If we were able to go back in time and talk to our 25-year-old selves, what advice would we give? Just in case a time machine ever comes along, this is the career advice I would give my 25-year-old self.
1. A career is a marathon, not a sprint: Chill. When we are younger we tend to be impatient. As you get older you realise there is no real rush. Life, and the careers we pursue to fill it and pay the bills, needs to be approached on a long-term basis. If you sprint, you will wear out or start to resent work that you previously enjoyed. Allow yourself time to breathe and grow. Things will come if you work hard and allow yourself time to improve. Always rushing leaves you empty, and tired. It is fine to give yourself permission to take some time in the slow lane. You will find yourself seeing things on the journey that you didn’t realise were there.
2. Success comes from repetition : I remember hairdressing legend Stefan Ackerie telling me this in 2003. I had never really thought about it before. A few years later Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant book Outliers was published, promoting the idea that you needed to spend 10,000 hours on something to become truly expert at it. The lesson here is get good at things before you try to move to the next thing. Genuine expertise belongs to an elite few. They seldom have superpowers. They have endurance, patience and take a long-term view. They also love what they do. If you find that, don’t let it go.
3. Get your priorities right: It is well established that nobody laments on their death bed that they didn’t spend enough time at the office. Yet still we let contrived circumstances and trivial issues keep us from important events such as school sport days and kids getting badges for picking up rubbish. I can remember every sport day and certificate presentation I missed. I can’t remember any of the reasons I missed them. Over the long haul, it doesn’t matter if you have a few years when your career is in canter mode while you prioritise young children. I was watching some video of my kids when they were little and I realised, again, that the little people in that video don’t exist in that form any more. They have grown into pride-worthy adults but the tiny people with wonder in their eyes were just passing through.
4. Always act like you are 35: A recruiter gave me this advice some years ago. It is inspired. What she meant was, when you are young in the workplace, don’t act as a novice. If you are smart and competent, step up and do what you are capable of in a mature way. Similarly, when you are older, don’t act like it. Approach your day with youthful energy. To quote a Frank Sinatra song: “You’re 35 and it’s a very good year.”
5. Management is about people, not things: It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that all people are equal, behave the same and have a generic capacity to perform. Humans are simply not made like that. Business guru Jack Welch says the workforce consists of 20 per cent of people who are high performers, 10 per cent that you should get rid of and 70 per cent who do OK. The issue is the 70 per cent. Most managers want everyone in the 20 per cent. We need to be careful not to believe that the 70 per cent are underperformers. Sometimes we need to celebrate the competence of the masses, not the superpowers of the elite. As managers, we don’t just manage but empower people and make the best use of whatever they bring to the table.
6. Genuinely listen to others: It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have all the answers as individuals. We don’t. As a group we are far more powerful. We need to genuinely collaborate and really listen to others. And we need to ask our own people first.
7. Never work for horrible bastards: Life is way too short to tolerate really bad bosses. If you find yourself working for one, unless you are desperate or starving, start looking for a new job. Immediately. Then sack the bad boss. By leaving.
8. Recognise that staff are people with finite emotional capacity: It is clear to me now that humans have a limited emotional capacity. If there is something challenging happening in their personal lives, they have finite capacity left to deal with work. In nearly 100 per cent of cases I dealt with of people suddenly underperforming in the office, it has nothing to do with work. When good people have problems, managers and companies need to carry them. This should be a personal mission. If we carry people when they most need it, we become a stronger community. A reinvigorated broken employee is a corporation’s most powerful force.
9. Don’t just network with people your own age: Beware the whiz kid syndrome. Smart, young people have a habit of forming communities of other smart young people. In fact networking should be about meeting useful mentors and career champions who can open doors and fast track careers. Similarly, older, successful people shouldn’t just sit in musty clubs talking about the 1970s. They should seek out smart, young people who can shake them out of their comfort zone.
10. Take the time to understand what your business does: I love the story of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to NASA during which he asked a cleaner what his job was. The cleaner replied that he sent rockets to the moon. All of us should feel part of what our organisations actually do. We should be part of the big picture and feel connected with the true objectives of our workplace.
11. Work in an office where you have friends: You will spend a lot of time at work. You should work with people you like. I used to be a bit sceptical about a question in employment engagement surveys asking people if they had a “best friend” at work. I realise now that work is much better if you are among friends. The happiest people are those who do things they are passionate about with people they really like.
12. Never sacrifice personal ethics for a work reason: Crucial to workplace happiness is value alignment. If you work somewhere that compromises your personal ethics and values, get out of there as quickly as you can. Good people will be unnerved by things that don’t feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Bad things only manifest when good people don’t take a stand.
13. Recognise that failure is learning: As bizarre as it might sound, failing is not failure. Researchers recognise that failure is just part of a process to eliminate unsuccessful options. Thomas Edison articulated this best: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” If we fear failure we tend to take a minimalist approach to our jobs. Take some risks. Sometimes failing spectacularly is the best evidence that we are alive, human and serious about aspiring to the extraordinary. There is no value in being ordinary when you have the capacity to be remarkable.
Courtesy of The Australian, April 2015. By Shane Rodgers.