In the AEC industry there can be a desire for immediate success, which often leads to undervaluing the time and effort necessary to learn new skills and acquire valuable experience. I, too, was guilty of this mentality in the early stages of my career. However, as I approach 40 and reflect on my journey thus far, I have come to appreciate the importance of embracing each decade of my professional life.
Forty isn’t what it used to be – for many of us, we haven’t even reached the midway point of our career. For me, this milestone comes on the heels of a new job and the realization that I couldn’t be who I am today without the experiences of the last two decades. The truth is undeniable – experience is necessary to long-term success and no matter how much we want to take the fast track, experience takes time and can’t be rushed. Each moment – from learning something new, achieving success, or learning from a mistake – helps us become better professionals. Here are some of my lessons learned to better embrace each day, week, and year, take the time to maximize the opportunities, and to set yourself up for success by learning from those who have come before you:
- Don’t rush titles and promotions. It’s easy to be young and see the success ahead of you and want it as quickly as possible. In an instant gratification world, it will be hard, but you must be patient. There is a reason there are career paths and succession steps to each new level of your professional life. There are reasons company leadership positions are filled with experienced professionals. Three or five or seven years as a coordinator, specialist, or associate, will set the stage for you to learn what you need to be more successful at the next level. Even then you’ll need five or more years before you are ready to move on.
- Find opportunities to learn about your company. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind; keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to get involved with internal task forces or committees at your company. If you are presented with an opportunity, take it. By raising my hand, I was able to learn so much about business processes, corporate services, and technical skills that broadened my abilities. These opportunities also gave me a voice – to ask questions, provide feedback, make change. Be warned: know the expectations of involvement and be sure you are available to put in the extra time; don’t commit if you can’t deliver.
- Build your network; you never know when you will need them. Early in your career, an industry network is a great tool for support and collaboration. As you grow in your career, those relationships will support business development and industry advocacy. Several years ago, when my job was unexpectedly eliminated, my industry network stepped up big time, providing support, job leads, and references. Build your network early by becoming actively involved in professional organizations and attending meetings and conferences. If time is limited, make a phone call instead of an email to build personal connections with colleagues. These relationships will only grow stronger and become more valuable throughout the decades.
- Worry about you and what you can control. When you find you are comparing yourself to someone else’s success, stop. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses; each of us has a different set of skills that play a part in the success of our organization. What you can’t see is always more complex than what you can see. If you find yourself struggling with expectations versus reality, consider asking someone in your organization what you can do to achieve your next goal. Be prepared to take the feedback and be willing to act on it.
- Life gets in the way – embrace that too. The first two decades of your career may also coincide with several life changes. Living on your own, meeting a partner, starting a family, etc. After my first child, I was struggling with work-life balance and needing to let go of many of the suggestions I’ve noted above. In the women’s bathroom at an industry event, an industry leader gave me advice that I often reference: It will all be here when you get back. The same organizations, the same events, the same chicken dinners – they aren’t going away. Embrace the moments in life that don’t last forever, and know everything else will be waiting for you when the time is right.
The journey of our careers will span decades – from our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, if not beyond. As I stand at this milestone and look back, I’m in awe of how much I’ve already accomplished and achieved, like the number of things I jumped into at the moment, not thinking about how they could help me in the future. I’m looking forward to utilizing the lessons of my 20s and 30s to continue learning, taking steps forward, and finding success in my 40s. No matter what decade you currently reside in – embrace it! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far and be open to journey ahead.
Laura Frein, CPSM, is the business development and marketing manager for the surface transportation market at Urban Engineers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.