Depending on when you enter the workforce and when you’re lucky enough to retire, your work life will span somewhere around 40 years. We can’t predict everything you’ll need to do over the course of that time to be successful in your job, but here are our top picks for must-do experiences.
Your career bucket list: 40 things to do before you retire
1. Negotiate a better offer
According to a CareerBuilder survey, more than half of workers don’t negotiate better offers when they get a new job. Yes, talking about money is verifiably the worst, but the hard truth is that if you accept your first offer as is, you’ll never know what you left on the table. It could be nothing, or it could be $10,000 and a company car. You won’t know unless you ask. Here’s how to negotiate your salary and, for good measure, how to ask for flexible hours.
2. Work from home
Some jobs can’t be done from home, but many can. Whether you’re self-employed, a mom with a sick kid at home, or you just want to spend the workday in your pjs, working from home is totally acceptable and can be a much-needed productivity push. Treat yourself.
3. Take a weeklong vacation—or longer
Maybe you legitimately have so much work that you feel like you can’t take time away, or maybe you’re worried if you take too much time, it’ll look like you’re taking advantage of your company’s unlimited PTO policy. The reason you’re taking only long weekends and not full European tours doesn’t necessarily matter. What does matter is that you don’t get burnt out, and that you live your life. Schedule a staycation. Book a flight.
Volunteering is good for the soul. No one famous said that; we’re just basing that assertion off personal experiences. If you’re new to a city, it can help you meet new people, and if you have a passion that isn’t part of your work life, it can bring you deep fulfillment.
5. Ask for a raise
We’ve already established that talking about money sucks, and that’s probably one of the reasons why most women don’t ask for a raise. Yet by not asking for more money, women miss out on thousands in hard-earned cash. Learn when it’s time to ask for a raise and how to do it. Then let self-affirmation magic do its work.
6. Go to a conference that matters to you
While that conference on digital signage was really engaging and helpful to your career, it probably didn’t stir you in any way. Find a conference, TED Talk, or even local speaker series that helps you grow personally and professionally. You might even—gasp—enjoy networking at these events because you aren’t talking about, well, digital signage.
7. Job hop
There are a lot of ways to make more money and climb the corporate ladder, and job hopping is one of them. According to Fast Company, unlike job-hoppers, “Workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50 percent less.” That’s because annual wage increases are rarely as large as pay bumps between jobs, which can be as large as 11 percent.
8. Learn how to deal with conflict
There are many different ways to deal with conflict, and learning which one is right for the situation you’re in is key to your success. Being a good conflict manager can help you gain respect and lower your stress levels. Look at this way: If Sarah took your yogurt from the communal fridge for the umpteenth time and, instead of talking to her, you emailed the entire office a picture of her dressed as the Hamburglar, it would get a few laughs, but it wouldn’t make your manager want to promote you.
9. Work for a cause
Women want to be happy at work—that’s something we know for sure—and part of that happiness is working for something you believe in. Find a company or that speaks to you, for whatever reason, and get hired. No job openings? Write a letter of interest.
10. Ask your coworker’s salary
The reality of the working world is this: There is still a gender pay gap, and while some companies have pay transparency, most don’t. To know whether you’re being paid fairly, you need to know what other people are making, especially your male colleagues. Not sure how to have the conversation? Here’s how.
11. Quit your job
End the agony. If you’ve thought about quitting your job every day for the past year, are constantly talking about quitting your job, and see no hope of feeling happy in your role again, it’s time to leave. You were jobless at least once before. You’ll figure something out.
12. Become an expert at something
There is no greater feeling than presenting on a topic you know everything, everything about. Be so invested in what you do that you’re the person people go to for answers, and you feel confident advising them.
13. Advocate for yourself
Advocacy works two ways: If you’re dealing with discrimination or harassment in the workplace, know your rights and speak up for yourself. Policy is on your side, even if others aren’t. And if you’re trying to get hired, promoted, or simply want to be recognized for the hard work you’ve been doing, talk yourself up. There’s nothing shameful about being good at what you do.
14. Apply for a job you’re not completely qualified for
It’s hard to land your dream job if you’re changing industries or don’t have enough years of experience under your belt. Apply anyway. All you need is an interview to prove you have enough transferable skills to argue your case.
15. Know your strengths
Have you ever drawn a blank when a prospective employer asked, “Why should we hire you?” We’ve been there. Learn what makes you a great employee, and use anecdotes to back it up.
16....and your weaknesses
Oh, to be a flawless goddess descended from both Beyoncé and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Sigh. We all have ways we can improve ourselves and our work lives. Accept constructive criticism, apologize when you’ve done something wrong, and find mentors who can help you grow.
17. Ask for a raise...again
We’re not kidding about this one! It’s a big deal. Salary satisfaction is a huge driver of women’s happiness at work, and only 11 percent of women say they’re okay with much they’re paid. Ask once, then ask again.
According to LeanIn.org, male managers are hesitant to mentor young women because they’re afraid they’ll be accused of sexual harassment. That means millions of women entering the workforce might not get the career guidance they need. While they figure that ridiculousness, step up to mentor someone yourself.
