Thirteen Lessons on the Job

This post has been in the drafting stage for a while. Unfortunately, every time I thought I’d publish, one more item made it to the list, making me wonder if it was complete. I finally decided that enough is enough and, if I’ve missed something, I’m sure my readers will be kind enough to let me know.

These lessons are based on my experiences and observations. I thought sharing them might help others avoid the mistakes I made and, also, allow me to learn from others. So, here we go.

  1. Don’t work in a place where you’re not appreciated. When you put in your best and find that you’re not valued, silently leave. Don’t waste your time and effort in a job that doesn’t deserve it. Staying and hoping that this perception will change is a mistake. A good manager will recognise your worth and give you reasons to stay. A bad one will not care, which makes leaving a smart choice.
  2. Learn to Say “No” when you’re not comfortable with a task entrusted to you. If you’re asked to work on something that’s a complete departure from your skillset, and you feel like you won’t be able to do it justice, don’t take it up. If you are pressured to, communicate your limitations at the outset and limit expectations so that you’re not at the receiving end if things don’t work out.
  3. Be wary of whom you trust at the workplace. It may be nice to have a sympathetic ear for your frustrations and grievances but be careful of who you share your thoughts with. Not every person you confide in is worthy of your trust. Some may casually pass on what you have told them in confidence while others might throw you under the bus when it works to their advantage.
  4. Always remember that work is only a part of your life, not your whole life. Sacrificing health, hobbies and personal relationships because of the drive to do well at work comes at a cost. The success and adulation that recognition brings can be addictive. But, unless you’re very fortunate, there will be a time in your life when, despite your best efforts, you will find yourself disenchanted with work. And, if you don’t have something else in life that brings you joy, you will find yourself staring down a long dark tunnel.
  5. Don’t stay at the office longer than you have to. While this may seem like a repetition of the previous point, it’s not. A lot of people stay back after work hours just for the air-conditioning, internet, meals and other monetary perks. Sometimes, managers think that such employees are going above and beyond and expect the same from others creating a toxic workplace culture. While this may reap rich rewards in the short run, they are not sustainable later in life.
  6. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. The fastest way to learn is from the knowledge and experience of others. Experience matters because those who have it spent time and energy learning what works and what doesn’t. They also know how to get things done in an optimum manner, which saves the management a lot of time. When you interact with such individuals, you learn from them and avoid the mistakes they made.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When we don’t understand something or have doubts about what someone tells us, it’s only natural to ask for clarifications. But, sometimes, either because we are afraid of what someone will think about our intellectual prowess or because of our ego, we tend to keep silent. There is no shame in admitting that you don’t know or understand something – whether you are fresh out of college or have spent years working in the field. Silence only furthers ignorance rather than addressing it.
  8. Always welcome change. While achieving mastery in the field of your choice is a worthy goal, the world is constantly evolving as is technology. If you don’t keep up, you risk being antiquated and expendable. Keeping abreast of the latest developments is just as essential as the ability to learn and unlearn as you go forward. As we all know, change is the only constant. And the ability to adapt is half the battle won.
  9. Never compromise on integrity. No matter how much you feel pressured into doing something unethical, bear in mind that if things go south, you’ll end up being the scapegoat. No amount of promotion or compensation is worth a ruined reputation. If you get fired or demoted for not following orders, you can always find another job. But bowing down to unscrupulous commands can mean anything from the end of a career to a long stint in jail.
  10. Respect everyone – whether it’s your subordinate, the office boy or the housekeeping staff. You may be a genius, but if you fail to understand the basic rules of courtesy and decency when it comes to treating others, it all comes to nought. Some people treat their peers or superiors with respect while showing disdain towards the rest. How you treat people who are not as knowledgeable or privileged defines the person you are. You have to give respect to get respect.
  11. Share your knowledge freely. Too often, insecurities, such as the fear of losing our importance or our job, prevent us from sharing what we know with others. Openly exchanging thoughts and ideas overcomes challenges, solves nagging problems, and all the participants learn and benefit from the resulting synergy.
  12. Never take credit for someone else’s work. It is unfair and unethical to use someone else’s efforts to further your career. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how it would feel to be cheated out of the fruits of your labour.
  13. Always give your best to your job – even if it’s your last day. Just because you are serving your notice, doesn’t give you the license to put your feet up. As long as you are paid for your time in office, you owe it to yourself and your employer to do a good job. Your employer may not be able to do much, now that you are on your way out. But your work ethic will stay with the company long after you have left. And you will be remembered for your professionalism and the job you did when you had nothing to lose than the effort you put in for the sake of a raise or a promotion.

The world is not as big as we think and people have longer memories than we’d like. A positive and professional attitude can go a long way in furthering a career.

These are some lessons I have learnt over the short span of a decade-long career. I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Please feel free to share them in the comments section.


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