As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been co-chair of WTS-DC’s Mentoring Program for 4 ½ years. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience watching people in the program learn and grow and I myself have learned so much from it.
Every year we begin our group event series with a career panel where we invite four or five industry members to speak about how they got to where they are, triumphs and challenges they’ve had along the way, and advice they may have for the group. It is my favorite mentoring event of the year, because we leave it unstructured and allow the panelists and attendees to take it in whichever direction they choose. We give the panelists five minutes at the beginning to say anything about themselves and their careers that they’d like, then use the rest of the time for Q&A.
It is important to us to have a diverse panel with representatives from varying sectors and stages in their career because everyone always has different advice depending on what perspective they bring. However, certain pieces of advice have been brought up consistently by almost every panelist since I’ve been part of the program. I’d like to use this blog post to share some of the main lessons I’ve learned from these events over the years.
- Have a plan, but be flexible. Though this may seem like conflicting advice, these two suggestions do not need to be mutually exclusive. It is important to have a plan for the varying stages of your career to ensure that you stay on track, do not become complacent, and set the groundwork that will allow for your success in the future (for example, knowing that you need to get your graduate degree for a job you eventually want). However, no one can predict the future. The industry changes, your priorities change, and life can throw you curveballs. Make sure you say yes to opportunities that will challenge you and your abilities, whether it’s a new project at work or a job offer across the country. One of my favorite sayings is “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”. Your plan helps you prepare for when opportunities come your way and gives you the confidence to take them.
- You are responsible for making sure you have a work-life balance – it won’t fall into your lap. You will continuously be given more work unless you learn to set boundaries. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean saying ‘no’. Instead, say that in order to complete the work, you will need help. This has been a heavily-discussed topic during our panels, so I could write an entire blog post on this one. Look out for it in a month or so!
- Get involved in industry associations and/or outside organizations. Industry associations will help you keep up-to-date and continue learning throughout your career. This is also a perfect way to improve your leadership skills. Most of my leadership experience has been through volunteer work, but it has directly tied into the skills I need in my professional life. Also, don’t forget about volunteering for organizations outside the industry that address something you’re passionate about. Giving back in this manner helps you grow personal relationships and a sense of accomplishment that will help you maintain perspective, keep grounded, and give your mind a break.
- Relationships are key. Always grow and foster your network. I already wrote my last blog post on this, so I won’t say much more, but I actually met one of this year’s panelists because of networking. I was interested in how he got to where he was in his career and asked a common connection to put us in touch. During that meeting, he mentioned how much he enjoys mentoring and helping people with career development, so I asked him to be on the panel. You never know what conversations you’ll end up having!
I’ve learned so much from the Mentoring Program throughout the years and am sure I’ll continue to do so. Mentoring is a valuable tool that everyone should utilize. You can read more about the importance of mentoring from two of Veronica Davis’s previous blog posts: Finding a Professional Mentor and Cultivating a Relationship with your Mentor. And if you live in the D.C. area and are interested in participating in the Mentoring Program next year (or getting involved with WTS in general at any time), please let me know at sweisfeld[at]nspiregreen.com.
Stacy Weisfeld is a community and transportation planner whose career has been driven by her passion for environmental sustainability. She is adept at engaging the public, bringing together unlikely allies, and finding innovative solutions to unexpected problems. She serves as a board member for Women’s Transportation Seminar, is certified with ISI Envision Sustainability, and is a graduate of American Public Transportation Association’s national Emerging Leaders Program.