Fresh out of university, armed with a shiny new degree in my back pocket I was ready to get to work. Finally ! It sounded like such a stepping stone in the process of adulting. Earning enough of an income to get an apartment on my own and buy new work clothes, Yay! Little did I know back then that these next few years were going to challenge my self-esteem and my views on what it meant to be in the workplace. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Beware of those who seem “overly popular”
Alright this one is very important so read this carefully. During school I looked up to those who got peers recognition such as industry awards, features on on magazines, highlights on newsletter, etc. One good example is the award of the kind “top 40 under 40”. The first thing you need to know about these awards is that the individual or their employers pay thousands of dollars for them making it plain advertisement. Second is that the award is provided based on what the application mentions and perhaps one or two interviews with the individual. Their teams are never interviewed. You have no idea how this person treats others or how they behave in a day to day. These individuals are judged strictly based on what’s written on their bio and how they want to portray themselves .
Through my work experience I got to work under the direct supervision of two award winners of one of the top magazines in my field of work in North America. There isn’t much better you can do in terms of public facing recognition. At first, I was rightfully extremely excited to get the opportunity to work alongside people who had been recognized as the top of the game. As it turned out, working for these individuals ended up being a literal nightmare for me and the others of my team.
Here is a trend I noticed with these individuals: they listen to their teams ideas, take in the interesting points, and then repeat it as if they were their own. They are the public face of their teams, but in most cases didn’t do the work but gather the credits for it. They are simply repeating the information “louder” to their network. There is a serious difference between bringing a point or a conclusion because you discovered it through your own efforts, or repeating the idea your heard from someone else working in the shadow. The lesson here is to keep your sense of criticism alive when looking up to these people as the awards only recognize the “tip” of the iceberg.
Finding your work friends
What tremendously helped me in my years of work when times got taught are my work friends. Work friends are people whom you will get to laugh with, share successes, and genuinely be happy for as they progress through their carriers. Your work friends can be your boss, colleagues, people who work in different department etc. I found that having this network of work friends throughout my career has helped me on various level. First when pressure builds up there is nothing a good laughter can’t fix. It also helps feeling connected to others who live similar experiences as you.
When you mess up, work friends will be there to help you, whether that is by giving you advice, listening to you or rolling up their sleeves to help you. This is the beauty of teamwork and in my experience a lot of the mess one created can be turned around.
We all screw up sometimes. A simple misunderstanding can lead to bigger errors. Once this happens, remember who was there for you, this is where lies one of the keys to effective teamwork.
Getting fired doesn’t reflect your value
I was fired from my first job as a manager. Phew, here it’s out. It took me a year to get over it. Seriously, getting fired can be a self-confidence crusher. I had invested so much personal energy working for this agency that I had tied my value as an individual to the successes I had at work. I led a team, sold various services, and overall worked really hard. Looking back, the work culture at this agency pushed employees to perform and work extra hours (without getting paid for it of course) to the point of exhaustion. When you were no longer needed, you were let go off.
I made the mistake of letting myself drawn into this unhealthy culture. I let the outcome of whatever was happening at work define my moods, and pretty much lead my personal life too. This is a very slippery slope as when things were going very well at work, my self-esteem was high and I was exited about what was coming next. When I made mistakes, got into fights with the CEO or got fired, I started to think of myself as a complete failure. Therefore, I let my work performance define my value as a human being. This is a mistake I will not make twice. No one can control the outcomes of everyday projects. You don’t hold any decisional power over what your clients are going to think of your work, your boss mood that day, or what competitors may say about you.
You can control what you put into your work (i.e. the efforts, the hours, the energy). As such, try to focus what you can control and be proud of it. Be proud of helping a co-worker, finishing a report, learning a new skill. Shifting your mindset to understand that you, as an individual, are so much more than your current job title is critical for your well-being and your long-term growth. After a year I can now say that getting fired gave me the kick I needed to let go of this notion that my worth was defined by my work performance.
The learning never stops
Turns out learning in the workplace is very different than learning in the classroom. Dah ! But let me explain. Learning in the workplace, especially if you work in a bit of a niche area happens in all sorts of places:
- Near coffee machines
- At lunch with your co-workers
- During team meetings
- In weekly newsletters
- On LinkedIn !
I learned a lot by following every company or associations that are even mildly relevant to my job on LinkedIn. I aim to spend about 2 hours / week on the platform, reading articles published all around the world. I also subscribe to newsletters from relevant media. A lot of times I forget what I read, but sometimes I will come across one or two lines that tell me critical entails for my industry that I can then share with the rest of my team. For instance, a certain company was awarded a contract my team bid on, or that other company is offering a new service that my clients may be interested to hear about. You can also take online courses at your own pace using platforms such as Udemy. I am currently enrolled in an electrical engineering course to try to understand the grid infrastructure jargon, and a Python data class. Whenever I feel like it, I just sit back and listen to the videos online.
It took me a few years to build this database of various sources, and it is a constant work in progress. So if you are reading this and you just graduated, there is no need to panic — it’s a trial and error process to find what platforms and rhythm works best for you.