Career Development

7 Life Lessons You Can Learn at Work

June 9, 2021

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach


Your career can provide you with far more than a steady income and on-the-job experience. Many people learn some of their greatest life lessons in the workplace. Being open and willing to learn these lessons and grow from them is key to both personal and professional development. In this article, we explore common life lessons that can be learned at work.

What is a life lesson?

A life lesson is a situation or event in which you can learn new principles or useful knowledge related to life. For example, you may try to do something the “easier” way only to realize that the results are not what you were hoping for. If you would have taken the time and performed the task in the perceived “harder” way, your results would have been more satisfactory. In this situation, the life lesson would be that “easier is not always better.” Being open to life lessons can help you be more successful in both your professional and personal life and provide you with the tools needed to grow as a person.

7 important life lessons you can learn at work

Life lessons can be difficult to learn and they may require acceptance and change. The life lessons we learn from work can be used not only to improve our professional lives but our personal ones as well.

The most effective life lessons are learned through experience rather than reading or being told about them. Whether you’re working your first job or you’re years into a career, each life lesson learned along the way is an immensely important one.

Here are some of the life lessons that you may learn in the workplace:

1. Always strive to avoid stagnation

Stagnation is often an unavoidable part of a job, and it can affect even the hardest-working individuals. Times of stagnation can happen for several reasons, such as becoming too comfortable with a situation or giving up on a challenging problem. A valuable life lesson you can learn from work is that those who always strive to learn more and continue to progress through times of stagnation are those who succeed. 

You should always be learning and bettering yourself as a person. Just because you’ve succeeded doesn’t mean you should stop trying to improve as a person and an employee. Furthermore, being in a challenging situation doesn’t mean you should be resigned to your fate.

As you try new things to fight off stagnation, you may make mistakes or come up against challenges. It’s important to remember to view each misstep as a learning opportunity and to remember that even experts make mistakes.

How you should combat stagnation depends on you. For example, you could learn a new skill that’s always interested you. The key is to constantly be working to improve your job performance as well as your personal development. Work hard to get that promotion just as hard as you would on your passion project at home. With hard work both at work and in life, your days will be happier and each will have more significance.

Related: How to Develop Your Skill Set to Advance Your Career

2. Make connecting with others a priority

Another important lesson you may learn at work is how valuable connections with other people are. Whether it’s with a professional colleague, friend or family member, each relationship you build with another person adds another beam of support to what you’re building for yourself. 

Though there’s much you can create by working alone, the greatest success often comes when you create and work with a network of friends and colleagues. Think about your personal life—would it be where it is today without the connections and relationships you’ve built with the people you love the most? Each person in your network is a valuable member of your team and adds invaluable quality to your life.

Ask questions, listen to people’s opinions and stories, use your own strengths to help them with their projects and problems and don’t be afraid to open up to your work network. Plus, you may be surprised to realize that what makes a great professional team can also be implemented to foster your relationships with friends and family. Making connections with others a priority is an important lesson that can improve every aspect of your life both in and out of work.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

3. Remember to look on the bright side

Every day isn’t going to be the best day and some days can be downright challenging. However, if you can remember to look on the bright side, the difficult days can be just another way to grow in both your career and life in general.

This life lesson is an important one when you’re in a job you don't like. This situation can be especially challenging and, when left unchecked, can negatively impact not only your work life but your life outside of work as well. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative can help turn the situation around. For example, enjoying a project you do well or taking advantage of a free office lunch may seem small in the grand scheme of things but are ways in which you can look on the bright side and remain positive.

Being able to remain positive and look at things with optimism is an invaluable life lesson. The more you can improve your outlook and the less the small things affect you, the better you’ll be able to handle challenges in both your professional and personal life. As a result, you’ll find yourself happier and more content no matter the situation.

4. Focus on developing and using your strengths

Finding out what you enjoy doing and what you’re truly good at as well as how to develop those areas is an important lesson you can learn at work. While it may take time, determining where you excel in your career can be one of the most rewarding gifts of having a job and something you can’t learn outside the workforce.

Find what you enjoy doing the most and work to develop your strength in that area. Keep in mind that no one is an overnight expert and that you’ll have to work hard to get to where you want to be. While anyone can be good at something with enough hard work, those who find pride and enjoyment in their work will succeed more than those who don’t.

Realizing where your strengths and passions lie enables you to set concrete goals in your professional life and gives you an actionable plan to achieve them. Focus on whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re doing the best work you can and develop those skills to create the best world for yourself. With enough endurance, motivation and commitment, you’ll find that you truly enjoy honing your workplace strengths.

5. Work until the work is done

One of the first lessons you may learn when starting to work is what happens when you procrastinate. Procrastination has clear repercussions in the workplace and can result in challenges such as falling behind with your tasks. Committing yourself to work until your work is done is a valuable life lesson that can prevent hardships and increase your overall productivity and success.

This lesson doesn’t have to be limited to your professional work. When translated to your personal life, it’s just as applicable. For instance, think about a project you decided to start but didn’t finish. Think about a goal you thought you might want to work toward, but didn’t for some reason, whether it be lack of time, will or energy. Just like you don’t stop working until you’ve done your job at work, you shouldn’t stop working for yourself at home. Dedicate time to learn that new skill you’ve been wanting to learn, complete those projects or reach out to someone you’ve been meaning to. The more time you invest in doing the things you set out to do, the more accomplished and satisfied you will feel.

Even if you limit your at-home work to the weekends, you should be dedicating some hours to your personal progress. Whether it’s finally starting a project with the kids, working on your car, learning Spanish or developing a new skill for your career, you shouldn’t let the habit of procrastination keep you from reaching your goals. The more you resist the urge to procrastinate, the easier it becomes to work until your work is done—whether it be in the office or your personal development.

6. Trust in the power of failure

As you work toward your professional goals, you will inevitably experience challenges and make mistakes. Not everything you do will be successful. But don’t stress about these failures. With no mistakes, there would be no opportunity to learn.

Every failure gives you the chance to grow both personally and professionally. There is no better way to know what works than knowing what doesn’t.

The life lesson here is that without taking risks and making mistakes, you run into the first problem discussed in this article: stagnation. Playing it safe may allow you to slide by, but more often than not you’ll plateau in your journey while the risk-takers keep climbing up. In work, taking a risk may be asking for a raise, suggesting a change to the status quo or starting a new career.

Remember that everything is a learning experience, failures and successes alike. What you take away from failure is up to you. In a situation where you experience failure, you can either see it as a challenge or use it as a learning experience to know how to better navigate your next endeavor. The choice is up to you.

Related:How to Overcome Fear of Failure

7. Learn how to change the situation, not the person

Learning to focus on changing a situation rather than trying to change a person or group of people is a valuable lesson you can learn at work. This is especially important when you find yourself in a management position. For example, if you’re a manager and employees are doing something that negatively impacts productivity, it’s your job to find out why. It may be a problem with scheduling or an issue with the way things are run. Instead of trying to change your employees to fit the status quo, take a look at the status quo itself and see how you can adjust it to promote success within the workplace.

Sometimes the problem is not the people involved but rather the way the situation is handled. Listen to others’ opinions on how to improve the situation. Take a step back and look at the situation to see if it’s being handled in a way that keeps everyone’s interests in mind. The most important thing to remember here is that people generally don’t respond well when you try to change them, but will often respond positively to situational changes that increase their ability to be productive.

This lesson translates well to many aspects of life. Instead of trying to change the people you love or even the people you don’t love, try to first change the situation or the way you view the situation. The more you’re able to focus on contributing to an improvement in a situation rather than trying to change a person, the more success you’ll have in work and life.

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