How Someone Changed My Career Trajectory – But Has No Clue

You really never know the impact you may have on people around you – for better or worse.

This is why it is critical to work as hard as you can to lift others up at every opportunity.

A cutting remark or a harsh and negative joke at the wrong time could destroy someone’s day, or even week. The wrong comment at the wrong time could set someone back for years.

Similarly, an uplifting comment or positive advice could make someone’s day, or even week. The right comment at the right time could drastically help someone for the rest of their life. No exaggeration.

I’ve got a story of just such a situation. I met a man who drastically changed my life. He gave me advice that was game changing for my budding career. Learning that lesson at the very beginning set me up for some fairly aggressive personal growth that has put my career much farther along than it otherwise would have.

This guy has no clue what he did for me. He probably doesn’t even remember the conversation – but I do. I have very vivid memories of that day even though it was decades ago.

Let me tell y’all a quick story.

How this guy set up my career for success

In the world of web development, new techniques, best practices, and technologies come out at a blistering pace. My world is by no means the only one where this happens, but still, it seems like I have to re-learn half of my job every three to five years. Staying up to date with what’s new is just part of the job.

But I didn’t always know that.

Back when I was first learning how to put together basic HTML and CSS, table based layouts were the usual method of creating a website. (Don’t worry, I won’t get technical in this post) I was just a sophomore in high school and things had recently clicked. I was comfortable with this methodology.

But times were changing. The div was on the rise. It was becoming the standard way of building websites.

But like I said, I was comfortable with tables. I was resisting change.

At this point, I was an intern on the tech team at my church. I very vividly remember exactly where I was at church, though I don’t remember why I was there. I was sitting at a table, next to some windows, oriented down the hall towards where my office was, with my back towards the coffee bar. It was a bright sunny day and I was on my laptop writing some code.

Some guy walked up and sat down in the coffee bar. It was odd because the church was pretty empty since it was during a week day. He saw my open code editor open and asked me what I was working on. Don’t even remember what it was, probably my personal site that I used to experiment with and learn on.

Turns out, he was a web developer as well – a web developer with an actual active career – while I was just a high school student dabbling around and teaching myself. We made small talk for a while about building websites. It was neat to meet someone with the same interests as me since I didn’t really know anyone in the industry other than my boss at the church.

Eventually he asked me if I had started messing around with divs yet.

I hummed and hawed… talked about how I had read up on them, but I was reluctant to dive in. I was comfortable working with tables. Tables were familiar to me and I didn’t have to work hard to build with them.

This guy proceeded to (kindly) teach me about the importance of learning new things, particularly in the changing world of tech. Things changed in the world of web and it’s important to build websites using the current and emerging best practices, and best practices were always changing. It is such an incredibly basic concept, one that is obvious to me where I am in my career now. I’m sure even I would have agreed with it at a conceptual level, but I still protested putting it into action. Remember, I was just a high school amateur web developer at the time!

Something about how this guy explained the importance of staying up with changing technology resonated with me. 

Our conversation ended, he got up and left, and I immediately started reading articles on building websites with divs. That conversation kicked off a thirst to learn new things and stay up to date with all of the changes in the industry.

I never saw him again – I don’t even remember his name. I could pass him on the street and never know it.

Even so – he positively changed my career trajectory before it even began, and he has no clue.

He taught me an incredibly core concept of maintaining an active and growing career in web development. If I hadn’t learned this concept, I could have been left behind and stagnated, holding me back from new and bigger opportunities. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without that conversation.

You never know the impact your words could have

NEVER underestimate the power of your words when interacting with people, even strangers.

You never know what could be going on in their life, good or bad. You never know what they might benefit from, or get hurt by.

This scenario has an opposite – a negative alternative.

I remember a situation where a group of us were making small talk. Just talking through things and joking around. But one of my buddies made a negatively charged joke. It included a jab at the character of one of the other people in the circle. Just an attempt to get a cheap laugh.

But it struck a nerve. He unknowingly pushed too far on a sensitive topic. Something the other guy was struggling with. It crippled him for the weekend. The remark could even still come back up from time to time and still sting. I’m not really sure.

I cringe hard at myself because I don’t know how many times I’ve done this before making similar jokes. It’s why I don’t make cutting jokes anymore – you never know when they could sting and go to far.

Passing moments can set people up for success, or destruction

Always be mindful of the impact your words can have. A moment you will forget within 24 hours could consume someone for better or worse for days, months, or even years.

Just stop with the negativity towards others – even if it’s in passing jokes. A cheap laugh is not worth risking stabbing someone in a weak spot, undermining their self image.

Make an effort to always have uplifting, supportive, constructive, and helpful words. Those passing moments could create positive snowball effects for people around you.

You never know the impact you could have – you could be like that stranger I never saw again, setting someone’s entire career trajectory for success.

When was a time you had the opportunity to help someone when you didn’t need to?