A week ago I did something I have never done before. I changed jobs. Ok, well not quite. I changed jobs and the company I worked for. I started with my last employer when I was 24. I am now almost 47. The move has been surreal and wonderful and scary. There is no way of knowing that leaving a company after so long is the right decision. I hope so. I know I am ready for new challenges, a new industry, new people. But leaving was hard on my heart.
In short, I still am processing. Part of my processing is trying to remember all the good things I learned from working for one place for so long. Being part of the “corporate” world has been hard – there are innumerable challenges to being a part of that machinery. But it also has been one of the honors and joys of my life – to work alongside some of the most talented, smart, funny, kind people I have ever known.
- Human first. A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of servant leadership. And it was a relief. The idea that humility and service was not weakness, but strength. Part of being a good leader is letting them see you sweat… admitting that you need help… I 100% believe that if we could all put away our bravada and focus on transparency, we could thrive. I can’t make others do that. But I feel I have led by example – showing that asking for help, admitting when you don’t know is a sign of confidence and strength.
- Be present. When things are the most tense is when you need to slow down, breathe, check in. I am not always good at this. There are times when I have been callous, rude, distracted with the people I work with when stress is high. In short, this is one I am still learning to practice. But being able to care for people when it is the most challenging is critical.
- Build trust, build people. I believe people thrive through positive reinforcement. It has always been pretty easy for me to see peoples’ gifts – it is one of my superpowers. And I have never been broken of the habit of telling people how they are great. So much seems to conspire against us to make us feel our limitations. But we are limitless – and it never hurts to tell people that. To tell people in small and big ways you see their power, their fortitude, their insight. When people know you value them, they will value your opinion – even when you need to give hard messages. Build people up. I have never regretted that.
- Own your strengths. I have well-exceeded the 10,000 hours needed to become an “expert” at my jobs. It is exhilarating and frightening to start that clock back at 0. But I have learned to own my power. If I know something, I don’t demure. I earned my knowledge. I earned my voice. And if anybody wants to know what I am good at, I’ll tell them.
- Work as hard as you ask others to work.
- Thank people all the time.
- Ask lots of questions. Even when it seems everybody but you understands. Ask the question. But don’t talk just to talk – to show your importance – everybody can see through that – and they will lose trust in you.
- Stay hydrated.
- Be willing to live with the consequences of a burnt bridge. Be willing to not travel that way again. I burned some bridges. Not many – and I am not sure I would make a different decision. But be circumspect in your choices. Don’t carry around a flamethrower.
- Take good notes.
- Ask the same of men as you do of women. Especially about taking notes and scheduling meetings. Women are not “better” at these tasks.
- Get as big a monitor as you can for all of your big ideas.
- Triple check your work.
- Ask for what you need, even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard.
- Wear comfortable shoes. For real. It isn’t worth it. You can’t do the big jobs if your feet hurt.
- Some times you just have to use Excel. And that is ok. Fancy, automated tools are awesome. But sometimes you just need to get it done.
- Go to lunch with your friends when you can. The work will be there when you get back. I learned this one WAY too late in life – and now I regret the times I didn’t go to lunch.
- Good writing will always be a valuable skill. Proofread.
- Ask for help. And help others when they ask.
- Block time to focus. Save time to get your own work done.
- Leave work at work. When I first started at my job, I was a technical writer. I hope you have had the opportunity to know a technical writer in your life. They are the most eclectic, interesting, smart group of weirdos you will ever meet. Being a technical writer, I had a built-in community of people who gave a shit about me. It was a meritocracy of knowing how to use commas. They were all completely different and they were my people. We would go to lunch or for happy hour and complain about whatever, talk about the latest drama at work. There was this guy Chris, who would always ask us to talk about something other than work after a few minutes. I complied, but I didn’t understand. To me, work was the most interesting topic. And then one day, I got it. Work is part of our lives, but we spend enough time there that it is a waste of time to talk about it outside of work. And when I started getting more responsibility, and had more power to affect things, talking about it would keep the stress close, rather than being able to let it go with the pure gift of real people in the midst of real camaraderie. To this day, I prefer to talk about anything but my day at work with my friends, family, husband.
- Find excuses to laugh. Lots and lots. Mostly at yourself.
I am so grateful to have meaningful, rewarding work for most of my life. And I am grateful I have a life that expands well beyond work. So here are some things that I learned away from work… that mixing the watercolor on the paper can be better than mixing in the palette… that a good hug can solve a lot of problems… a slightly shallow 1/4″ seam makes for better patchwork… a few minutes in the pre-dawn quiet sitting on my porch is better than checking emails…
One last thing I have learned… as part of my leaving, I got so many well wishes – an overwhelming amount of people telling them what I had meant to them – flowers, cards, video messages that cause me to cry so hard I still haven’t been able to watch all they way through. These have been the greatest gifts of my life. I have learned that when people say they love the people they work with – that means they love you.