This week I’m trying something a little different. I realize that I have less experience in career advice than in the data world, and that this post might veer into self-indulging therapy, but I do think it has value nonetheless. The elements in the list I am about to present are things I genuinely wish I knew when I started my career and that I still fight against. Hopefully, some of you can relate to this and who knows, it may give you some perspective on your current actions. With the context set, let’s dive into this: 10 things you (and I) need to tell our inner 20 year-old to stop doing.
1. Being a cynical jerk
“If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” -Albert Camus
Granted this is more existentialism than cynicism but it does illustrates my point. Spend your time contemplating the supposedly uselessness of your work, complaining about your routine and trying to establish solidarity around this vision of your job is idiotic. There will be displeasing aspects in your work, just as it is the case of any endeavor to which you devote more than 30 minutes. The question that you need to ask yourself is how bad the situation actually is, does it serve a purpose in your career plan, and if you need to change something. Complaining for complaining is counter productive, despite what every fiber of my French body wants me to believe, so don’t do it.
2. Not wanting to pick up the phone
This is why texting and apps like grubhub are so popular, and why voicemail is dead. We all hate calling someone, especially for a difficult conversation. Don’t misinterpret this with organizing meetings for the sake of organizing meetings, this is a completely different issue. What I’m talking about here is calling someone before or instead of sending an email/chat/text. Electronic communication is essential, but it does not replace phone calls. If you can’t find the right words to put in an email, try calling first.
3. Not having a career plan
What do you want to be in 2, 3, 5 years? Is what you’re doing know actively helping towards that goal? If you can’t answer that, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not saying that plans don’t change or that it is easy to know which direction to take (queue Camus’ quote from the first point), but it is the key to not waste time. It’s a difficult thing to face your own state of despair, but it will make you a more focused individual. Identify where you want to be. Give yourself the tools to get there.
4. Underestimating the value of relationships
However much you value relationships in your work environment, I’m fairly certain you can multiply that value by 2 or 3. At least that was the case for me until extremely recently. Take the time to speak with people. Pick up the phone, talk to them on social media, the world we live in make building relationships easier than before. Use it to your advantage. Don’t think you will get where you want to be alone.
5. Thinking that other people are idiots
I used to say, following the word of wisdom of many elders, that the worst thing in life is to work with idiots. I realize now that this was misguided. Not that I literally thought that a significant portion of my co-workers were dumber than I was (although if that’s what you actually think, you may have to climb down off your narcissist pedestal and join us common folks), more that they were many areas in which they weren’t as skilled as I am (or so I thought). The misguided part of this thought is thinking that everyone has the same objectives and interests as you. They don’t. And the fact that they don’t understand one thing you do, or even if we take this to an extreme that their cognitive capabilities are less proficient than yours, is irrelevant. When faced with someone who does not seem to understand something, or does something you think he shouldn’t have done, use it as an opportunity to learn about them, not to judge them; which brings us to our next point.
6. Failing to understand others’ ultimate motive
This is the next level of my previous point. I can attest from personal experience that I did (and still do in some occasions) misunderstand completely a person and get genuinely surprised by some of their action, which more often than not end up costing me a great deal. So try to do this: instead of dismissing people for the behavior and actions in which they engage, use these as data points aggregating towards building a portrait of them; this will save you a few surprises.
7. Hesitating to ask questions …
I was once working at a customer’s site to install one of our products and we needed a few boring environment access to be setup. Assigned to help me out was a freshly hired guy. As usual in that kind of situations, nothing was easy, and we were basically stuck until someone approved something. So I ask that guy: “who’s the person in charge of this approval?”; once he gave me his name I said: “good, let’s ask him when we can expect the approval process to be finished”. Of course, this made the freshly hired quite uncomfortable and he did not want to do it. In the end, we did contact the guy, and he was happy that we called (see point #2) because he had a few questions about what we were trying to do; I even think that ultimately it was quite beneficial for the new guy’s visibility in the organization. So if you have a legitimate question to ask to someone, regardless of their position, you should ask it. You have very little to risk unless it is misguided, which is why you should think before asking.
8. … especially to yourself.
This is fairly simple. Think before you ask something. Don’t be afraid, but use everything you know about your audience before asking a question or replying to an email. I know I’m guilty of angsty responses and I’m working on it. The key here is that if everyone else is applying the principles laid out in point #6, then they are building a portrait of you from multiple data points. Don’t give them negative data points.
9. Not looking for ways to go the extra mile
“Ask yourself ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: Yes.” -Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner
I admit this might sound a little cheesy, but it is worth saying. I believe that you can always find more relevant things to do to better your knowledge, your business relationships and your recognition from other people. While this extra work might sometimes feel overwhelming, you can always prioritize it. Don’t keep this out of sight. Do more.
10. Compromising your values
… unless you have terrible values. More seriously, this is very good advice that I gave to myself after my first job. In my first job, I tried to become someone I wasn’t for the sake of fitting into a certain culture. I believe this was one of the biggest mistake I have ever made. Excelling at a job and pushing your career forward is hard enough, you don’t want to have to battle fundamental internal conflicts. I use the word fundamental knowingly. Like I touched on during my first point, you will always have doubts about what you’re doing, rightfully so. You spend a very high percentage of your time working, I don’t believe it is sustainable long term if you compromise your values, the same way you can’t be in a long term love relationship if you lie to one of the parties (you or your partner). Make sure your work environment does not make you become something you’re not.