all, because life is about MUCH more than your work. Even while you are young and single, there has to be more to your life than climbing the corporate ladder. Follow your passions – play in the band, travel, paint, dance, exercise – there is enough time for all of it. The things that light up your soul are more important than your work. Work hard. Play hard. Live abundantly.
  3. You have more skills than you can imagine. Yes, you have studied and developed yourself to be a communicator. But that is not the sum total of your skill set. Often, we forget how important the soft skills are, and that they can help us in all circumstances. Identify your other skills – being a good hostess, being assertive and a good negotiator, being able to think out of the box. Also make a list of things you can do if you don’t find a communication job (mine include teaching children music, baking for a living, opening a mom’s taxi service, training house-keepers and being a conflict resolution officer). The moment you give your brain options, you will relax and flow into what you are truly good at.
  4. Manage your manager. Do not be afraid to assert yourself with confidence. If you are well organised and well structured, and work under a manager who creates confusion and chaos – assert yourself and stand your ground. Make sure that your manager understands that you will not do his/her work, even if you can. If you are already in this trap: STOP! Do your work excellently, but cut out all the other work, and refer to number 2 and 3 of this list. This will initially increase pressure and introduce conflict into the relationship, but learn how to deal with the conflict rather than work yourself into a pulp of unhappy bitterness. It is after all just a job, and your manager is only human. The worst that can happen is that you need to brush up your CV and move on. No job is worth sacrificing your personal growth and happiness for. Managers need to plan, lead, organise and control and a good manager lead up as well as down. Learn these skills as soon as possible in your career.
  5. Ask forgiveness not permission. Now this might be a bit of dangerous advice; you need to know how to play this game. Often, you know that the actions you have to take will yield results, but are not comfortable for the leaders around you. In this case, take aggressive action, and do it without asking permission. Be FULLY prepared to take the consequences, and when the chips are down, step up and take responsibility. Have your ducks so carefully lined up that your superiors can’t find faultwith what you have done. Make sure you have the results ready to show when you are on the red carpet. Then, go on and explain yourself, and bargain some authority to make similar decisions in future. Be careful to not overuse this one, you little rebel you… it’s for serious business only.
  6. Write it all down – keep a journal, and a book of “how to’s”. This is the one thing I regret most of my young careerist self – I didn’t write it down. I had some amazing experiences travelling this country, meeting people and learning invaluable lessons. But you forget them! Learn the discipline to document early in your career… I still struggle with this and regret it deeply.
  7. Be teachable and find great mentors. A teachable spirit, coupled with great mentors, is the most valuable asset you will have in your career. Make it formal and ask your role-models to mentor you. I will never be able to thank my mentors, people like Alta le Roux, Harry Dugmore, Lata Parhboo, Ken Duncan, George Raughtenbach and Charmain Lines, enough for their input into my young professional life. Don’t be shy to approach those you admire greatly. Make sure you keep in touch and are always mindful of how you learn and implement what they teach you. And as soon as you can, surround yourself with people you can mentor – teaching embeds your knowledge deeply and nothing is more satisfying than seeing traces of your mentors in your mentees. Pay it forward and keep a positive spiral alive!
  8. Value and respect EVERY person you meet. Your relationship skills will be one of your greatest assets in our profession. Truly value and respect each individual your meet. Get to know them not for what they want, what they can do for you or what you need professionally. Invest the time and effort to know them for who they are. You will not like all of them, but focus on finding common ground and ensure that you are always authentic. Integrity, honesty and real, truthful interaction with other human beings is the highest form of self-love. It is professional, but it is personal. When all is said and done, all you have is the people you work with. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Karen Vitale’s job-hunting lessons
1.  Chill out
2.  Beware of gossips, liars and bullies
3.  A bar is a great place for team bonding or networking, but know your limits
4.  Develop your gut instincts, and go with them
5.  Know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em

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