6 years, 6 honest career lessons
This year, I complete six years of full-time employment, and though this probably marks just the start of my career, I’ve come to realise that this phase has taught me some very important career (and life) lessons. These are lessons that will guide me as I navigate the twists, turns (and mostly circles!) of my career. Here are the lessons I’ve learnt - through observation, discussions, and some, the hard way.
1. Stay curious. Ask the right questions, even the uncomfortable ones.
I often joke that I find myself saying “I don’t have the answers, but I sure do appreciate your questions”. I’ve learnt that dealing with ambiguity and not having clean, sorted answers is a part of the game. I’ve learnt to look at questions for what they are – enablers for action.
Even outside of my immediate circle of work, my most fulfilling professional (and personal) relationships are based on my curiosity and a child-like need to know more - about people and the work they do. It has helped me create a very strong learning community that I draw knowledge and inspiration from.
2. Keep learning - Don’t let who you are limit what you do.
We as people, often tend to live in boxes and bubbles of our own. We’re quick to label people a certain type, because of what they appear to be. But it’s important for us to know that people are not always this or that, they’re all the crazy in between. We don’t realise that just as different people bring out different aspects of a person’s personality, jobs do the same. I’ve often received disbelieving looks from people when I tell them that I wanted to pursue a career in marketing and branding. They’re quick to tell me how they’d never had me pegged as that person, because, you know, I don’t seem the type - because I am introverted, and often come across as staid and business-like.
Even with extroverts, I’ve sometimes noticed the assumption that they may not be cut out for (or enjoy) the seemingly boring, hard skill-heavy professional tasks. In my short journey, so far, I’ve seen different sides of my personality emerge, depending on my natural response, as well as the demands of the role, and I love that we all have the ability to do that. It’s amazing that we can learn, work hard, reinvent ourselves, turn these assumptions on their heads, and have a good time while we’re at it, too.
3. The grass is greener where you water it.
Comparison is futile. Everyone has their stories and you have yours. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your friends who all now have fancy job titles, qualifications, success stories, and what sometimes appears to be, a faster, clearer, career track. But that is severely undermining both their journey and yours. But I’ve learnt it’s important to own your decisions and of course, course correct if you feel the need to. In other words, you need to pick your garden, own it and water it well. The rest will follow. Not immediately, but it will.
I’ve learned that I have not always been great when I started something new. But now, instead of taking that as an affront to my potential, I have learnt to respect the process. In the past, I’ve quit job(s) partly because I didn’t think I was doing as well as I thought I would be. I’d assumed that if the career was meant to be, I’d be naturally good at it or at least, be on an accelerated path to getting there. When that didn’t happen, I assumed that it was a sign that I was probably meant for other things. Possibly true, possibly not. But I’ve learnt to accept that things take time and effort, even if it’s what you’ve always wanted to do, or thought you’d be good at, or something you'd enjoy.
When I look at my friends, I know I see the success they seem to enjoy now, but often fail to understand that they had a journey completely their own. I’ve learnt to own my garden, let others’ gardens motivate me, but to sow my seeds of intent in my own garden.
(Oh, and yes, I've learnt that all gardens have their drudge tasks. And they need to be done, whether you like it or not)
4. Embrace the rule of 3 – personal, professional and self.
I like to look at life as a function of 3 – professional (education and career), personal (friends and family), and self (you, your own interests, hobbies). I’ve learned it’s important to have a healthy balance of all three to be your best in either one of them. At the intersection of these three circles, is who you are. It’s true that we are not our jobs (insert Fight Club reference), but we should know that our jobs and professional relationships do shape who we are. I’ve learnt to consciously work on myself so that I bring my best self to my professional and personal relationships. On the same lines, I’ve realized that my professional satisfaction has a direct bearing on my personal life and my sense of self.
Most importantly, all three of these take attention, work, and sustained effort.
5. Balance confidence & humility.
“If I can’t, who can? If I can, who can’t?” This quote very powerfully summarises the need for both confidence and humility, in good measure. The confidence that comes with knowing you can do something needs to be followed by the humility of knowing you’re as special as the next person. It’s my go-to mantra every time I take on something new and challenging.
6. Fake it till you make it .
I know this advice is open to debate,but I recently watched a Ted Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en) on confidence and posturing. It talks about how ‘power posing’, even when we don’t quite feel as confident, impacts our behaviour and subsequent success. I’ve learnt that most people really have their game faces on, at work. I’ve interacted with people with career spans much longer than mine, and experiences far richer and more varied than mine, and this is something they’ve all told me. I’ve slowly learnt to grow out of the feeling of wide eyed wonder every time I see a person who seems like (s)he has it all together. Below this confident exterior, most people share the same vulnerabilities, doubts and scepticism. And that’s okay.
Every time, I see a job description and feel intimidated by it (besides feeling under qualified for it), I try to remind myself that all JDs are in fact, work in progress. And so are we. There’s really nothing stopping me from becoming the person in the JD. I don’t have to be that person, this instant. I just need to believe that I have what it takes, and more importantly, that I’m willing to do what it takes, to get there. Learning on the job, is severely underrated and more importantly, under-discussed. But, I’ve learnt it’s where the learning happens.
As Richard Branson says “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
I hope a few of you could relate to these lessons and this post comes as a reminder for us to pause, reflect, and keep learning!