Imagine if you knew all these things on the first day of work...
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Recently I was asked, “What were the things you wished you knew earlier in life?” And “What would you have done differently if you had the knowledge you have now, when you first graduated?”
And isn’t life sometimes like that. We always say to ourselves, “What If?” or “If Only”. Or “I Should Have…”
But real life is like that. In school, we are given the lessons first before we take the test. But in real life, the test is given first then we learn the lessons.
So just like how in school they make all these “Model Answers” and “Best Practices” to the test available, I thought about making a collection of things I wished I knew when I first graduated from school.
So here’s my list of “Things they should have told you on the first day of work”:
1. What you have learnt so far in your life don’t matter anymore. Time to start on an empty page. And learn everything like a beginner.
2. Learn to say yes even when you’re not qualified or competent enough. You’ll learn it along the way. If you are given a seat on a rocket to the moon, say yes first. And learn how to be an astronaut on the way up to space.
3. Most people take feedback emotionally. So they over-react. But you can respond better by not taking feedback as an attack on who you are as a person but just information. Even when you are feeling upset, hurt or unjustified, focus on the information not the emotion. The use it to change your approach.
4. Yes, take feedback seriously but never believe everything they say about you when they give you feedback. If you doubt what is being said to you (or your gut tells you otherwise), just ask the person who gave you feedback 2 questions – Could you give me an example? And What do you suggest I do to improve?
5. Saying sorry doesn’t make up for your mistake. You got to own up and right the wrong. Even if you have to face the consequences. Sometimes the best apology is not about saying sorry but making things right through your actions.
6. It’s okay to be different. You were born to stand out not fit in. So if you have a different perspective, opinion or idea, don’t be afraid to speak out. If you stand out, they will remember you. And in the world of work, standing out can make you memorable. Standing out for the right reasons puts you in the mindspace of others- clients who might want to take a chance on you, bosses who might have an opportunity for you or an investor looking for someone not afraid to take a calculated risk.
7. First impressions last. But they don’t always have to do with what you wear, how you are dressed or how you show yourself. It can also be about being present, kind, approachable, showing curiosity or giving the person you are giving your full energy.
8. Impressions matter but expressions last. Allow yourself the space to be able to express yourself in a way that is authentic, honest and “you”.
9. But at the same time remember, expressing yourself doesn’t mean having a “take it and or leave it” approach. Many people say , “This is just me, deal with it” and use it as an excuse. Those who are the most successful learn how to express themselves in a way that is palatable (tolerable or acceptable) to others. Without compromising their values or beliefs. In a way that gives them the space to be who they are while respecting the space for others to be who they are as well. When you can do that, your authenticity would become your biggest currency. How to do it? Only through practice, experimentation and learning from feedback.
10. Passion is not about loving what you do. It is about consistency. Passion, if you look at its dictionary definition has the element of sacrifice to it. Are you willing to do something and stick with it no matter the sacrifice you have to make or the time you have to take to achieve it? Many people confuse the intensity of a short moment for passion. When really counts is consistency over the long haul.
11. To be able to do the things you love at work, you sometimes have to do all the things you don’t love first. That would then give you the right, the passport, the opportunity, the ability to do the things that you truly love.
12. Don’t look at things as good and bad. Look at it as “That’s Awesome” when you agree with someone. And “That’s Interesting!”when you disagree. This allows you the mental space to explore the different views of others without making an unnecessary judgment.
13. Before opening your mouth to share something, ask yourself-Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind? Otherwise, your silence can be the most valuable response.
14. If you think you are the smartest person in the room, stop. If you look back 3 or 5 years in your life, there would be times when you would slap your face and say “That was so silly, stupid or ignorant of me!” So even when you are in a room and they teach you something you already know, have an open mind and try to learn it again as if you have never heard it before.
15. Don’t overthink. Or secondguess. Sometimes all you need to do is to put down the handbrake and take action. Because even if you made a mistake, now you know better. And when you know better, next time you’ll do better. If you mess up, always remember what matters most is what you do next.
16. Don’t burn bridges. No matter how much you feel strongly about something. Or someone. You never know how your paths can cross next in the future.
17. You don’t have to win every debate or argument. Sometimes, when you let others win, you actually win. That’s the win-win.
18. Accept others for who they are and how they behave. They may be different from you but in life, you can get from point A to point B in a variety of ways. Learn to accept their differences and focus on what you can control. You can’t control what they do but you sure can control how your respond and adapt.
19. Most people would take jobs that are not relevant and totally different to their degree. But that doesn’t mean that learning is wasted. You never know how the knowledge you learn in the process of getting your degree would come in handy. Like how to make a rational argument based on statistics. Or how to do a presentation. Sometimes, the journey is more important than the destination. Remember, education is what is left behind after you have forgotten what you learnt in school.
20. Everyone loves someone who can make good judgment. But to make good judgment you need to have experience. And experience mostly comes from bad judgment. So don’t be afraid to decide, act or test something out. Either way you win. If you succeed, good for you. If you don’t, you would have earned the valuable experience of bad judgment.
21. The people who are fairly successful wait to be guided by others. Those who are pretty successful go out and find a mentor. Those who are consistently successful find a board of directors. Just like a company has a board of directors to advise on all matters, find a board of directors for your career- different mentors from different departments, fields, backgrounds. Find people who are totally different from you. And seek counsel from them. That diversity of perspectives you will not only make you more knowledgeable but ensure that you can always see things from different angles whenever any situation arises. That way, you can earn a wealth of experience without actually going through that much experience.
22. Learn how to compliment people. It would increase your social currency. And complimenting others is an art. You don’t want to just mention surface-level praises but deliver insightful compliments. When complimenting others, be specific. Tell them something they did in specific that made an impact on you. And continue the conversation further by asking them , “What’s your secret?” or “Tell me more”. People would love it that you noticed something specific. And because of that, many would readily want to tell you about their story. People just love to tell stories about their uniqueness-what makes them outstanding, different, special. Facilitate that.