How To Get Ahead In Your Career, According To People Who've Done It

When I was a college student, I was a pro at making plans. I picked my major, extracurricular activities, and career path all before I was even done with high school — I truly thought I had it all figured out. Upon graduating, I believed advancing in the professional world would follow suit; I couldn't have been more wrong. It turns out that climbing the corporate ladder or gaining recognition in a creative field is less of a linear path, and more of a long, winding road. Caught off-guard by this revelation, I found myself starting to feel a little lost.

It was only thanks to the aid and support of female mentors in my field that I began to finally feel en route. Learning the tricks of the trade from people who have already been there, done that, can be invaluable when it comes to figuring out your own path. That's why Bustle teamed up with Where Are The Boss Ladies to host its very first Bustle LEADS dinner, an event that brought women at the top of their industries together to discuss all of the things they've learned along the way. Here are 19 tips for getting ahead in your career, according to women who've done it.

Don't Be Afraid To Deviate From A Linear Path
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Everything is easier in theory than in practice, so don't be afraid to adapt to your circumstances and improvise. You don't need to follow a perfectly penned five year plan in order to achieve success: focus on your passion, interest, and happiness instead.

Don't Find A Mentor — Find A Board Of Directors
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Instead of searching far and wide for your perfect mentor or a fairy godmother to propel your career forward, try to learn something from every superior you come across. One mentor might act as a crutch or an emotional support system, while another might push you past the depths of which you thought were possible. Every mentor can serve a different purpose, so listen to all of them instead of waiting for "the one."

Don't Just Ask For What You Deserve — Show It
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There are no shortcuts when it comes to success — and proving that you're willing to put in the work is so important. Just make sure you enjoy what you're doing enough to help you see the big picture when things start to get tough.

Work With A Purpose
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It's OK to work long, hard hours as long as you are really passionate about the field you are in and the work you are doing. You should want to put in the extra effort to finish that project, because you actually care about the end result — not because you're scared your boss will be angry, or because you want a bigger bonus.

Take Calculated Risks
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When navigating new waters in your field, always step back and ask yourself: what's the worst that could happen? Most of the time, it's not as bad as you think. Weigh your options before making a risky wager.

Wait Your Turn
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Act with integrity, not entitlement. Don't feel like a failure just because you're waiting your turn to rise to the top. You won't get there overnight, and you'll know when the time is right. There's a difference between asking for what you deserve, and demanding something you haven't earned.

Seek Out Your Role Models
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Do not be afraid to reach out to someone in a leadership position in your field and ask for five minutes of their time. Cold emailing someone you admire directly and professionally can sometimes yield great results — people are actually more empathetic and willing to chat than you think. It doesn't hurt your chances by shooting them a message: worst case, they don't answer. Best case, you learn more from a potential role model.

Do One Outstanding Thing Per Year
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This is probably my favorite piece of advice. Are you looking to rev up your resumé and make it stand out? Make a resolution to do one outstanding thing per year. This can mean anything from learning a new language, to starting a new initiative at your current job. Just make sure it's something you're actually passionate about, and can speak to at an interview.

Don't Focus On Checking Boxes
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Employers can actually tell when an applicant is trying too hard to fulfill an "ideal type" — and all of their resumés will look exactly the same. Don't write something just for the sake of appearing a certain way, or qualifying yourself in a way that you are not.

Always Be Prepared
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Treat every day like your big break: have your resumé updated, and set up a website with all of your work samples, even if they haven't been published anywhere. Have business cards with your contact info in your wallet or your purse. Know how to best pitch yourself, by heart. You never know when opportunity might present itself, and it's best to be prepared to strike while the iron's hot.

Celebrate What Makes You Unique
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Instead of attempting to better blend in, showcase exactly how you stand out. Share what makes you diverse upfront, and why your unique point of view would make you an asset to the company. Contrary to popular belief, employers are looking for individuality: your experience will be what sets you apart.

Don't Let Work Consume Your Life
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The key to coming into a work environment and giving it your full, undivided attention is making sure you don't let it rule every other aspect of your life. Make time for family, friends, relationships, hobbies, passions, or anything else that contributes to a healthy work-life balance, so that your professional life remains just that: the professional part of your life.

Enthusiasm Is Contagious

All people, not just employers, can read passion the second a person walks into a room. Having a real sense of enthusiasm for what you do and all that you want to accomplish will not only energize yourself, but also excite the people around you. The second you lose your passion, you know something is no longer working.

Don't Be Afraid To Make A Change

Sometimes when you're feeling uninspired, it's more than just a rut: it's a sign that things aren't going well. Don't be afraid to admit to yourself that some things that are broken simply can't be fixed. If you no longer feel valued at your job, go someplace where you do. It might be scary, but the mental relief and rewards will be worth it.

Identify Who You're Not

Reflect on your old bosses or managers: what didn't you like about their management style? Identify the type of boss that you don't want to be, and make sure that when the time comes for you to lead a team, you do it differently. Learn from your past experiences, and grow accordingly.

Learn How To Lead

Consider taking a leadership workshop or masterclass. It's important to shape your own leadership style, in accordance with your own beliefs, and to be your own type of leader. Don't just mimic the behavior of those around you.

Listen To Your Team

Listening to the people you work with is without a doubt one of the most important skills you can acquire. Learn the individual personalities of your coworkers, and what each person needs to perform at their absolute best. Then, do what you can to serve them. Most people just want to feel valued.

Act — Don't React

Fight with focus, but don't be too quick to pass judgement. Actively listen to the arguments and observe the behavior of those around you, before giving your two-cents. Work with your team to make a change together. Trust and allow them to reach conclusions on their own. Push people in a way that gives them opportunity to grow.

Practice Self-Awareness

Constantly reflect and evaluate yourself: your work ethic, your motivations, your desires, your goals. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Become intimately familiar with both your strengths and weaknesses; try to work to better yourself in moments of crisis, and catch yourself making the same mistake twice. Call yourself out, embrace discomfort, but above all: make sure you love what you do. Your work should never come at the price of your happiness.