7 Career Tips You Wish You Could Give Your Younger Self

Imagine if you could go back in time and have a heart-to-heart with your 22-year-old self. What career advice would you give? What behaviors and habits would you thoroughly encourage? What fears would you try to put to rest?

Granted, I don't know what the condition of your professional path has been, but if you're like most of us, there have been a few ups and downs along the way — as they're nearly impossible to avoid. With the lessons you've learned tucked securely in your back pocket, let's rewind the clock. Here are seven career tips your younger self needs to know.

1. Understand That Your Career Will Evolve

Very rarely is a person's career the product of a single epic choice. Building a career is a process of trying new things, responding to new markets and new technologies, making incremental moves, and listening to our changing interests. Don't stress out if you don't know at 22 what you want to do with the rest of your life.

2. …But Be Active in the Process

Not being sure what you want to do professionally is very different than not caring. The key is to begin something. Be conscious, be curious, and be active in the process of growing your skills. If a job isn't a good fit, figure out why before you move on. Use what you learn and then develop a strategy that keeps you constantly moving toward your goal — even if that means making a lateral move from time-to-time.

3. Start Saving Immediately

I'm writing this as I stare into the gaping maw of 50. And while life is great, I'm still trying to figure out how the last 25 years flew by so quickly. Start saving something — anything — with your very first paycheck and make structured saving a habit you never abandon. Compounding interest is a force worthy of your undying respect — learn about it; love it; live it. If you're not sure how to begin saving, some simple microsaving tools can help you get started now.

4. Job-Hop Carefully

Make sure you're not job-hopping just for the sake of variety. There's real value in building experience, history, and a reputation within a company. If you're unhappy in a job, explore opportunities in another department or work toward a promotion. If moving on is the only answer, be clear about your goals, gather as much information as possible, and know exactly how the move will benefit you.

5. Don't Waste Time in a Job You Hate

There are countless benefits of youth, and having time to recover from our mistakes is a big one. If you have the luxury of choice, don't stay in a job that isn't (and won't ever be) a good fit. Dragging yourself to a job you hate keeps you poor, trains you to be unmotivated, and wastes your time and talent. Though no job is a carnival ride every day, search for what inspires you. Find work that speaks to part of your soul.

6. Don't Burn Bridges

Who hasn't dreamt of killing the copier, finally telling off the boss, and speeding away in a cloud of righteous exhaust fumes? Dramatic endings might make great cinema, but burning bridges is a terrible career strategy. However much you think your employer may deserve it, avoid leaving things on a bad note. Give two weeks' notice, express gratitude, and move on. You may need that bridge again someday. (See also: 10 Ways to Repair a Burned Bridge)

7. Explore the Unconventional

I worked for large corporations until the recession of 2008 gave me space and time enough to reflect on a few career assumptions I'd made. The financial crisis proved to be just the motivator I needed to reinvent how I made a living — I only wish I'd made the leap sooner. My point is, don't be afraid to explore unconventional career paths while you're young. Find your professional niche and, if possible, gradually build your living around it. There are few things sweeter than thriving in a career you built from scratch.

What career advice would you give a new nine-to-fiver? What lessons were the hardest for you to learn? Share with us in the comments below.

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