Career Advice I Would Give to my 20 Year Old Self

The other day I realized that I will turn 30 in four months (WHAAAT?!?!) and it got me thinking about the lessons that I’ve learned in my 20s. I have collected many human experiences as the last decade has been fairly tumultuous for me (earning my BSW and my MSW, cancer twice, moving to Colorado, leaving unhealthy relationships, etc.). But whose 20s aren’t tumultuous? Some of my most significant areas if growth have been from the wrinkled, slightly hungover, can’t ever find her calendar, quasi professional of my early 20s to the arrive 15 minutes before, caffeinated, clean hair, charmingly self-deprecating, bona-fide professional. Here are a few things I would tell my young, idyllic self:

  • Don’t try so hard – Girl, calm down. You do not have to take on all the extra work with no extra pay. You do not have to stay at the office longer than everyone else. You don’t have to be in a management position to prove your worth. You do not have to be an expert in every subject matter. You are not a fraud. You deserve to be sitting at the table. You have nothing to prove, so stop acting like it. Calm down and drink red wine, or whatever it is that those memes say.
  • When something is not funny, you do not owe laughs to anyone- Not to the internet repair guy. Not to the professional making rape jokes in a professional setting. Not to anyone masking their thinly veiled -ism (racism, sexism, agism, classism) in a knock-knock joke. You do not have to play the good, engaged girl. Instead of laughing, call someone out. Instead of laughing simply say “Huh.” Let there be awkward silence. THEY made it awkward, not you, darling.
  • Yes, you really should lint roll, every time– I’ve had pets all my life. Right now, I live with three cats, two dogs, and a fish. I thought no one paid attention to the animal hair on others’ polyester slacks from Ross (oh, is this one just me?), but as it turns out, it’s a mark of someone who doesn’t have enough time in the morning to prioritize looking crisp and clean. Girl, make time for this.
  • There is no reason to be intimidated by old, white, heteronormative men- This is a tough one because I didn’t know I was intimidated and acted like it. It was so SO subconscious. I always deferred to the white man in the room. I would let white men talk over me in meetings. I down played my knowledge and experience because I just assumed I was the least competent of everyone in the room. This is not true. NOT true. Your voice matters just as much as a white man’s.
  • Not Everything is Your Fault – You do not have to take responsibility for everything that goes wrong on your team or at your place of work. I used to take mistakes so personally that I would never want to speak about them, I became quiet and distracted coworkers with something shiny over here so they don’t notice I made a mistake.
  • Do not put up with sexual harassment. Ever.– Sexual harassment and assault is not cute. Under no circumstances should you be silent about sexual harassment and even assaults in the work place. Even if no one is listening to you, everyone has to report to someone. Take that shit right on up the chain if your administration is not listening. It is not okay. Even when a woman does it jokingly, say something. Say something. Say something.
  • Shut up. Seriously, stop talking. Alright, this is a stark difference to my last point. Knowing when to speak up and when to STFU is definitely key. This is a tough one that I still struggle with in my daily life and in my career. I tend to become agitated when there is silence in a professional setting. Being the enneagram type 9 (the Peacemaker. If you’ve never heard of Enneagram personality test, start here) I feel that it is my job to facilitate and keep those awful meetings where you want to stab your pen in your eye moving along. Which means I often take over if there’s no clear facilitator. I sometimes overshare to the wrong people at the wrong times. This has gotten me in trouble SO MANY TIMES. Your boss is not your therapist. Never forget the false sense of security that comes with working in a non-profit. A building full of bleeding hearts does not mean that your words will not come to bite you, hard.
  • Know your worth – This is also something I still struggle with daily (hello, imposter syndrome). It is my instinct to take on all the extra cases/jobs for no extra money. I am very loyal to my non-profit which needs a LOT. Sometimes I feel like it’s all hands on deck and I need to stick my finger in all the holes, more than my fair share, in the dam to keep everything from bursting. Girl, I’m here to tell you, you do not have to do this. You do not have to bleed to succeed. In fact, working way over 40 hours attempting to plug up all the holes will almost always make you UNsuccessful (Are you laughing at that euphemism yet, cause I am). Don’t take that job with the shitty pay because it sounds like you’ll make an impact in that position or it’ll advance your career. In my experience, it does not. Do negotiate your salary ALWAYS. Do pursue parties that owe you monies. You did the work, you deserve to be paid and get credit. How much are you worth per hour? Do you know? If not, take some time to calculate it (for example, as a therapist I could make at least $60 an hour, so I try not to accept positions that pay me less than that. Set up those boundaries hard and fast so you won’t have to do the work on the back end.
  • You cannot work harder than your client- As a young social worker, I allocated all of my energy to connect clients to internal and external resources. I drove clients to appointments, court, etc. I advocated for several chances for the client in a multitude of settings. And I would ultimately put in more time and energy to help this person than they put in to help themselves. No change happens without complete and total buy in from clients. There’s not much you can do other than leading that horse to water. Don’t take it personally when they don’t drink. And don’t lead them to the water over and over if it’s not working. Continue to support, believe, and advocate for clients but if they don’t want to drink, well, you know how that saying goes.

Is there any career advice that you would give your 20 year old self?

Thanks for reading!



One thought on “Career Advice I Would Give to my 20 Year Old Self

  1. Mary Brundage

    Great job, Maegan. Sounds like you have been in so many situations and have successfully met and mastered and grew from those experiences. Good luck with the next thirty years. Your growth will surprise you.

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