19. Leave work early
Sometimes you have commitments (or babies!) that simply can’t be put off because of your employer’s schedule. And that’s okay. Even if you feel bad about it (more than half of working moms say they do) or you don’t have a good reason to go, leave anyway. Live your life.
20. Build strong relationships (with or without networking)
What’s more important than networking? Building strong interpersonal relationships. Treat your coworkers and business partners like people by getting to know what they like and dislike. Also, skip the coffee meetings. Your authenticity will pay off.
21. Cry at work
Pretty much everyone does it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Although crying at work isn’t something you want to do all the time, when it does happen, take some time for yourself. Go for a walk. Crying doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re frustrated, stressed, or just plain upset. That’s okay.
22. Divide your time—fairly
Women still do the majority of the “life” work outside the office. Talk to your partner about fairly dividing the duties at home so you have room to breathe. Our CEO Ursula Mead offers good advice on this topic.
23. Take at least one skills assessment
Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, the Adobe Creative Types quiz, whatever—find out what helps you thrive in the workplace and what doesn’t. Take skills assessments with a grain of salt though: Although they might be good reads of what you’re like, they aren’t a perfect picture of who you are.
24. Go out to lunch with the office lunch crew
We’re not anti-desk lunch. But going out to lunch every once in a while with your officemates can help you connect with your team. Plus, it makes the workday go by faster if you step away for awhile.
25. Celebrate a failure
Innovation and putting yourself out there are wonderful, but they don’t always work out. Celebrate that! The fact that you tried, especially if it was something big, is worthy of praise. What you learn from the experience will help you succeed another time.
26. Tell someone you work with how you really feel
This isn’t about dating a coworker; it’s about providing constructive feedback. Tell a coworker—even if it’s your manager—how they can best work with you. If you’re nervous, try the sandwich method: praise, criticism, praise.
27. Have a walking meeting (or 50)
After back-to-back meetings all day, you need to shake up your routine. Stretch your legs during a walking meeting—not only does it make meetings more personal, but it also helps to eliminate office hierarchy.
28. Bring in the doughnuts
Or the cookies! Or the apples! Or whatever else you want to contribute. Pick up some of the social slack by bringing in a treat for your coworkers. A little snack goes a long way.
29. Make a good PowerPoint presentation
What’s the worst PowerPoint presentation you ever sat through? Eighty percent of you just audibly groaned as you remembered that time Tanya read straight off her slides for 30 minutes. Yes, that was terrible. Learn how to create a condensed, impactful, and, dare we say, pretty, PowerPoint presentation.
30. Make a good presentation in general
Everyone gets nervous when they speak in front of others, but at some point, you have to find a way to conquer your public speaking fears. Keep a paperclip in your pocket to calm your nerves (like in Maid in Manhattan !), ask a colleague you respect to critique your style, or take a public speaking class. Please, for HR purposes, don’t picture everyone in their underwear.
31. Create a pivot table
Excel is the bane of many people’s existence, which is why, when you conquer Excel in the form of a pivot table (one of its more advanced options), you earn whatever the black belt equivalent is in the working world. Look up videos online or ask a coworker to show you how.
32. Teach a class
You learn through teaching. Even if you consider yourself an expert in your field, effectively explaining what you do is a whole different ball game. Become a master translator of your topic, and make an impact on someone else’s career.
33. Shadow a colleague for a day
It’s highly likely you work with someone who’s responsible for different tasks than you are. While that’s awesome from a productivity perspective, it’s not so great when you’re trying to understand what their day to day workflow is like—where inefficiencies might be in how you work together and why they just haven’t had time to answer your email yet. Shadowing them can make you a better and more empathetic team member.
34. Swap jobs with someone for a week
Wow, it was so brave of you to shadow someone for a day! Now do their job for a week. Not only is cross-training important in ensuring knowledge isn’t locked in a one-person silo, but it’s also a good way to expand your own skill set and introduce you to careers you might not have considered otherwise.
35. Have a Friday afternoon dance party in the office
By the end of the week, the last thing you want to do is more work. Embrace that. Crank up some power anthems or, okay, whatever wedding reception playlist you can find and let loose.
36. Crack a joke in an interview
Can you be yourself during an interview? Yes, absolutely. Show your future coworkers you have a personality. They’ll thank you for it.
37. Set an unachievable goal
It’s important to know your limits—and to test them. Even when you know you’ll ultimately fail (See also: “Celebrate a failure”), push your boundaries. You might surprise yourself.
38. Reply all
Whether you chime in on goofy group thread or you share your two cents in a more impactful email, add your voice to the conversation. You don’t have to do it all the time, and you definitely don’t have to do it every time, but you do want people to know you’re engaged.
39. Ditch your cell phone
Want to improve your mood and your focus? Detach for awhile. You can do a full social media detox, or you can silence your cell phone. Removing the noise of the outside world when you feel overwhelmed can calm you down. And not staring at your phone all the time? It can help you connect with others.
40. Take a personal day
Maybe you need to unpack after a long trip. Maybe you need a mental health day. Whatever the reason, take a day for yourself to catch up on life. Go to the gym. Go out to lunch. Be free.