What I’ve learned in 10 years as an employee

I graduated college in 2008 and started my first “real” job quickly thereafter. That means June/July of 2018 I’ve worked in my career path for 10 years. I think back on the first job I took and all sorts of feelings come rushing back. I was moving to a new city, where I ended up “living” in a hotel, then temporary living space, then finally an apartment…. only to move back to OKC 9 months later. That first day on the job was little weird. Excitement, fear, and so many emotions in between.  I stressed myself out so much I spent a lot of our first day training outside the training room.

As I look back at that first year on the job I wasn’t particularly confident in my job, but I look back now and know I had no clue exactly how much I didn’t know. The perspective of 10 years means I realize how much more I still have to learn, though I’ll admit I can still sometimes be a know-it-all. As I think of these first 10 years and think to the next 10, it seems with the passage of time we know less and less. I think that’s probably the unofficial definition of wisdom… thinking you know less but really knowing the most.

10 years may sound long or short, depending on your perspective, but look at it this way: it’s approximately 1/4 of the way through your working life. A quarter of the way through a journey is enough to reflect back on, but not enough to have a full picture.

As I reflected, I was able to pull out some specific lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully this will provide some value for those at the same spot or further along, but really I hope to encourage those who are just starting on their work journey.

Always be nice

This can be broken down into two elements. Being right isn’t the most important thing and gossip is the fast track to unhappiness.

I’ve found over the years that while being smart and/or right can be good, it can also be bad. I had a friend who was right time and again, but got fired because he was too focused on his correctness versus getting along within the organization. A key element of learning how to work with others is knowing how to disagree without insulting the person and knowing when to concede to others.

In the workplace it’s also easy to get sucked into a negative mentality. It’s easy to get swept up in gossip or second-guessing of decisions, but these paths ultimately lead to your own misery. Getting sucked into these vortexes may even feel like you’re gaining a deeper connection with your coworkers, but those connections evaporate when proximity or commiseration cease. Gossip is extremely easy to fall prey to – we’ve all been there. We know deep down it’s bad, but we deny, deny, deny. Almost overnight my job satisfaction changed because I chose to change how I processed my surroundings.

We spend more time with coworkers than anyone else in our life. It’s imperative that (just as we should be working on our family/friend relationships) we should examine and improve upon our work relationships.

Networking is everything

Business is done with people you know and trust. I wish I would have realized this years ago, because I can see all the relationships I’ve let fizzle. In my transactional youth mind, I thought the business world was all a calculation. The best product, vendor, candidate, or company would always win. The reality is much different. Whether it be decisions on vendors or seeking out job opportunities, networking can determine your success.

And networking doesn’t mean seeking out only relationships that benefit you. It means giving more than you receive. We all have things to give to those around us and it’s important that we exercise these muscles. Just as muscles atrophy if not used, our ability to foster these relationships can atrophy as well. By doing this often, we get better and better while building a wider group around us. Again this isn’t about our personal gain. Relationships mean something and help us grow as people.

Be a problem solver

We’ve all complained about classes we took in school. Whether it be math, English, electives, etc., there always seems to be a one that people just can’t stand. I’ll admit I’ve always complained about school in general because I didn’t see much of it as useful. But the reality is, school is just one big problem-solving lesson. You may not use the Pythagorean theorem every day, but you do you have a chance to solve for “x” in one way or another. Don’t dismiss those gifts from a subject you may not have enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I think many people have forgotten what it’s like to problem solve. So many workers will only do what’s brought to them. By being a person that can think outside the box, you become an invaluable asset to your organization.

Long diligence

I’ve talked about this concept in a few other social media or blog posts in regard to long obedience as a Christian. How I strive for what I’ve seen called “long obedience in the same direction.” This concept can also be applied to the business world. People who are consistent, diligent, and just show up can be difficult to find. We’ve all seen it with our workplaces. The new guy starts and immediately impresses everyone. He might be new to the organization or just new to you/your group, but it seems everything they do is a hit. They’re making friends, building relationships, and impressing with their work. Then, the fade starts to happen. These are the flash in the pan people. They get all the attention for a short while and either leave or are asked to leave. It could be there isn’t much substance and they exposed it all in a burst. It could be they’re easily bored and quit putting that same sort of effort. Or it could be the personality they originally showed had some hidden grating qualities that now make them the one no one wants to be around.

We need to strive to be Nick Collison’s of our organizations. I’d rather be the consistent presence, the rock of the group, the one people always know they can count on rather than the flash in the pan. What that means is that you will often get overlooked. The consistent force that can bring value day after day is where the real progress comes. Being that person may not get you accolades, but it will mean that when the chips are down, ole’ faithful is the one they’ll revert to. The beautiful thing about this is while it may be lonely or not rewarding in the short run, these are the ones who get the coveted promotions in the future. This is the person that sticks with an organization and works their way up. Why is that, you ask? It’s because no one likes to take risks, and they know you’re steady and won’t cause them grief. While they may love the superstar, they’re never sure when that star will burn out.

I hope this post doesn’t convey that I think I know it all. It’s actually quite the opposite. The longer I’ve been in the workforce, the more I realize I have so much to learn. I’ve seen where I was and where I am, and it’s hard to imagine how I got here. For those just starting out, embrace how your interests or career path can change and hold your plans with open hands, not a death grip. It’s a wild and crazy world out there… so don’t take yourself so seriously. To summarize: be nice, cultivate relationships, embrace problems and take the long view.