We grow more from our mistakes than our accomplishments. If you research this topic, you will find all kinds of savvy advice about what to avoid in your careers. While the list below provides some advice based on my experiences, the key to a successful career is really self-reflection.

Committee Overload: As teachers, we are constantly challenged to be innovative, develop professionally and maintain a standard of excellence. As a result of this, it is sometimes a challenge to balance our workloads. After one week in my first full time position, several groups on campus approached me to serve on their committees. My mentor told me to say no to all of them. This surprised me. He advised me to get comfortable with the classroom and students first, and then research the committees on campus that I was interested in. He told me to choose committees that are realistic with their workloads and that I thought I could contribute to. This turned out to be amazing advice. When you are being evaluated, it is not the amount of committees listed on your resume that is important, but the quality contributions you made that truly matters.

Smooth sailing: In any job, it is easy to get complacent and even unappreciative. If you feel like you are just going through the motions, think about how you can spice up work environment. Continue to challenge yourself to be better at what you do. Learn new things. I taught the same topics for over 12 years. I didn’t always feel that what I was teaching was the right fit. Having recently switched to a new program, I am constantly challenged and excited about gaining new perspectives on a topic I already knew lots about.

Lose the arrogance: Professors are not usually known for being humble. I remember a conference where I felt that everyone defined the other person’s worth by how many articles they wrote. Some were extremely arrogant to those who had placed our teaching priorities elsewhere. It is good to be proud of your work and natural to want to share your success. However, arrogance in the workplace can be counterproductive. It makes you unapproachable and defeats the purpose of others being able to learn from you. Being humble and open to learning from others opens new doors. Learn from the people around you, no matter how many publications they may or may not have.

Work relationships: We spend more time with our co-workers than our own families. It is natural that relationships and friendships form easily. While it is important to have strong working relationships, be careful about the personal information you share with co-workers. I have seen good people suffer at work because of toxic people, and the relationships they formed with co-workers. As power shifts, so do relationships.

Perfectionism: Telling a perfectionist not to be perfect is likely not very effective. We need to learn to balance our professional and personal lives better. There is always work to be done, but sometimes, it is better to spend time with our family or take a break. Our students deserve healthy, balanced and happy teachers, not those who are burnt out. 

Even after reading this article, we will still make mistakes in our careers or do things that we wish we did differently. Let us learn to grow from our mistakes. Don’t let other people define who you are. Figure out who you want to be as a professional and build on that.

 By: Dr. Jan L. Jones