Advice That Only Comes with Experience

I return to my alma matter, Ohio University, every fall for homecoming festivities. My wife and I always make a weekend of it, and the time in Athens, Ohio, is always special for me. It recharges my batteries so to speak.

I’m sure the setting is a big part of it. Southeast Ohio can be stunningly beautiful in the fall. If you don’t believe me, Google “Hocking Hills.” It’s criminally underknown.

I’m one who truly enjoys seeing his old college haunts, catching up with long-time friends, and taking in the energy of a buzzing college campus. I also make a habit of going into the journalism school and chatting with students, the future of my chosen profession.

Talking with students is fun. They’re so enthusiastic that some of their excitement can’t help but rub off on you. I’m also always blown away chatting with them; they’re so sharp. The future is bright.

When I talk with young people, I try to think of what I wished I would have known at their age. Here is some of what I share. These are things I’ve learned through trial and error, talented coworkers and bosses, and flat-out screwing up on occasion.

  • There’s no substitute for experience. Get as much of it as you can when you’re young. The older version of yourself with a stuffed resume will thank you.
  • Regardless of your occupation, good people skills are critical. And they are a skill, so practice them.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I equate that as being afraid to learn—and who doesn’t want to learn?
  • I don’t care if it’s shallow: First impressions are real. Look professional at all times. Yes, all times.
  • It’s good to have ego—in fact you should be proud of yourself. But too much ego will have you constantly falling short of your goals.
  • When you make a mistake, own it. Say “I’m sorry.” And understand mistakes are learning opportunities, so utilize them and turn them into a positive.
  • Read every email you write twice before sending. And if is about a disagreement, count to 20 and read it again. To that I add: You’re welcome.
  • Never get to the point you’re too good for certain tasks, jobs, or responsibilities. The memory of a CEO packing boxes after a conference is one I’ll have the rest of my life.
  • Don’t be afraid of change. I wavered about an opportunity once and was told, “It may not be the door you want to end up at, but it will probably get you there.” Think about it.
  • Finally, you work hard—so play hard. If you always work the most hours, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the best work ethic. It probably means you have workload or organizational issues.

It’s rewarding to share what I’ve learned, but what makes my homecoming trips so great is I always learn from others when I’m there too. What a wonderful tradition.

Thad Plumley is the editor of WWJ and director of information products at the National Ground Water Association. He can be reached at and on Twitter @WaterWellJournl.