Tag: work life

What My Worst Job Ever Taught Me About Adding Value

Introduction

Not too many years ago I graduated university with a degree in economics. To say that I was stoked, overjoyed and jubilant would be a severe understatement. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and something I will cherish forever. It took a lot of effort to get to that point, and it was well worth it in the end.

A degree in economics, opens the door to most jobs in the public and private sector, which doesn’t require an advanced technical degree, and I think the idea is that since you’ve proven that you can do complicated math, you are ready to become a contributing member of society.

Interviews up the Wazoo… 

I started looking for jobs immediately upon graduating, and I got called into my fair share of interviews. Sadly for me, I was an arrogant young gun-slinger, who figured every company should beg for a chance to hire him, and this was not the most productive of attitudes, which meant I had trouble landing a job. When I finally did land a job, I quit within two days, because the actual job didn’t line up, with what I’d been promised in the interview, and the guy who ran the company and who was my immediate boss was a massive cunt.

Key lesson here – I don’t want to work for someone who I don’t get along with, or at least have some sort of respect for, and I don’t think you should either if you have the choice.

Anyway – there I was, fresh out of school, many interviews in and one job in, and I was already on the hunt for my second job.

… And finally a solid job (sort of)

The next job I went looking for, I decided to be a bit more picky and meticulous in what I wanted in a job – it had to be something more than just a paycheck. I had a few more interviews and in spite of all my good intentions, I jumped at the first opportunity that presented itself.

This time in the banking sector as a business analyst in the operations division of the IT department at one of the largest Danish banks. If you think this sounds vague, you’re not alone. I had literally no idea what I’d be doing, and neither it seemed, did the people who hired me.

So I’m now two jobs into my career after six months, and I’m already looking for a third job. Not the ideal start to a career, but at least it provided me with enough money to buy peanut butter and some decent clothes, which is a good start, however this wasn’t enough to keep me there in the long run, and something soon happened, which sped up my getting out of there.

Crash, bang, boom

This solid start didn’t last long, because I clashed wholeheartedly with the person who was assigned to be my mentor. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really the problem here, but I also knew that I could get along with almost everyone, except for these two people who I’d started out my career working for.

At any rate, here I am, trying to make the best of a shitty situation, and it turned out, I actually managed to salvage something from it. I made a few solid friendships, gained a number of decent colleagues as soon as I removed myself from the immediate vicinity of my “mentor”.

I feel like I could probably have had a less eventful start to my career, but adversity is a fine teacher, and I learned a number of things from this, chief among them that it is always up to ourselves to change things we are unhappy with.

When I didn’t like my first job, I quit and immediately started looking for a new one. When I didn’t like the tasks or (some of) the people in my next job, I looked for new jobs  within the organization, and managed to find something that was tolerable and stayed there until I could move on to something better.

Full disclosure, I did manage to find something that I really liked in the end. It took a few tries, but it was well worth it, and I want to share that story, but that’s going to be in another post.

Summary of the lessons learned

I learned that it is always up to me to figure out how I can make the most of any given situation – figure out how I can learn as much as possible and forge connections and alliances, that might become worth something down the road.

As long as I make a point to learn something every day, either about my job, about myself or about other people, then every day is valuable. Although it is probably preferable to be well liked by everyone, that’s a pipe dream – and so is having the perfect job, by the way – and it’s never going to happen in real life, so don’t set your sights on it.

What I want from a job, is work that I find engaging more often than not, somewhere I feel I can contribute to making a difference and the work is meaningful, and most importantly that I get along with the majority of my colleagues and hopefully make a friend or two.

What are some of the things you want from your career?

Let me know in the comments section

Forget about Big and Hairy – set Small Micro goals

Can you do one push up today?

Great.

Go and do it right now.

You’ve just accomplished the first step in your new fitness routine.

Do it again tomorrow and you’re well on your way to starting a fitness habit.

Do you think you can write five sentences about what’s on your mind today?

