Navigating Common Pitfalls within the Workplace

Confusion for BlogI just read a great LinkedIn article by Jacki Zehner, CEO of Women Moving Millions, entitled Class of 2013: Be a Superhero! It was an article meant to inspire young and emerging adults to help them navigate common pitfalls that many graduates often ignore upon entering the workplace. After reading the article, I was excited to share Jacki’s story because it reminded me of my own journey that followed my graduation from Indiana University (IU) in 1990. I thought it would be inspiring to adults of all ages as well.

Jacki Zehner became the youngest woman and first female trader to become a partner at Goldman Sachs at the age of 32. During her 14-year career at Goldman, she rose from an analyst (at age 25) to associate, vice president, managing director, and partner, all while working as a trader and desk manager in mortgage-backed securities.

Like Jacki, I began my career with the Universal Music Group (UMG) at age 26. During my own 22-year career with the Universal Music Group, I rose from project coordinator to vice president of administration (MCA Records), and vice president of financial services (North America), all while overseeing recording and marketing administration, travel, and shared services for all North American record labels and UMG operating companies.

Also similar to Jacki, I too began to feel restless in my career, and I was ready to pursue new opportunities.  I did not realize just how restless I had become until I left my job and had the realization that I had overstayed my welcome.

Italicized below are Jacki’s suggestions from the article, followed by my own experiences (that I wished someone had shared with me following my IU graduation) to help you navigate career-sabotaging pitfalls and recognize opportunities within the workplace:

1. Do not be afraid to take a job that you know nothing about. If someone who knows something about it thinks you can do it (and it is of interest to you), go for it. Then learn everything you can about how to do that job well.

When I first began working for MCA Records, I was a musician with a Masters in Music (Percussion Performance/Jazz Studies). I also worked as a professional D.J. and served as the Concert Director for Indiana University’s Student Programming Organization: Union Board. Immediately following my graduation, I accepted a position in the recording administration department at MCA Records despite the fact that I had not yet taken any business courses in either college or graduate school.  As a result, I quickly had to learn the financial aspects of making records. As Jacki suggests, because I had an interest to always learn more, I constantly accepted new responsibilities and learned everything I could by listening and learning from others.

2. It really, really matters whom you work for. It is extremely important, especially early on in your career, to work for someone who is not only good at what they do but is also a good teacher, manager, leader—and well (if you’re really lucky), human being. By following the bad example of someone senior to you, it often gets you into trouble later. While those individuals often had the track record, the talent, and/or the relationships to insulate them, the more junior person did not.

I was very fortunate to work for a young, up-and-coming music executive, Vinnie Freda at MCA Records. Vinnie was a great business mentor who was very patient with me as I learned the responsibilities associated with my position. Vinnie also encouraged me to take on additional responsibilities and often supported me when issues arose. During my first 14 years working under Vinnie, I was promoted nine times. Unfortunately, I was transferred from Vinnie’s department and I began reporting to a new manager who was not as supportive.

3. Just because you see other people do questionable things in the workplace, do not assume you can get away with it too. Be the best you can be all the time. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. When the bad days started to outnumber the good days, and you have a choice, it is time to leave.

Fortunately, I was never asked to do any questionable things in my position at UMG. However, there is always the possibility that you could be asked to do things that you are not comfortable doing. If you ever get that weird little feeling in the pit of your stomach, don’t ignore it. Trust your instincts! You should never be forced to compromise your integrity at work. Politely confront your supervisor and inform them that you feel uncomfortable with their request. If they do not respect your wishes, I would suggest the following: speak with your company’s Human Resources department, request a transfer to another department, or look for a new job.

As I always like to say, “When a compromise becomes a sacrifice, leave!”

4. Live your values! This also means work in alignment with your values. If you do have options and believe in your talents and ability, do not be afraid to walk away from a job that is not making you happy. In the long term, you will be much happier and fulfilled working with people who share your values, and at a firm that is doing work that you believe in, and in a way that you believe in.

As I mentioned earlier, after 14 years I was transferred from my former boss’ department and I was no longer pursuing my strengths, talents and abilities. My decision to remain at the company for another eight years was a great example of “overstaying my welcome” because I knew that I was going to be embarking on new responsibilities that were no longer in alignment with my initial goals.

To quote Jacki, “I tried very hard to put the needs of others ahead of myself, to hold myself to the highest possible standard, and to fearlessly protect the culture of the firm to the best of my abilities. Was I perfect? Of course not. I look back now and think of all the things I could have done much better. At that point, however, I knew that my life had to be about doing work with people who shared my views and my values.”

5.  If you start having angst about your work, and especially if you have the resources to make a change, don’t wait to ask yourself: “What is my highest and best use on this planet? What is the work that I am meant to do?”

Jacki’s dissatisfaction regarding the impact she was having in her role at Goldman Sachs resulted in her departure from the firm, which led her to her current role as CEO of Women Moving Millions– a position she claims she was destined to be in.

Since my departure from UMG, I have been motivated to educate and inspire young and emerging adults to set and follow their own goals. My mission is to provide young adults (ages 16 to 25) with the needed educational concepts and tools to be successful in all areas of their lives – a dream job that has led me to write my first upcoming book, Growing Success: A Young Adult’s Guide to Achieving Personal and Financial Success.

As Jacki recommended in her article, the true secret to attaining one’s dream job and ultimate job satisfaction is aligning one’s unique talents alongside what gives one joy (e.g. meaningful work). Whatever you choose to do, if the opportunity presents itself, go for it. Be aware of your own values, goals, strengths, and abilities, and only work for others who are committed to your future development as you grow your success.