Today, I turn 55. I now have over 32 years of work experience. These numbers got me thinking about what I wish I had known when I started my professional careers.
We’ve all heard this before. Maybe it’s time to act on it.
Do what you love
We spend the majority of our waking hours working. There is no point doing work you do not love or enjoy doing, or being with people you do not get along with. If you find yourself unhappy with what you do or where you are, start looking for the next role. What you need is out there. Always! It may take time to find, and what you need changes as you grow, but it is out there. Because others are looking for you too.
It’s easy to make excuses for staying in an unhappy, boring or toxic environment — you need the money, you know the game, what if the next place is worse, and change is hard and risky. Do not decide to stay somewhere unpleasant just because you are comfortable and the bills get paid. The critical resource in our lives is our time, our spans are limited, and it’s best spent where we want to be.
Your integrity is critical
No matter where you work, you are part of a bigger community. The same folks you interact with and do business with today are the folks you will be doing business with in the future. And all communities have memories, connections and a vocal grapevine.
Your reputation is built on your honesty, integrity and actions. It cannot be asked for, bought or demanded. Folks may not remember other’s successes or strengths, but they always remember misbehaviors, lies and bad deals. It’s up to you to do the right thing, always, even if it means standing up against your organization.
Integrity is really simple to nurture. Don’t make promises you cannot keep, don’t offer that which others need to provide, and always communicate expectations, state and intention. If you keep your word, and communicate honestly, the rest will follow.
Find the balance
This post may be about work, but we do not live to work, we work to live. Find the work/life balance that works for you. The work will be there tomorrow.
I must admit that I failed in this one, especially in my earlier career. I worked 7 day weeks, 18 hour days, whereas my compatriots were out building their careers and having fun, getting married and starting families. I found my balance very late.
Walk away from the computer or desk at the end of the day — and do so at a reasonable hour. Take vacations. Ignore the peer pressure to “always be there”. Spend time with those you love or doing the things you enjoy. Ironically, taking time away from work, in my experience, makes you a better worker.
Own only material goods that are important to you
I do not know where the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” comes from, but I think it’s madness to try. Having material goods for the sake of appearances or competition is not joyful, I think it’s actually stressful and, at some point, you become owned by your stuff.
I have three levels of what I goods I use:
- What I use for work and play everyday - I get the best for me (which usually revolves around Apple or Regulator products)
- What I need to have - I get the most functional (like having a Subaru car or DeWalt tools)
- Everything else - I get the cheapest (which is why my clothes always look shabby — since I really do not care about my appearance)
Choose what things that are important to you, and invest in them. Let the Joneses struggle to keep up with you, because you will be doing other things with your life.
Ask questions, challenge people
The only way to learn and grow is to ask. There is no shame in not understanding something new. What’s worse is remaining ignorant of something that impacts the work you do. Never make the assumption that others know more than you or have plans you know nothing of. A better assumption is to assume instead that they, like you, are trying to figure things out too.
Instead, declare that you do not understand, then ask questions, push for people to explain, and challenge their explanations. What you get out of it is a better understanding of the context and what is needed from you, and they get a better understanding of what it is they really need and what you will do for them. Both sides learn, we all win, and our work quality and experience improves.
Give something back
We are all where we are today professionally because mentors and colleagues (and occasionally even strangers) have taken the time to guide us, advise us, teach us and correct us. We are very good at what we do now because of them back then. They gave back. We all need to as well.
It’s not hard. Take time to guide and mentor people whose careers are just starting or have hit plateaus. Take the time to replace yourself on your job so you can grow as well. Do not be afraid to teach, you will be surprised at what you have to offer (and sometime what you need to learn as well).
Be true to yourself … and others
Most importantly, be true to yourself and others. If you like something, say so; if something is wrong, express that as well. Bottling things up or hoping things will change or get better has never worked. More likely, others will agree with you, feel better that they too are not alone, and will work with you to improve things.
It’s time to make your career … and life balance … what you need it to be. Best not to wait. Let me know what you are up to, and how things are changing for you.
My path may have been better had I known the above, but it also formed who I am now, and informs where I go next. Maybe that too is not a bad thing.