What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago

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Next month, Catherine Ahearn joins the HB PR department as an account coordinator. While this isn’t Catherine’s first job — she comes to us with experience working as a freelance editor — her new role prompted me to consider things that I wish I had known earlier in my career. It has taken me four employers and two decades to refine this list.

Pick a mentor, or three. In my nine years at HB, I have recognized that while all individuals bring a range of capabilities to the table, each of us have few specific skills that shine extra bright. Dawn, for example, can quickly assess a situation and immediately pose three questions that drive directly to the heart of the matter. While I work to channel my inner Dawn when asking questions, I try to emulate Christine and Molly when listening to the answers.

Know yourself and optimize accordingly. Anyone who has spent a workday with me knows two things: I am not a morning person and every day, like clockwork, I enjoy a 3:30 Diet Coke. Thanks to this combination, I often dig into a new project at 4:00 and come up for air around 6:00.

Get out of the office to network and learn. The magic doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Expose yourself to new ideas, perspectives and people as often as possible. A conversation at an alumni event or a fundraiser could lead to new business, or a fresh idea, for you, your client and your company.

Set goals to move forward. I like to walk; it’s fun and as they say, time flies when you are having fun. At the office, a month can whiz by and you haven’t moved the needle on an important, but not urgent project. Measurable goals ensure that I keep my eye on all important tasks, not just the biggest, and keep putting one meaningful step in front of the other.

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. In the words of Cher, “If I could turn back time…” for a redo of the months that I wasted with a tainted attitude about my work environment (clearly, this predates my time at HB). In past chapters of my career, I found myself frustrated and let this attitude influence all aspects of my life. As corny as it sounds, “think happy, be happy.” Check your attitude and that of colleagues. Have a co-worker whose negative vibes form a toxic cloud? Help them turn that frown upside down. And be aware if you are bringing the toxins. Sometimes we get in a rut and never even realize it. Empower a colleague to be brutally honest with you. The HB Way, our company doctrine, guides behaviors internally and externally. One of my favorites is “we hold each other accountable.”

You need to ask. Speaking up — about your career path, a client challenge, a company practice you don’t quite get — is really the only good way to get answer. But before you ask a question, do your research. Do not make a move without checking with your friend and ally, the internet. Come across an acronym you don’t recognize? Not sure how to calculate something in Excel? Can’t get your video editing software to work? You will be surprised how much online content, including video, can help you move forward.

Any words of wisdom for Catherine as she embarks on a new adventure here at HB?