I’m almost 40! How did that happen? I’m not crying yet, though some people have warned me it’s a possibility. Instead, I’m quite excited about hitting the big 4-0, and feel now, more than ever before, that I’ve hit my stride. Life is exciting, and I’m ready to grasp it firmly with both hands. Watch out, world!

I don’t profess to know everything just because of my new mid-life status, but the big birthday has got me thinking about the lessons I’ve learnt so far. In a departure from the usual tips, this week I want to share my top 40 career and life lessons, the ones I have taken away since 1976.

Some are serious, some are random, some may remind you of internet cat posters, but I hope that at least some will resonate. In no particular order, here they are:

1: Declutter your career. Unsubscribe, shred, stop doing what doesn’t fit. Make space for the new.

2: Don’t condemn career entitlement. Fixing your eyes on a career path, job title, or salary and believing you deserve that outcome is a positive first step to manifesting it.

3: When revising, be careful not to peak too early. You may well get bored, and nobody asks about your straight A mock GCSE or A Level grades.

4: Never stay in a job for the money, unless it’s enabling you to achieve a much-desired goal.

5: Take and tell yourself the positive story from every career episode. Negativity breeds negativity, but a positive recollection will elevate your self-worth and pave the way for growth.

6: Record your successes, and keep an eye on the numbers. It’s much harder to find the right information and quantify a job well done after the event, and after you’ve moved on.

7: Anticipate and time your next step up. Life usually indicates when you should take things up a notch, so when it calls, be ready to listen.

8: Recognise and revere your career heroes. They may fit into the ordinary every day at the time, but you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about these figureheads, so aim to figure out what makes them great.

9: Appreciate the constants. However consistent or chequered your career history, there will be a few contacts that stay the course. They are the constants, and there’s a reason for their presence.

10: Place you, not what you do, at the heart of your story. It’s what you bring to your job, not your job that defines you.

11: Reach out to people, even when you don’t know them yet. People are often friendlier and more willing to advise than you initially imagine.

12: If something terrifies you, it’s most likely worth doing. Embrace the adrenaline kick and get on with it, it’s the exciting next step.

13: Creativity can’t be forced. Embrace the times when it flows and accept when your well has run dry. Top it up by taking a rest, and new ideas will emerge.

14: Thank people who do good work. If they make your life brighter, easier, and better, then tell them. And tell others about them.

15: Invest in the tools you need. You won’t look back, and it will make work faster, easier, and more enjoyable.

16: Keep learning. Read, listen, absorb the information around you. Even if you know the basics, a new opinion or a new slant can inspire a fresh perspective.

17: Do your most important work when your relevant tank (creative, physical, analytical, etc.) is full. Routine or dull tasks can wait; you need to prioritise whatever takes you closer to your goals.

18: Keep a notebook handy for the bursts of inspiration. Even if you end up shelving ideas for a while, you’ll have captured them and can revisit.

19: Striving for perfection can hold you back. Allow your work to represent you as you are now, knowing that you are evolving and improving. Don’t be embarrassed. For now, version 1.0 is good enough, and there’s no reason to hide it.

20: Look back and laugh at how unpolished or naive you were. Then acknowledge and appreciate how far you have come.

21: Aim to impress yourself. If you are proud of your efforts, any other accolades are the cherry on the cake.

22: Work may be your thing, but it shouldn’t be your only focus. Remember the whole person and make time for the other stuff that makes you tick.

23: Ask yourself what you want to take away from each job, project, or course, then seize it Viking-style. Even if someone else defines the task, this mindset will make it your own.

24: Find the oddball. If you come across someone who is different from you in every way – different approach, different background, different everything – then seek out their company and relish the discomfort. They will challenge you and move you on.

25: You have the right to change your mind. You don’t have to stick at something if it’s not what you want or it’s making you miserable. Close one door and another new possibility will open up.

26: Consistent effort makes for expertise. If you want to be great at something, make it part of your routine. Short, sharp bursts of activity, layered atop each other will grow your skills and standing quicker than you might think.

27: Achieving a personal goal can help you to achieve a professional goal. Do something for yourself, as an individual, and the confidence boost will carry forward into your work.

28: Accept that not everyone will like you. If you can work out why, you can either aim to change, or identify and welcome the trait or behaviour as a core part of you.

29: Play to your strengths, always. You’ll stand a much better chance of success if you use what you already have.

30: Drive yourself by setting personal targets. Write a daily list, set a monthly goal, voice and note an annual target, then make it happen.

31: Know your primary goal. Small goals are great and can move you forward, but don’t take your eyes off the main prize.

32: Invest in your network. Help others, support others, share with them. A new contact could quickly become your go-to.

33: Listen to your parents. They know you better than anyone. They’ve witnessed your strengths and weaknesses first-hand for longer than anyone else in your life.

34: Identify your turning points. When a step-change occurs, dwell on it a little and draw out the positives. This will be a career story you retell again and again.

35: Mix it up every once in a while. It’s the different things you remember. Also, if you continually walk the same path, you’re not giving yourself the chance to respond in a fresh way.

36: Eat more protein. Especially if you are a vegetarian. Fuelling your body in the right way can make a huge difference to your get-up-and-go.

37: Think about who you were and what you enjoyed doing as a child. That person is still in there somewhere, and can give a lot of clues about who you are and what you want now.

38: Understand your best colours and wear them. A little girly, but knowing what suits you saves time, and wearing what suits you can have a huge impact on how you are seen.

39: Let others know you. Share your viewpoint, your personality, share yourself. Share to help others define you and to give them something to invest in.

40: Find your precept. Mine? “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary.


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Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire

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