10 mistakes I made in the first 5 years of my career that I'll never make again

Chelsea GreenwoodThe author and her husband at a work event.
  • Career mistakes happen, probably more often than not in the early years of your working life.
  • Making mistakes can be constructive, adding to your skill set and experience.
  • Author Chelsea Greenwood made mistakes during the first five years of her career that taught her valuable lessons about being a professional.

By the time my last semester of college rolled around, I was eager to get out of dodge. Four years of classes and wild parties left me more than ready for a full-time job that would start my career in journalism.

Luckily, it was just before the recession hit, and I had some solid work experience under my belt from interning throughout college. As a result, I landed my first job right after graduation in 2005 as an assistant editor at a city magazine in my home state.

When you’re fresh out of college, it takes some time to transition into a professional, and I definitely made my fair share of mistakes during my first five years of my working life.

Here are 10 biggest mistakes I made in the first five years of my career that I’ll never repeat.


1. I wore my emotions on my sleeve

eldar nurkovic/ShutterstockIt’s OK to take a mental health day if you need one.

Less than a year into this job, I suddenly lost a close family member. I was sad and angry, and I didn’t try to hide it – I often had a scowl on my face. One day, my bosses sat me down and told me that I was giving off negative vibes and that people were afraid to approach me.

I learned that, even if you’re going through tough times, it’s best to slap a smile on your face and soldier on.

You can also take a mental health day every once in a while, or, if you feel comfortable with it, it’s OK to be honest with your supervisor about what you’re going through.


2. I held grudges

FS Stock/ShutterstockLearn to let things go.

If I ever got into a disagreement with a coworker or felt slighted or wronged, I held onto those negative feelings for way too long. I would wind up needlessly stewing and acting passive aggressively, causing further tension. I’ve learned now to let things go, and I have more peace of mind today.


3. I left early because everyone else had

Liderina/ShutterstockPut in the extra hours in the early years of your career.

I was hired in the summer, and a lot of my coworkers were enjoying vacation time. I hadn’t accrued any vacation days yet, and I bridled at being stuck at my desk.

So, one day, when everyone else had left early for one reason or another, I decided to dip out a couple hours early. I figured: What harm could it do? When my boss caught wind of it, she was not pleased, and she was right.

I learned that you need to follow the rules of your workplace, even if you don’t agree with them in the moment.


4. I took criticism too personally

WAYHOME studio/ShutterstockTake criticism as a way to improve your skills.

You have to have a skin like teflon in the journalism industry, but it can take some time to develop it. At first, when my editor would make changes to my pieces or reject one of my ideas, I took it to heart, believing that I wasn’t good at my job.

Eventually, I realised that such criticisms were instructional, and they helped me hone the editorial judgment that I rely on as a journalist today.


5. I mixed personal and professional

Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockKnow the boundaries between coworker and friend.

Work friends can be awesome, and I’ve met some great people over the years. However, when you become BFFs with a coworker and things go sour in your friendship, it can make for a very tense work environment.

Since then, I’ve learned to remain friendly with coworkers but keep a safe distance.


6. I drank a little too much at a company function

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesBe responsible at company functions.

I admit that I was still in full-on college mode when I attended my first work function with free drinks. Everyone else was drinking, too – albeit in moderation – so I let down my inhibitions and had one too many.

Luckily, nothing major came of my stupidity, except my editor having a stern talk with me about it the next day. From then on, I limited my drinking at company functions.


7. I was too much of an open book

PH888/ShutterstockRevealing too much could leave you vulnerable.

Once I felt comfortable with my coworkers, I began to open up – a lot. I told tell them all about my personal life, from my latest dates to my mental-health struggles.

I later realised that spilling such details made me vulnerable, because people in the office could use that info against me if they wanted. That didn’t happen – that I know of – but now I filter myself a bit more.


8. I thought business attire meant button-up shirts and slacks

Diego Cervo/ShutterstockYou can wear clothes that are both professional and stylish.

Don’t ask me how I got this idea, but my idea of business attire was a button-up shirt and dark slacks. To this day, I cringe when I think of the bland outfits I wore for the first year or so at my job (complete with a librarian bun).

Eventually, I developed a professional style that was more fun and reflective of my personality, which typically includes classic pieces like blazers and white dress shirts mixed with trendy, offbeat accessories.


9. I procrastinated

dotshock/ShutterstockBe careful not to miss important deadlines.

I used to be a major procrastinator. In school, I got away with it, so I thought this same approach would work at my new job. I was wrong.

One too many times I came close to missing important deadlines, which majorly triggered my anxiety. I learned that working ahead is worth it in the long run.


10. I took for granted what a great job it was

Chelsea GreenwoodThe author and her husband at a work event.

They say that the grass is always greener, and that was definitely my view near the end of my tenure the city magazine. I was itching to move on to a bigger – and what I thought would be better – company.

However, once I made the switch to a corporate gig, I was miserable. I missed the easy camaraderie of my small team and the ability to wear the many hats that a small company affords, like doing everything from reporting, writing, editing, assigning, and fact-checking to going on photo shoots and press trips.

Now, I know that a smaller company is a better fit for me, and my first job helped teach me that.

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