Recently, I sat on a panel called “How to communicate with decision makers and other challenges for new PIOs”. The session was part of a conference geared toward government communications professionals at the front end of their careers. I’m assuming I was asked to provide advice since I am at the back end of my career, and presume to have some sage wisdom and perspectives to share. This is always a little tricky since everybody’s experience, values, interests and career goals are different.
We were asked to provide a takeaway list of the top five lessons learned over our careers. How can you summarize a life’s work in five easy steps? I had to add a sixth – but I guess the point was to offer a few thoughts learned along the way. Mine are not in order of priority. Some are geared more toward women because, well, that has clearly molded my experience and been the lens through which I view things.
Lesson one: You know more than you think you do
At the beginning of my career, I believed that everybody else somehow had the keys to the knowledge kingdom but me. Looking back, I realize it was simply that they had more experience than I did. While it takes 20 years to get 20 years of experience, that doesn’t mean you don’t bring knowledge and value to the table. Speak up, be confident. Establish your voice and presence and realize your contributions are no less valuable than the next person’s.
Lesson two: Be a lifelong learner and curious about the world
As a communications professional, it’s not enough just to read a few online publications every day. Curiosity about what’s going on in the world is an important trait to cultivate. Read about something that seems totally out of reach, take an online course on a topic way out of your comfort zone, take trips to foreign places to appreciate other cultures, languages and social norms. Being curious keeps you engaged, energized and more interesting.
Lesson three: Have a working knowledge of sports
I know that I am biased when it comes to sports. I wanted to be a sports writer after college, and while that career path never materialized, it’s still been a lifelong passion. I grew up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports (“the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat”). Sports is a teacher of creating flow, teamwork, perseverance and transcendence. Sports is a constant in good times and bad, the source of many conversations at work, a way to bond/connect/shoot the breeze with strangers. And for women, it can crush another stereotype that is long overdue.
Lesson four: You only become a good writer by writing
Writing is a very overlooked skill. As a society, we often value science/math/engineering/software coding and other skills, but good writers are not celebrated much (unless of course you are a best seller, which doesn’t guarantee that you are a good writer). Writing takes practice. And more practice. A lifetime of practice. Spend time practicing, find your own style and expand your use of language.
Lesson five: Find your inner North Star
When starting out – and this seems particularly true for women – you worry if what you said sounds silly, whether your idea is a dud, if the way you dress is right, whether your boss’s email really means what you think it means, if you should have done something differently (of course!), and the list goes on. Stop worrying about it. The negative chatter in your mind only makes you doubt yourself. Instead, work on finding your inner North Star, your internal compass that knows what and who you are and protects you from getting buffeted by the winds of criticism and second guessers (and they are always there).
Lesson six: You can learn something from everybody
It’s best not to have an ego when it comes to learning. Everybody, at every age, has something to teach, and we have to be open to learning those lessons. Interacting with people of all ages and walks of life helps you to be more creative, open and see things from a different perspective. Employ that philosophy in all aspects of your life. That is the beauty and the joy of opening yourself up to learning something from everybody.
Claudia Keith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.