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5 Major Career Mistakes I Made In My 20s (So You Don’t Have To)

Recently, I posted about my journey + career in the tech world and highlighted a lot of the shiny moments. While I love writing about my proud moments, I also wanted to share some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, in hopes that you can avoid some of them. 😉 So let’s get after it…

1. I didn’t understand what I didn’t understand.

Let me explain. I thought I knew everything I needed to about my industry (gaming) — I competed in gaming competitions, I worked almost every gaming industry event, and I even held a technical degree. It should’ve been a piece of cake to waltz into a game studio and pick it up, right? Wrong.

Once I finally got into games and started working, I realized I had no idea of the inner-workings of an AAA game studio. I now understand why devs would give me a polite smile when I would tell them their game should include this or that. It can’t be that hard, I thought. Ahh…naive little me. In fact, I originally applied for a PVP test position and thought the interview would be a breeze. How hard could it be? You just play games, right? But I wasn’t prepared, and I totally bombed. I didn’t understand what QA/test actually entailed, much less at a gaming company like Bungie where standards for QA are set extremely high.

Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I understand the complexity and effort that goes into making a video game — the coordination, time, expertise, craft, messaging, etc. The list goes on and on! It is so much more intricate than I ever understood.

My advice: Don’t be headstrong. Recognize that you have a lot to learn, but are excited about the opportunity to do so. Yes, you can learn and research, but it is always different in practice.

2. Interview fails

Sometimes I reminisce about an interview I had and I physically cringe. I’m talking a full physical cringe, y’all. They weren’t all that bad…but I definitely had some spectacular fails. A few factors contributed to my flops:

  1. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was all over the map when applying for jobs, and you can bet it came through in my interviews. People can tell when you’re genuine (or desperate).
  2. I went for the wrong jobs. I was going for the “big, sexy jobs” instead of the suitable junior-level jobs that matched my experience. It’s not a bad thing to reach for top jobs, but when you are falling short consistently, it’s time to reset your expectations.
  3. I didn’t interview well. They weren’t all bad, but I could’ve represented myself better in some interviews by doing more research about the role, practicing my answers, and implementing key terms in my responses.

Like anything, the more you do it the better you become, and I improved immensely by the end of my job hunt (hence it became the end of my job hunt)! Now that I interview others, I understand what’s important and what an employer is looking for in a candidate. It’s funny to be on the other side, but it has given me great perspective.

My advice: Apply intentionally for positions. Role-play interviews. Be able to speak to your experience. Use key terms. Be excited and/or interested! Ask questions that display your interest. Most importantly, be genuine.

3. A chip on my shoulder

I had a chat with an experienced woman in the industry a while ago and something she said stuck with me. She observed that women in tech have one of two problems: either they carry a chip on their shoulder, or they are too quiet and don’t extend themselves enough. Well, she hit the nail on the head for me, because I did both throughout my journey!

I was dismayed by some of my experiences and allowed that to affect my attitude. “I worked hard, I checked all the boxes, what more can I do? I should have their job! Life just isn’t fair.” But allowing that frustration to linger in my life didn’t get me anywhere. In fact, holding onto a grudge gives it more power because it continues to affect your life, likely to the detriment of your success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have appropriate discussions when needed and shed light on biases, but I am saying that it’s in your best interest to keep moving. Life isn’t fair, which is much easier to type than it is to accept in reality.

My advice: Don’t be that disgruntled person who’s clearly upset with the cards the world dealt them. Work on letting go and moving towards positivity. Once you let go of that grudge and focus on improving yourself, you’ll be so much more effective (and boatloads happier!).

4. Radio silence

Yes, I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg — I just didn’t always apply it. I had some trouble finding my voice and participating in discussions.

This is still something I’m working on as I am naturally introverted and soft-spoken, but I’ve improved a great deal from the start of my career. The more I skipped out on speaking up, the less confident I became in my ability to share my thoughts and deliver feedback. It was a snowball effect. This combined with my social anxiety and impostor syndrome led me to shut down. It’s much easier to sit out then it is to get in the arena. The funny thing is — the best way to gain self-confidence is by DOING. So, I started speaking up and sharing my thoughts, little by little. It was a process, but the more I did it the more validation I received. Getting those small wins increased my confidence each time and allowed me to find my voice again.

Once I started speaking up, I realized that I needed to learn the right way to deliver those thoughts. It’s true that communication is an art. I’m lucky to work with amazing colleagues who are all-stars at raising concerns and delivering feedback, so I had wonderful examples all around me. I picked out one person who had a great communication style — he was clear, concise, honest, and positive. He handled difficult situations with ease. I paid close attention to how he communicated in emails and meetings and tried to emulate that while putting my own twist on it. It was great to have this base and build off of it.

My advice: Get out of your head. Your thoughts, insights, and opinions are needed! Keep speaking up, keep doing, and you’ll find your voice soon enough. Find someone you admire who has great communication skills and watch how they handle difficult interactions or word certain emails. Better yet, ask them for feedback on your communication!

5. Impostor gremlin…I mean syndrome

Impostor syndrome was a big issue for me throughout my entire journey. That little gremlin of doubt would creep up on me every so often — did I really belong here? Everyone else is more intelligent and/or better than me. I don’t deserve this. I just got lucky. I better hide so nobody uncovers me for the fraud that I am. It’s only a matter of time before they do…

Nasty little gremlin, isn’t it? That coupled with real doubts from people around me was enough to discourage me at times. Despite the irrefutable evidence of my competence and experience that ran the gamut of the gaming industry – from competing to working events to a degree — I still doubted my own ability and worth.

My advice: Three things helped me banish that impostor syndrome gremlin —

  1. I recognized negative self-talk for what it was: fears, unrealistic, not proven, nonsense.
  2. I recounted all of my accomplishments and reminded myself of my qualities that led me to where I am (capable, proactive, positive, etc).
  3. I started DOING and getting small wins. The more I achieved, the more I proved that little gremlin wrong, and slowly my self-confidence grew to a point where the impostor faded away…sucker!

*****

I’ve only made five mistakes in my journey, so I’m out of things to write about…kidding! These five issues were the ones that I felt compelled to share at the moment, but there have of course been many more. As you can see, I’m imperfect. I’ve made many mistakes along the way and am still learning. But, I am still pressing forward, and I hope you will too! Cheers to continuously improving ourselves.

Bonnie shares her insights and stories about career, finance, and personal development on BadassBabe.com, in hopes of inspiring and encouraging other babes to “level up their badassery” and live their most authentic “Level 10 Life”!

Image via Unsplash

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