3 Life Lessons that have made my career great…and continue to do so.

In this invited speech to the Hostess City Toastmasters, Dr. Melissa Gratias reflects on what it means to be “mid-career” and the advice she gave to an unwitting college student one day.

Don’t want to watch the video?  A transcript follows.



I am in mid-career. I don’t know when I got here (or how), but I am.


Mid-career is great. For those of us who are there, it is the time when we are typically done with our education. We have some experience. We may even be an expert in something. We’re here. We have arrived, and we still have time to play and work for quite a number of years.


I found out I was in mid-career last year. I got a phone call from a college student from my alma mater Wake Forest University. I love Wake. It was a fantastic experience.


This young woman called me and asked, “Dr. Gratias, may I interview you for my class to find out what your life and career lessons are? It’s an assignment. We’re calling mid-career alumni. Will you let me interview you?”


“Sure!” I love Wake Forest, and that made me love her a little bit, too, so I said yes. We scheduled time to speak the following week.


In the intervening time, I started thinking, “What are my life and career lessons?”


It was a joy to reflect. I had a great time really thinking about what I was going to tell this young woman when we spoke the following week.


Here’s what I told her.


Lesson number one: embrace the unexpected


I had plans for my career, none of which have come to fruition. Everything I’ve done has been a surprise. They were things I didn’t expect!


I thought I would be a high-powered, traveling consultant with a Washington DC firm, living out of a suitcase and a hotel, spending four days a week at companies dispensing wisdom that I had at 23 years old.


None of that happened. I spent 10 years in corporate America followed by (going on) 13 years as a business owner. I didn’t expect to be here. I’m working out of my home not my suitcase.


It’s a fantastic opportunity to give the wisdom I have gained to people without having to travel to do so.


Embrace the unexpected. What you think will happen may not actually be what takes place. That was my first piece of advice.



Lesson number two: show a little gumption


Gumption. I love that word. As a Southern woman, it’s one of my favorite words. Gumption is our ability to show spirited initiative and resourcefulness. Show a little gumption.


I opened up my business 13 years ago. I was in a meeting where an executive vice president pointed at me and said, “Can you develop a training program for 5,000 employees, do a coaching initiative for our top 50 executives, online training, video training, and blah, blah, blah?” I looked at that man, and I was like “Yes!”


I had no idea how I was going to do any of that. I had never done it before, but there was gumption. I was dauntless.


Here’s what I learned…


First, courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is working even when you’re scared.


Secondly, confidence (in your abilities) is not a personality trait. Confidence is learned. Confidence is learned by doing things that you’re scared to do and seeing what happens.



Lesson number three: be imperfect


I am more of a cautionary tale for this one rather than a shining example. I struggle with perfectionism. Some of the most wonderful things that have happened to my life and my career have grown out of heaps of disappointment – things that felt very much like failure at the time.


We need to remember that in the moment that what is considered failure is an opportunity. I told this young woman named Mackenzie, “Just because you’re young and inexperienced does not mean you have to try to be perfect.”


John Maxwell tells us to “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”


I said to Mackenzie, “Strive for progress. Strive for growth. Don’t waste your time on perfection.”


…and then she couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.


But that’s okay! She had to get to class, I assume. We ended the conversation


I can picture that young woman when she’s in mid-career. I know she’ll get there someday. I hope when she arrives that she is as passionate and excited about what she’s doing as I am.


I can even imagine a scenario when a student calls her and asks her for her advice.


In those moments, I hope she takes the opportunity to reflect, learn from her experience, and dispense some wisdom that has meaning for her.


…and I hope that student she’s talking to acts as BORED on the phone with her as she did with me.  


Perfect Target

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Jill Evans-Aldhizer

    Excellent advice filled with wisdom, confidence & simple truth. I would only add two extra steps of advice…pray then let it go with gumption; and find humor by not taking every challenge so seriously (because there will always be a new one tomorrow). The best is yet to come! Thank you!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      LOVE these extra steps, Jill. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Steve Kerr

    Melissa, that was great advice for those just starting their careers. I just sent it to my two sons and their wives to read and digest. I especially liked the ‘be imperfect’ one. That’s my vice, and learning to move beyond perfectionism is definitely career advancing feedback. Thank you for the article. Steve Kerr

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      You’re very welcome, Steve. I just hope your sons don’t give you an “OK, Boomer” over this. If so, my apologies!

  3. Julie Bestry

    Great piece, Doc. Sometimes I think I had more gumption at 25 than at 5(mufflemuffle), and I know I still struggle with perfectionism (and fear of the consequences of not being perfect), but I think we’re forced to accept (if not lovingly embrace) the reality that whatever else life will be, it won’t be what we think it will be. Darn it. (Also, I think I might have called this girl out. “Before I go on, I have to say you sound pretty bored. Can you tell me what life lessons you imagine you’ll have at mid-career?” And I intend to look affronted if anyone calls me a Boomer. I’m GenX, if you please! 😉

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      There’s a *possibility* that I may have been so caught up in my reverie that I failed to realize that she was bored out of her skull. Just a possibility…

  4. Neil Goodenough

    I am way past mid-career, but I have to say that if I had to choose three lessons I’ve learned they are the same as yours. If I had to add a fourth it would be “value all the people you come into contact with and value their different attitudes”

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      That is an excellent, and essential, addition to the list. The world needs more people who value diversity. Thanks.

  5. Janet Barclay

    What wonderful advice, Melissa – thank you for sharing it!


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