They say some lessons are best learned the hard way, and even the wisest of us screw up now and then. Fortunately, though, we don't always have to get something wrong before we can get it right. We can learn from the mistakes of others and avoid their fate.
Sometimes simply listening to others describe where they went wrong can be illuminating in a way that guides you to a less rocky path forward. Below, three Motley Fool contributors each describe a tough yet important lesson they've learned throughout their careers.
Selena Maranjian: One workplace lesson that I didn't appreciate as early as I should have is that it's vital to keep learning throughout your work life -- at least if you want to do as well as possible and move up the ladder.
Learning shouldn't end when you graduate from school. Whatever job you're in, there are probably ways you can deepen your understanding of your trade and learn to do your work better. You could read up on your field or take courses that earn you professional certifications or designations. As an example, I've always enjoyed being a generalist in my field, writing about topics from personal finance to general investing. But had I pursued a certification, such as becoming a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), I would have been able to write even more kinds of articles and perhaps opened up new career opportunities.
Remember that when the time comes for promotions to be handed out, the more you know, the more likely it is that your superiors will want to keep you around and reward you. Expanding your expertise into new areas can qualify you for different jobs, which can be particularly useful if you think your job security isn't too strong or if you don't like your job.
Whenever you're asked to do something at work that you're balking at, think again. You may be balking because you aren't comfortable with it. Well, that's one more opportunity to learn. If public speaking scares you, go ahead and accept the responsibility of giving a talk. You'll learn, gain experience, and boost your expertise.
Don't be too proud to ask for help
Maurie Backman: Of the various soft skills I like to think I possess, learning on the fly and working independently are two areas where I've always strived to excel. But long ago, in an effort to prove that I was competent and capable, I nearly lost my company several hundred thousand dollars as the result of a mistake I made.
Long story short, I was working at a hedge fund and had to close a contract-based trade. As such, I was tasked with sorting through a mountain of paperwork and making calculations based on the numbers contained therein. My boss had instructed me to come to him with questions, since I was fairly new to the job, but in an effort to impress him, I tried powering through.
Big mistake. I wound up botching those calculations and offering up a settlement agreement for what would've ultimately left my company many, many thousands in the hole.
The lesson? Sometimes you're better off asking for help than really messing up independently. Thankfully, my whopping error was caught in time, and that extra money never changed hands. Still, I learned the hard way that when there's a lot at stake and you're not sure what you're doing, it's important to shelve your pride and ask someone who knows better than you to jump in.
Talk less, listen more
Daniel B. Kline: This was actually something said to me by one of my first bosses at summer camp many years ago. He told me that sometimes I was so eager to show what I knew that I didn't slow down to hear what other people had to say. It's advice that took a while to sink in -- and it's frankly something I still struggle to do now. But once I realized the value of listening more and talking less, I at least became aware of my issue. When I talk too much, I realize it (eventually) and make an effort to give other people the floor.
In a meeting just a few weeks ago, I heard one of my colleagues share the rationale for a new project. I jumped in with all sorts of ideas before she kindly explained to me the much more effective, data-driven way she thought we should proceed. I had spoken without listening, rather than letting my very smart colleague finish talking, and it cost everyone time. Fortunately, I caught myself pretty quickly, so it was only a momentary lapse.
Being a better listener has led me to learn better ways of doing things and to hear different perspectives. There's value in that, even if you end up ignoring what you hear or dismissing it for good reason.