As we progress throughout education into eventual employment, we take with us an idealized view that diligent study, honesty, and an honest attitude will be all we need to progress and succeed in our careers. Yet, as I reach this juncture in my own professional life, I have hastily realized that reality and experience quickly disarms us of this naïve notion, and exposes the truth that, no matter how earnest we are in our endeavors, sometimes this is never enough.

I’m sure everyone reading this who has extended experience in a professional environment has endured the feeling of having their good work attributed to someone else, or been labeled the fall guy for a mistake that wasn’t your fault. In instances like this, the brutal reality of what it takes to succeed is made clear, and the lifetime of naive belief that hard work and honesty are the only tools necessary for success is swept away in seconds.

Timing, bravado, and luck are often the most crucial elements in achieving prolific success, no matter what career path you pursue. Seconds are often the only difference between being credited with achievement or branded with failure; being aware of this, and being able to ensure that you are consistently recognized for your work is arguably the most important professional lesson to learn in life.

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This is not to say at all that hard work is foolish or that honesty won’t pay; merely, it’s necessary to learn the politics of everyday life and understand exactly when to shine, how to best impress your scowling, intractable boss. Speaking personally, I have often prided myself on my reputation for having a remarkable work ethic and positive attitude, and I’m lucky that those above me recognize this. But no matter how hard and happily I work throughout the days, weeks and months, I’ve learnt the hard way that one accidental yawn or irritable comment within the vicinity of a colleague can drastically alter someone’s perception of you. As a young professional, ensuring that you are presented well to all around you is more crucial now than ever before, and overlooking this can be a fatal error.

Once you gain a reputation for laziness, rudeness or inattentiveness, this can become almost impossible to shift. Yet for all this, impression management is so difficult because every person is capable of construing radically different impressions of you, and there is absolutely no accounting for this unpredictable human variation. At the end of a six-week job I worked last year, I overheard one colleague praising my work ethic, but also commented that she wished I’d lighten up. Another told me I was hilarious to work with, but should probably spend more time at my desk. Despite all I’d achieved over that period, as part of the crew for a hugely successful TV show, it had become clear that it wasn’t what I did that mattered, but what those around me saw.

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It was at this point that I began to realize the futility of attempting to please everyone single person you meet. Granted, in life there will be those whose opinion comes to mean far more, whether as a girlfriend or wife or boss. However, in everyday life, it important to firstly be assured of who and what you are, because it is only when you appreciate yourself fully, then others will begin to do the same.