5 January 2021 marks my 10th work anniversary. It's hard to believe 10 years have flown by since I first started work. Felt like it wasn't that long ago when we took the photo above during our new hire orientation at Sheraton Imperial KL.
I am probably one of the few millennials who still work for the same company, doing the same job for a decade. What's different is that I'm now working in a different location, with a different title. Lots have changed but lots have remained the same over the years. While it hasn't been all rainbows and sunshine, I am thankful to be in good field and have a stable job for the first 10 years of my career.
Even though 10 years may sound like a long time, it is actually only 1/3 (or 1/4) of most people's working life. We still have long working lives ahead of us, so this is a good time to pause and reflect on what I’ve learned working in different environments with different people over the past 10 years.
Here are 10 lessons I have learned from my first 10 years of work:
1. Work hard and do a good job; but don't expect all hard work to be rewarded and recognized
I was approached by a boss and manager whom I used to work with in Malaysia to work on a project in the US 3 years later, and that's because they remembered the good work back then. Be responsible, put in the hard work, and always do your best. Those are the basics. There will be times when your efforts may not be rewarded and recognized, but don't be disappointed or get mad. You may not know it, but people do remember and recognize your good work. Keep putting your best foot forward because you never know where life will take you and who you may cross paths with.
2. Strive to be an invaluable employee; but know that you are not indispensable
In the current environment where change is the only constant, it is even more important to continuously upskill ourselves and be willing to learn and strive to be an invaluable employee. Being one of the most experienced team member, you may feel like your years of knowledge and experience on the job is invaluable, and the team may crumble when you leave. But take a look around you, people come people go, and the one who leaves gets replaced almost immediately. As much as you'd like to think that you are important to the team or the company, remember that you're not indispensable. Nobody is. The world moves on with or without you.
3. Develop passion in your work; don't work for passion
I'd laugh out loud if anyone tells me they are passionate about auditing. The reason why I started my career in this field is because that's the most common path to get into one of the Big 4 accounting firms. Coming out of college, I didn't really know what I want to do or what I am passionate about. Auditing gives me the opportunity to see various industries, has a clear progression path, pays well, and is a stable job. I'd rather work for money now, and set myself up to pursue my passions 'full time' later on with no financial stresses. Even though I can't say I'm passionate about auditing, I have discovered parts about audit that I'm passionate about over the years, like building and working on spreadsheets. I take pride in a well-documented, OCD-approved Excel or Google spreadsheet. =)
4. The hardest part of work is not the job itself; it is the people you have to work with.
Our job is known for the long hours, especially during busy season. If you are lucky to work with a good team who support each other, it makes the long hours so much more bearable. However, you only need one difficult person in the team to make others hate the job and quit. The fact is, there will always be that b****, that politician, that slacker, that gossiper, that incompetent person wherever you go. You can vent all you want, but be smart with who you are venting to. No boss likes employees who only complains/highlight problems without coming up with solutions. Playing victim or complaining accomplishes nothing other than being labeled as someone who can't be a team player. If you think you're paid to just do your job, sorry to burst your bubble, part of your salary is to deal with people.
5. You may not like to play politics; but workplace politics are inevitable
Like it or not, politics are the rules of the game in every workplace. The higher you climb, the more you are expected to play the game. People below will suck up to you, your peers will find ways to outperform (or backstab) you and suck up to the bosses, your bosses will expect you to go above and beyond to differentiate yourself. Even if you don't like the game, you need to acknowledge it and know the rules, then choose to play or not to play. Ultimately, you, and only you, are in charge of your career.
6. Nobody owes you anything; always be nice and thankful.
I used to work with a manager who would stop by our office at the end of the day to thank us for the hard work. It may seem like a small gesture but it left a lasting impression on me till this day. As I climb the ranks and work with more subordinates, I always remind myself to stay grounded and put myself in others' shoes. Of course, there are times when I get frustrated and annoyed, but I try not to let emotions get the best of me. Good staff are hard to come by, which makes me even more thankful when I have one. I know that I am where I am today because of the help and support I've received from others along the way, and that I didn't accomplish everything myself.