I’m sure you can.

If you can – and you did – you’ve accomplished the first step to becoming a writer.

Too often we get caught up in these long term goals – I want to be a millionaire by 30, I want to make partner at Deloitte by 35. These goals are all well and good, and if they turn you on and inspire you to show up and put in the work each day, then all power to ya. But I don’t believe this is how humans are wired. I believe humans are by nature short sighted, and I have the science to back it up. Kahneman & Tversky won the Nobel prize in economics by proving that humans are inherently biased, and one of the main biases we suffer from is myopia – short-sightedness.

That’s the reason why I believe that unless you are very un-average – which by the very nature of the word most of us aren’t – you won’t be turned on by long term big hairy and audacious goals. In fact it might be holding you back.

What we humans are really good is doing things on a day to day basis and most of us can do one thing today, as long as it’s not too overwhelming.

In the interest of illustrating my point, let me tell you about the time I went to fat camp. Today I’m smack dab in the middle of the fitness spectrum, and I would consider myself in fairly good shape. I’ve run a marathon (slowly) and can lift a fair amount of weight, but I started out barely being able to walk for 15 minutes. But in fact, that was just what we started with. Walking for 15 minutes, until it became routine. Then walking for 20 minutes until that became routine. Then we’d start going for short runs. Before we knew it, we were exercising and eating healthily as a matter of habit, and it all started with the tiniest of habits – the most manageable of tasks.

That’s why I propose that instead of making a plan to become Mister Universe, make a plan to do a push up a day. Instead of making a plan to become the next Ernest Hemingway, make a plan to write a few sentences every day.

Once you lay the foundation for a solid habit, you can build on top of that day by day. Small chunk by small chunk.

Big and hairy has nothing on small micro goals.

When should you quit?

When I just finished high school, I was dead set on becoming a lawyer, so naturally I applied to law school. The way the system works in Denmark – where I’m from – however, is that you must also pick a second priority, so that if you don’t get into your first choice of school you have the option to do something else.

I chose general humanity studies, which is comprised of history, languages, psychology and philosophy – not exactly law school, but something I still found interesting, and figured I’d be good at.

After a year of this I was bored to tears, and decided I needed a change of pace – so I switched to the study of religion because I was really into Buddhism and Zen philosophy at the time. Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated however, I never knew what to tell them, and I was also bored to death in this program. After 6 months of this, and after 18 months in total of dicking around after high school and not knowing what to do, I decided to quit.

I decided I needed to get my head straight and my shit together, so I dropped out of university for the second time in two years, and decided to take a complete break from school.

That was the best thing I ever did. I started working in telemarketing, loved it, worked my butt off, figured out I needed to work in the business world and figured out what I needed to do to get the degree I wanted to get the job that I wanted.

I took two additional courses in math, and started studying economics in the summer of 2011 and finished with a masters degree four and a half years later. I’d found my calling, and I haven’t looked back since.

The reason I tell you this story is because it illustrates the power of strategic quitting. A lot of us have been raised with the dictum “winners never quit and quitters never win” but that is simply not true.

Sometimes in order to win, you need to quit what you’re doing now, in favor of doing something which better serves your interests in the long run.

There is a caveat to this however, which is that I’m not saying quit just because it’s hard. When it gets hard is when you need to show you really want it. You need to decide before it gets really hard if you truly want it or not.

If you do, you can’t let anything pull you away from that, but if your answer is a lukewarm “maybe” then you need to figure out what really makes you tick, quit what you’re doing now, and pursue that instead.

Sometimes you need to quit strategically in order to find something that makes you want to work hard.

On being thorough

One of my greatest weaknesses throughout my entire life was my inability to dig really deep into a problem. I would only ever do the bare minimum to get me through a problem. In other words I would satisfice my way through the problems I faced, and I managed to get through a tough-as-nails university program this way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is something deeply wrong with the system, I am merely saying that this is a reflection of human nature. Most of us are lazy and will do the bare minimum of work. Unless we make a conscious effort to, we don’t have any incentive to do otherwise. In economics, this is known as the shirking model – the best people can do is maximize their income while minimizing their effort.

