15 Important Career Lessons These Agency Pros Learned

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The longer you work building a career, the more lessons you’ll learn as you progress. Some of these lessons can have a lasting impact, far beyond a single job or company.

Most seasoned professionals who have been in the workforce for some time can identify such turning points in their careers. These are times when they learned something that stuck with them for the rest of their professional lives and helped sustain them through the rough patches.

Below, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council share the most important learning experiences of their careers and why those lessons were so significant. Take inspiration from their insights and apply them as you create your own career path.

1. Turn Adversity Into Passion

It wasn’t so much a turning point in my career as one in my life that inspired my career choice. As a child cancer survivor, I wanted to go into medicine. I wanted to pursue a career helping others in the way my medical team helped me. But then I discovered marketing. I feel lucky to be able to combine both of those passions in my current role to help create better health outcomes through media. – Andrea Palmer, Publicis Health Media (PHM)

2. There Are Many Ways To Tell A Story

A manager of mine once said to me, “If you can’t get in through the front door, try the side door.” As I’m sure many of my peers would agree, nothing in PR is guaranteed. If it is, it was paid for, and that’s not PR—that’s marketing. PR is an art form, and consciously knowing that there are many ways a story can be told is one of the most valuable skills you can have in this industry. – Chi Zhao, Hokku PR

3. Follow Your Heart And Passion

Turning points often come in the midst of a crisis, when you are forced to consider change rather than staying comfortable. In 2008, I was faced with career decisions after the recession. I talked with a trusted friend about the many options before me, and the best advice I received was to follow my heart and passion, regardless of money, security or expectations. That moment launched me to where I am today. – Jason Wilson, Strategy, LLC

4. Set Clear And Measurable Goals

I always set sprint goals for nine weeks instead of splitting my focus and setting ambitious long-term goals. Make clear and measurable goals, simplify them as much as possible and divide them into consistent steps. Two months are enough to determine whether your goal is applicable for life and if you want to continue. Where focus goes, energy flows. – Oganes Vagramovich Barsegyan, Digital Beverly Marketing Solutions

5. Serve The Team By Sharing Ownership

An excellent leader first serves his team, providing the vision for success and sharing ownership by asking, “What do we need to get there?” A leader then serves by focusing on providing the information, tools, training and support the team needs to succeed. – Patrick Nycz, NewPoint Marketing

6. Keep A Sharp Eye On The Opportunity

Keep a sharp eye on the opportunity rather than sticking to a plan; and meet customers where the demand is. These lessons were transformative for my career. I started my business in the web design sphere, but I quickly realized that people didn’t know how to make a website useful in the first place. So today, we have a digital marketing business and software company helping agencies grow. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

7. Find Your Niche

Our agency has been around for 16 years. At our 10-year mark, we took inventory of our best clients and where our true passion was. Where we landed was a passion for PR and serving the B2B SaaS vertical. Since this time, we have been extremely disciplined in staying true to this niche and focusing all of our efforts on being the only PR firm truly dedicated to B2B SaaS. – Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia

8. Discuss Opportunities, Not Definitive Expectations

After decades of working with thousands of companies, I rarely provide my opinion on what will happen next. Instead, I discuss the options, the opportunities, how we’ll monitor and how we may respond given different outcomes. Stating definitive expectations and not attaining them doesn’t help any organization. – Douglas Karr, DK New Media

9. Everyone Has A Story

Years ago in journalism school, a professor insisted that everyone had a story. If you disagreed, he sent you out there to interview until you came back with a story. It’s a principle that has guided me throughout my career, including in PR. Successes such as Humans of New York have validated this great advice time and again, even in a world dominated by social media. – Paul Furiga, WordWrite

10. Learn From Other Entrepreneurs

The best experience I had over the past 25 years was working directly under the CEO of Starwood Hotels, Barry Sternlicht, who was in his late 30s then. I watched and learned how a single man with a vision can take a tax loophole and grow his one hotel company into the largest chain in the world through an aggressive acquisition strategy and, more importantly, an even more aggressive management style. – Harry Tajyar, Investor Relations Partners

11. Dismantle Toxic Work Environments

A toxic workplace can bring out the worst traits in the best people; dismantling it is the only way to fix interpersonal issues sometimes. One toxic person can quickly create a toxic environment. If that toxic person is at the top, there’s no hope for your company culture. Consider your business partners and executives wisely. – Kelly Samuel, Snack Toronto

12. Make The Right Hires

I started my own business and quickly hit a wall when it came to capacity. I wanted more control over the SEO work I was doing, and while that came with starting a business, so did a clear view of all the work I couldn’t handle solo. Building a good team or adding employees can seem like a threat to personal vision, but making the right hires can dramatically improve the value of your business. – Dmitrii Kustov, Regex SEO

13. Immerse Yourself In Every Role

While it can be challenging, working your way from the bottom to the top and immersing yourself in every role along the way gives you a 360-degree view of the business. This allows you to identify all of the improvements that can and should be made. Never underestimate the value of hard work and working your way up, as this allows you to learn the business and prove yourself along the way. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

14. Believe In Yourself When Others Doubt You

The day I decided to believe in myself and move to New York City for work at the age of 20 was the most pivotal moment of my career. As cliché as it sounds, believing in yourself can be the difference between a success story and a what-if. In life, there will be people who will doubt you. Use their doubt to fuel your determination. If you truly believe in yourself, nothing can stand in your way. – Adrian Falk, Believe Advertising & PR

15. The Work Is Never Done

A colleague told me this when I first entered the business. In short, you should always be re-examining what you’ve done and evaluating how you can improve upon it. Even after an ad has run, it is critical to review how it can be done better. In the end, if you’re not improving every day, your career is not moving forward. – Roger Hurni, Off Madison Ave

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