7. Life is unfair, work is unfair. Luck plays a part in work.
The sooner you learn and acknowledge this fact, the better it will be for your mental health. The one common example of work being unfair is that the more responsible and competent you are, the more work you are expected to do and pick up sh*t from others who gets paid the same or more than you. You can do all the right thing but there are a lot of things at work that you may not have control over - team members assigned to you, bosses you need to work with, projects assigned to you, etc. I consider myself fairly lucky over the past 10 years but I have been on both sides of the coin so I am fully aware of how luck plays a big part in our work life. What I've learnt is to count your blessings when luck is on your side, and be patient when luck is not on your side.
8. Climb the ladder at your own pace. Don't compare.
The corporate world encourages competition. It's hard not compare ourselves to others when we are competing against each other for the same ultimate goal - promotion and higher pay. There are so many things we can compare at work, e.g. who gets the high profile client, who gets more work, who gets promoted faster, who gets paid more, and the list goes on. Comparison is a double-edged sword. Comparing ourselves to others may motivate us to do better and make us realize how fortunate we are, but it will also make us dissatisfied and unhappy. As the Chinese saying goes, we may be worse off than some, but we are also better off than many. In the past decade, I started off sprinting in the fast lane, and half way along, I chose to take a detour that put in the middle of the pack. The latter half taught me that it's okay to go at my own pace and enjoy the sceneries along the way. Working life is a long uphill climb and we are all heading towards the same destination in our field. The faster we climb, the sooner we will get pushed out of the pyramid.
9. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Be thankful for a 'good enough' job. There is value in stability and mastery.
The turnover for our job is pretty high and most people don't stay more than 5 years. When I first started working, my plan was to stay in this field for 3 years. Now 10 years later, most of my peers have already left the company but I'm still here. Grit, gratitude and contentment are what kept me going. Even though I am thankful and consider myself lucky to have a 'good enough' and stable job, the past decade hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. There were times when I felt stressed out and burnt out (2019 particularly) and considered looking for greener pastures elsewhere, but I know there is no such thing as the 'perfect' job. Every job has its own challenges and I won't know what's on the other side until I experienced it myself. Fortunately, I was able to pivot to another role within the company that I enjoyed a lot more, work with a group of good people, and gave me the opportunities to master what I'm good at. All these are 'good enough' to make me appreciate my job even more.
10. Work to live; don't live to work.
We all have to make a living, and work is a big part of our lives. It's good to work hard, be responsible, and do a good job, but we should also remind ourselves not to let work consume our lives. I've seen how work stress can impact one's health so it is important to always prioritize our own well-being before work. You are a lot more than your job. Since work is such a big part of our lives, we tend to derive a lot of our identity around our career, the work we do, and the respect we get from our job. However, be cautious not to rely on work as the source of our identity, life purpose and self-fulfillment because all those will be gone one day. Be intentional about spending time doing things we enjoy outside of work, and deriving happiness and fulfillment from things outside of work. The corporate world is set up to constantly dangle a carrot in front of us, motivating us to work harder for the next promotion, the next pay raise. As we continue to climb up the corporate ladder and increase our salary, we should be mindful not to fall into the trap of hedonic treadmill and lifestyle inflation because we don't want to have to keep working to maintain it. By having an end goal in sight, we are able to focus on what's important to us and what we are really working towards.
That's a wrap for the first 10 years of my career. So what other lessons will I learn in the next 10 years? Perhaps a better question is...how many more 10 years will I need to work?
2020 hasn't been a good year for the world but I am incredibly thankful for a stable job, promotion, pay raise, and bonus during a this tough year. A reminder not to take things for granted. Now time to brace myself for another round of busy season!
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