If this sounds familiar to you, I guarantee you’re not alone. Until very recently I was right along with you in that same boat. It wasn’t until I switched jobs that I realized the value of being thorough. The value of digging deep into a problem and emerging on the other side with a solution which was thought through, or at least which raised some new questions which need to be answered.

Let’s be real: thoroughness is hard. But that is exactly the reason why it is valuable. If you can consistently work through problems in a thorough manner and think through different angles of a problem and emerge with either the answers or thoughtful questions I guarantee that you will move ahead of your peers in seemingly no time.

Being thorough is the differentiator between most of the work people do in modern organizations and the work of the people who continuously stand out from the crowd. If you can move from a place of satisficing work, to thorough and thoughtful work, you will stand apart from others in the best way imaginable.

What’s your most valuable skillset?

We all have skills. Most of us have more than one valuable skillset, meaning a range of skills which we can utilize to accomplish any number of things. A skill set which sets us apart in a massive way when we use them or where the practice of that skill comes more easily and naturally than our peers. This is sometimes referred to as talent – other times it’s referred to the intersection between work and play.

What I’m getting at is that we all have areas where we have more natural aptitude than others. Some people are gifted with a wide range of areas where they have natural aptitude, and others have a more narrow range of skill sets. Whichever bucket you fall in, rest assured that simply due to the fact that you are reading these words, you have skills that the market is willing to pay for.

I would argue however, that what truly makes a skill set valuable is when we find an area where we enjoy the work itself, and where we do better work than our peers at a similar level.

Maybe you have a natural aptitude for math, languages, writing, solving complex problems, human psychology, sports or any other area where specialized skills command a premium.

My point is that most of us tend to somehow undermine ourselves and work in areas where we don’t use our best skills. On the flip side we try to be good at everything and work on our weaknesses. In sports this is a terrible idea – if Leo Messi all of a sudden tried to become a defensive player he most likely would have never made the pros, but if he had followed the conventional wisdom of working on his weaknesses that would have been the outcome. It works the same in every other area. Focus on your strengths.

Answer the question

what is my most valuable skillset?”

When you answer that question, you will know where you need to focus your efforts.


If you liked this article, then you’ll most likely like my newest book

Dominate the Day: 160 Strategies to be more productive, achieve peace of mind and increase your income

Grit and the Growth Mindset

The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way – that leaves us”

– Phil Knight, founder of Nike

There are two adjacent ideas in the field of psychological research which are incredibly interesting on their own, but even more so when we explore them together.

Angela Duckworth won the MacArthur award – otherwise known as the Genius Award – for her work with recruits at the military academy West Point. The training that goes on there is notorious for being some of the toughest in the world, and she found that it didn’t matter how smart or physically fit the soldiers were. The thing that mattered more than anything was what she came to describe as Grit. In other words, the ability to tough it out once the going got really rough.

The point here is not that you have to be tough to be a soldier – that is fairly obvious to most of us – the point is that Grit is a predictor of success in almost every conceivable walk of life. If you want to be successful you have to be willing to tough it out when it matters most. Duckworth found this to be true regardless if you were a soldier, a sportsperson, a business man or woman or any other field where it’s not always roses and butterflies.

This research gets really interesting however, when we consider it in conjunction with Carol Dwecks research on the Growth mindset. Dweck found that one of the main differentiators between those who achieve massive success and those who fiddle the strings of mediocrity is the core belief that they are able to grow. In other words that they are able to learn and improve on a daily basis.

This is interesting, because even if you’re not gritty, you can learn to be. Even if you don’t have what it takes to make it to the top of your field right now, you can learn all the right skills.

If you toughen up, stay gritty and focus your mind on learning every day, improving and staying disciplined especially when you want to quit, you can go on to achieve great things.