My Top 10: The Best Career Advice I’ve Received

UPDATED: August 7, 2014
PUBLISHED: August 7, 2014

Last week I was asked to complete an “About the Author” questionnaire. I enthusiastically answered questions about my favorite words, best day and why I chose my career. The next question made me pause—for a long time. “What is the best career advice you have ever received?”

I knew that one would take a few minutes, so I grabbed more iced tea and started writing my list. And I kept going and going. I smiled thinking of the amazing people who shared the nuggets of wisdom that I still carry with me today.

This list got me thinking, and I want to share it with you. Here’s my “best career advice,” in no particular order:

1. You can’t accomplish what you don’t start.

You have to start somewhere and the first step often isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be. In my research for Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, I learned that Wave Makers—people who start changes—often take a very small first step. But they get started, and that’s what creates momentum.

2. No one will be more excited about your idea than you are.

You set the baseline, and if you aren’t enthused and optimistic, don’t expect it in others. 

3. People will tell you that you can’t have it all. You can.

As a young female early in my career, this conversation greatly affected me. An impressive senior leader shared how she’d created a great career while also having a wonderful family. She said I’d have to make some choices along the way, but it’s not all or nothing.

4. Act like you have the job you want.

If you want to start your own business or be promoted, start thinking and acting like you are already there. Promote yourself first.

5. Never ever burn a bridge. You may need to cross it someday.

I’ve seen this too many times. The peer you never liked shows up as your boss; the difficult team member you haven’t seen in five years walks in at your first meeting with the new client. Be respectful and know that even if paths don’t cross again, you’ll have no regrets. 

6. People do business with those they trust and like.

When I was a new entrepreneur, a trusted and successful friend told me that in spite of all of the advice on selling and growing a business, people want to do business with those they trust and like. This gave me the confidence that I could be an entrepreneur and not have to change who I am.

7. Don’t expect others to solve your problems.

I learned to spend my energy on what I could influence or control even if others had a role to play. The buck stops with me.

8. Spend at least an hour a week with your network.

This is the practical application of staying in touch with people, being a friend and helping each other. One wise colleague once told me she blocked 30 minutes every day to check in with her network, which she described as the most valuable and enjoyable asset of her career.  

9. Ask for what you want.

It’s hard to get what you want if you can’t articulate it to others. Don’t expect others to know more or work harder than you before they can make an introduction or recommend you for a new job. Tell your story. Eighty percent of your dream is good enough.

10. Think bigger.

Don’t be boxed in by what your current company offers, what everyone thinks you should do or where you live. Those who realize their dreams and do big things take thoughtful risks and try. It may not work or play out as you expected, but you tried. And you won’t regret trying.

I’d love to hear your list, too, so that we can all help each other. So tell us, what is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Then find out the things you should avoid in your career—6 ways to sabotage the impression you leave and the quality of your business relationships.



Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times,NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at