How to Avoid Career Mistakes in Your 20s

Your career is something that will be with your for a large part of your life. During your twenties, you lay the foundations for your career and if possible, it's a good idea to try avoiding the most typical mistakes people tend to make during this time. While you won't be able to avert them all, and really learning the hard way is sometimes good for you, this article will help you to at least be alert to the potential for bad career mistakes.


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    Be focused. Focus on what you want to achieve so that you know your goal where to reach. One of the worst mistakes you can make in any career is to follow or try to live up to someone else's expectations instead of following what you know is best for you. For example, if a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent or someone else in your life insists that you follow a certain pathway but you feel it just isn't working out for you, then listen to your inner self and not that family member who means well but simply isn't you.
    • What does your heart tell you? Your head might insist that Uncle Gustomeyer is absolutely right about making millions in finance but your heart might be content with being a poet at the corner cafe you run yourself. Whatever drives you, listen closely. Life is too short to be following in someone else's footsteps.
    • You may hurt people if you change career. But that's a small price compared to a lifetime of servitude to a job you absolutely hate.
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    Realize that everyone makes mistakes and has absolutely rotten days. There are some days when you'll wish you never went to work but stayed in bed. These will be the days when you do something wrong, break something, lose something, say something you regret or simply don't perform well at a time it matters. However, these things happen to everyone in the early stages of their career (and later too) and most of the time, it's about learning and not repeating whatever didn't work out. The mistake is to view such mishaps as all-encompassing cock-ups that ruin your career. They don't, well not unless they involved embezzlement or murder but then you wouldn't be reading this if that were your problem. The best you can do is to apologize, promise whatever it was won't happen again on your watch and that you've learned a big lesson.
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    Learn early on to balance work and the rest of your life. Hard-headed people may insist that work comes first, second and third. Good for them, that's their choice but be warned it's a mistake to put your work before the rest of your life. Seek to both find and implement a balance that lets you find love, have a family, see your friends, be involved in hobbies and volunteer pursuits, have down time, travel, and so forth. All those other things that go to making up you. Work wants your soul but you still own it and don't have to oblige.
    • Get involved in any workplace commitment to work-life balance and be part of making sure it isn't simply lip service. Be living proof of it.
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    Be polite to your elders and the wiser members of your workplace but don't be a sycophant. Listen and learn from those more experienced than you but don't hold back from explaining your own knowledge and thoughts when it is appropriate to do so. It is important to balance being green (not knowing your work yet) with being innovative and introducing new thoughts that can shift people beyond sticking points due to old habits.
    • Speak up when it matters. You'll know when it's important enough to say what needs to be said, which includes asking for a raise when it's time.
    • Find mentors at work. These people can help you to learn more and will be invested in your success.
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    Socialize a little, not a lot, with your workplace colleagues. Once again returning to balance, it's important to be seen as participating in social events related to work and to have occasional catch-ups with colleagues outside work. However, it's not a good idea to do everything with your workplace colleagues and never see your other friends and your family socially. In other words, don't replace your usual friends with only having work friends; that would be a mistake. Instead, seek to widen your circle of friends by all means but don't neglect the people outside of your work.
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    Be careful about your reputation. Your workplace reputation is worth protecting and it should reflect your reliability, integrity and ability to make good judgments. It also means being super careful about not being seen as the drunk one at office events or being a wild party type who fails to turn up to work on time.
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    Be considerate. Coming back once more to the idea of balance, while it's important to know that you've worked hard to get where you are and that you are worth it, it's equally as important to not grow a big head and assume that you're better than others or that anyone "owes" you anything. Behaving in an entitled manner in a workplace will earn you enemies and you'll quickly find yourself pushed into a situation where you've been set up to fail. Be humble, smart and friendly, not arrogant or opinionated.


  • Look busy even if you're not. You aren't at work to rest on your laurels. Find things to do, use your initiative and get on with things. If you find yourself playing computer games more than working, then it may be telling you you're in the wrong job and need to change to something more suited to your needs.


  • Don't dress too casually, too skimpily or without regard to the workplace culture. Gauge how others are dressing and style yourself similarly. Work isn't a place for making a fashion statement. Moreover, clothes can make or break your reputation and people will take you more or less seriously dependent on your clothing style.
  • Don't gossip or be the go-to person for bad news, rumors and salacious commentary. Once people know you pass on secrets, break confidences, share rumors and are prepared to put down anyone in the office or workplace, you won't be considered trustworthy or mature.

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Categories: Work World