Next month, I’ll be 16 years old in the corporate world. Luckily, I’ve survived the challenging game in seven companies across four different countries. Yes, I’m that old!
Years pass by fairly quickly (the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” is very true), but the important thing to remember should always be the inspiring lessons learned over the years. Sharing my tiny bits of true to life wisdom here to help everyone carving their careers – whether a first jobber or a seasoned veteran, you’ll find these practical lessons relevant in your daily grind.
1. Newbie card exists, be sure to use it well. First impressions last and quite honestly, they’re a bit hard to change. Your first 100 days in a new company or department will define how everyone sees you. While “being new” can be used as an abused excuse on certain things by most, suggest you get out of that mold and be different at the outset. Strike a good balance though as you wouldn’t want to be tagged as the “annoying know-it-all newbie” too.
2. Attitude weighs more than competencies. It’s a given, you’re on your role because you’re competent. What will set you apart from the rest is your attitude and approach on how to get the job done. In real life, you would rather be with happy and fun to be with people. Same goes at work, you’d prefer to be surrounded by positive and less toxic colleagues. Make sure you carry the right attitude all the time (while delivering what’s required of course), people will remember this more than your list of accomplishments.
3. Stop winging and start learning. Since you always won’t have hard and fast rules, you can’t avoid but simply “wing it” at times. You might be successful in most instances, but you won’t grow if you constantly rely on this tactic. Instead of resorting to shortcuts, take time to learn the details of your craft – trust me, there’s no harm to knowing and understanding more. Taking the time to think and learn is not a sign of slow speed or inefficiency, but a reflection of your professional maturity and dedication to proficiency.
4. Fulfill the basics before going beyond it. Learn to walk before you run. Great to know that you can do more than what’s expected of you, but that’s worthless if you can’t fulfill the basics of what you’re supposed to deliver on-time and in-full. I don’t want to sound ageist, but I’ve noticed this in some millennials, they tend to overlook the simple tasks resulting to sloppy work as they tend to focus so much on the big picture which is sexier and more exciting for them. Take a step back kiddo, don’t rush into things since you’ll get there eventually.
5. You’re paid to deliver, so you better do. We’re known as a “generation of entitlement” because we are assertive, ambitious and opinionated. I don’t see anything wrong with that, granted that we’re professionally grounded. If you’re employed, remember that your services are paid and (to be blunt) your company doesn’t owe you anything more, so better do your job well and minimize your complaints and demands. Remember, nobody’s indispensable and you’re lucky to have a job so better be grateful.
6. There’s politics everywhere and it’s your choice to join in or not. Keep in mind that you’re working because it’s a practical life enabler and an opportunity to do what you love. Nowhere in the simple definition will you find “politics” which tend to bring other people down to make way for your personal gains. From simple gossiping to major backstabbing, it’s one and the same. I strongly suggest veering away from it because while it’s very common and you’ll encounter it everywhere, it’s counterproductive that won’t result to anything good in the long run.
7. Never outshine the master, it will backfire if you do. Your boss hired you not only because you can deliver the goods, but also because he sees a growth potential. You owe him that trust and risk for handpicking you. So while there are instances when you feel you’re way better than him, don’t rub it in, just let it be. Use it as an opportunity for him to see your real value so you’d be his safe pair of hands or go-to guy. If you’re indeed better, you’d always be level-headed and shall take the high road. And by the way, is there really a competition on who’s better?
8. Act a level higher. On promotions, my favorite mentor once told me, “if you want to be promoted, consistently deliver an output and attitude that’s a level higher than yours”. Instead of convincing management on why you deserve a promotion through a speech, show it because action speaks louder than words. More importantly, being excellent at your current role isn’t good enough reason (because that’s a given, refer to #5), you need to manifest that you’re capable of excellently delivering the job of someone more senior than you.
9. Make friends but establish limits. When you quit a job, you’re leaving the company but you’re taking the personal relationships you’ve created while you’re there. Hence, it’s definitely good to have meaningful relationships with some workmates. Yet, you shouldn’t let it interfere with professionalism. At the end of the day, work is work and you should delineate what’s job-related and what’s personal.
10. Being objective delivers effective judgment and decisions. This simplifies everything when it comes to work. When making business decisions (especially tough ones), setting aside emotions and subjectivity is key. Focus on the objectives and do what’s required to help achieve them. This doesn’t mean that you’d be cold and heartless because you can remain professionally compassionate while being fair.
11. Order takers don’t progress, recommenders do. I believe that each individual has a unique gift that will turn out to be beneficial in a larger scale. And it’s your personal responsibility to let yours shine in the workplace. True, following orders, rules and guidelines are necessary – but that’s not supposed to be the end of your day at work. Adding value by voicing out your thoughts and recommendations is mandatory for you to grow and be considered an asset in any organization. Remember, you’re hired not only to do tasks, but more importantly to think and act to grow the business of the company you’re in.
12. You may not be in sales, but you should know how to sell – your ideas, your recommendations, yourself. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it’s sometimes all about the packaging when it comes to persuading your client, boss or colleague to rule in your favor. Hence, you need to master the craft of being a charismatic leader or worker and you can manifest this by being a clear communicator, good networker and strong relationship builder. Try bringing all these to life and it will take you places.
13. Your work is a life enabler, not a life killer. After a decade and a half at the corporate world, I’ve realized that having work-life balance makes me happiest and most fulfilled – trust me, it’s not the salary, job title, promotions nor corporate culture. It’s not easy to achieve this balance considering that you’re not always in control of every work situation. Yet, keeping the mindset that work is not your life and you won’t have to kill yourself for it allows you to be grounded to the reality that there are people, events and places that matter more. Again, your job title shouldn’t define you, but what you do after your 8 to 5 work that should.
14. Companies close but relationships remain. It’s all about people and the relationship you’ve built with them that gives a deeper meaning to your career. Working for companies is like being at school where you’ll have the opportunity to meet people and develop lasting relationships with them. Take advantage of the opportunity, not only for networking purposes but because these people might turn out to be friends for life or even your future husband or wife!
15. Leave a legacy that will make a difference. Before changing companies and deciding to move to your next venture, always ask yourself: “Have I already created a dent that will leave my mark in this place?”. People tend to move from one place to the other because of practical and material reasons. While they may be valid, the shallow reasoning will haunt you in the end and make you feel empty. Over the years, I’ve learned that aspiring to contribute in making a difference (big or small) will result to real fulfillment. Make sure that you’ve got yours because this will make your CV stand out from the rest – again, everyone can be competent, but only a few can leave a real “work legacy”, try to be one of them!
Indeed, the 15 years that passed was one great ride – full of great lessons that I’ll carry in the next 15 years to self-actualization. If you’re in the middle of yours, don’t stop and just enjoy the ride. Your career doesn’t have a final destination and it’s the daily journey that truly matter more – make sure you make every moment count.
Published version at 'The Filipino Times' on 17 October 2017 here.
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15 YEARS AND 15 LESSONS
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