When I started my first job as an editorial assistant, I didn’t know what to expect and what my expectations were of the working world. It was a daunting yet exciting phase in my life and I couldn’t wait to be part of the workforce. I was young and a tad naive, thinking climbing up the ladder as a journalist was going to be as smooth as silk.
I was wrong.
It has been close to 8 years of working and I have switched roles; thrice. It’s interesting to know, they’re not all the same industry but I am enlightened by my journey. I’ve broadened my skill sets and identified my strengths and weakness as an employee. I’ve learned that a career is something you craft for yourself and not what other people tell you to do. Most importantly, I’ve learned that it’s okay to fail and try again and you don’t lose out by being optimistic at work. There’s still a long way to go for me but I am positive I am on the right path.
Being a journalist was the ideal career path but had I not explored possibilities and taken opportunities when they became available, I wouldn’t have discovered a part of me that had developed interests for other fields such as social media, retail and branding and digital marketing.
Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The setback for many of us is we don’t often get to choose the job we want but we do adapt and make the most of it. Chances of falling in love with the job are higher than landing on the job you want to fall in love with.
In a nutshell, there were people I met along the way and lifetime mentors of mine who were amazingly inspiring. It was an honour to be in their presence, learn and even worked with some of them. This article is to pay homage to some of the best pieces of advice I’ve received and hopefully they’ll inspire you too.
Keep Things Simple
I was still a junior journalist when it came to our year-end review. After months of working hard and finishing job bags according to my deadlines, I was hoping to get a promotion. That time, we had a sub-editor who would come in the office every other day. She noticed my pre-appraisal jitters a few weeks earlier and decided to give me advice on some perspective. She said, “Keep it simple, do your work. Do it well and you will be recognised for your diligence. A promotion will come in no time if you just keep doing your work. If not, you should be proud of accomplishing your tasks with the effort you’ve put in.”
I thought it was such a straightforward, good, and solid advice. What’s best is it fits every industry. The reward is inevitable if you work earnestly. Your superiors are bound to notice. You cannot be cutting corners and expect to be rewarded. You get what you deserve, in my case I did and I treasure that advice until today.
Exercise Empathy and Humility
This was an advice from my uncle when we spoke about the inevitable conflict at work. “Leave your ego out the door and put yourself in another person’s shoes when things get complicated,” he said. At work, it’s easy to get manipulated and annoyed by people who don’t necessarily have the best communication skills; but it’s also important to know no one is perfect. Part of leadership and being a team player is having the ability to identify with emotions and practice unbiasedness.
Develop strong EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and resonate gracefulness when you’re commenting or receiving less-than-positive feedbacks. There’s no point in being defensive. Defensiveness is also something I’ve learned to understand, control and resolve. Change the way you argue and listen to what others have to say before you say something back.
Stay humble. Even if you are good at what you do, there’s always room to be better. Share your knowledge and learn from others; it’ll definitely help you enhance your skills. Ask your colleagues questions like, “That’s an interesting thought! Can you share more about it?” or “Heard you’re well-versed about this topic. Can I please pick your brain?” People will appreciate your attitude and notice your capabilities so you don’t need to shout about it or even humblebrag.
Resilience Is Key
After a few years in the publishing industry, I did a career leap and joined the corporate world. There, I faced bigger, tougher and even petty problems. The saying,“Tough times never last, but tough people do,” which my former general manager liked to quote in her motivational pep talks. It was a brilliant reminder to always give our best shots at work.
Once, whilst preparing for an on-ground event she told my team and me, “It doesn’t matter what job title you hold. Be hands-on and do the work. Roll up your sleeves and be part of the messy, crazy work. You’ll appreciate the final outcome better this way.” Her high level of commitment was motivating and inspired many of us at work to do the same.
As a mid-level executive, there were times I felt discouraged whenever we received dissatisfactory or below average remarks from the higher-ups or third parties upon project execution. But the way my boss handled things, the spirit of teamwork and strong zeal to perform tasks together made it worth it. Overall, building resilience and overcoming stumbling blocks mentally prepares you to bounce back from struggles and trains you to develop a mature thought process and identity. The concept is like being part of an army; where every individual is equally important when they stand together and just as strong apart.
On Taking Ownership and Crediting Others
Practical advice I’ve received on accountability and ownership was from my former section leader in publishing. She trained me to be responsible for my decisions and also understand what it meant to take ownership of my work. Being accountable is more than just taking the blame when there’s trouble. It’s about understanding your role to deliver and fulfil the requirements.
“The biggest expectation is to deliver. Map out your capabilities and the consequences if you underdeliver or fail to deliver,” she said. The follow-through part of the job is the toughest, especially if you’re in a team. It can cause a backlog in the workflow and the team or organisation will not be able to achieve the desired outcome. Set up goals and deadlines for yourself at work. This way, you can be self-motivated and will not disappoint others. If you really need to postpone a deadline, be honest with your superior and speed up your work. Have a good attitude about work responsibilities. Your leaders trust you and you mustn’t break their trust.
On giving credit and taking credit, respect is key. Give recognition where it’s due. Also, practice sharing credit. Working is after all a joint-effort towards a common goal for the organisation. I’ve noticed that once you cultivate the idea of sharing credit, others will follow suit and it makes working more gratifying. Real friendship between colleagues can also come out of this tip.
Never take credit for work you did not do. Not only is this unethical, it is also a bad representation of your professional self. It’ll deter others to want to collaborate with you and sooner or later, your bosses will be sure to find out. It’s wiser to work on your shortcomings rather than stealing ideas. Likewise, if others take credit for your work, steer clear of being passive-aggressive. It can be infuriating and it will also dampen your spirits. Fix the situation by confronting the ‘idea-stealer’ and remedy it by getting them to acknowledge your idea the next time around.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Back in 2010, when I was fresh out of university and ready to ‘tackle’ the world, my mentor; a senior classmate of mine, sat me down and said, “Don’t ever be too comfortable with where your career takes you; failure is evident and always be a solution-finder.” His advice, I carry with me until this very day.
Mistakes are part and parcel of life. When you make mistakes at work, don’t deny them but apologise and accept them. They’re lessons which can help you enhance your skills and attitude. Failure often leaves a bigger impact than success because you learn to pick yourself up again and refine your shortcomings. On the other hand, despite accepting failure; it’s also important to not take work lightly. Aim to keep a balance as a professional without putting your company’s time, reputation and money at risk.
Another thing is to accept challenges and say yes to opportunities. You’d be surprised what you can discover through taking risks. A couple of weeks ago, my current boss shared a presentation about stepping up and taking other roles to progress within the organisation. He mentioned how one has to dip their toes into unchartered waters in order to find out what their weakness and potential strengths are.
Be confident and daring. It shows you trust yourself and you’re accountable for what you decide to do. Not necessarily a ‘yes’ person but brave enough to try something new and exciting. Bring to the table what you believe can benefit the team and organisation. Be a team player and provide solutions or give suggestions to inculcate a favourable and productive working environment.