Tag: work

On What’s Important And How to Say No

The realization that in the history of the human race, no one has ever survived old age is a profound one. Now, this doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually find a cure for ageing, and in my opinion Tim Urban has explained this beautifully. Let’s just for arguments sake however, say that we are not going to live forever, which means that we will someday run out of time in this beautiful world.

That means, that we have to make it very clear to ourselves what’s important to us. What’s going to matter, when we look back on our life? Will it matter what title we have at our company? Or will it matter that we had a lot of fun while we worked, and we got to spend our time with amazing people? Maybe we can do both. But I know which one is more important to me.

When we realize that our time is finite, we also inevitably realize that the extra hour or two we spend working, might not be worth it, if it means missing time with our fiancee, missed snuggles with our cat, a missed workout or whatever might else might be more important to us. Don’t get me wrong – if work is what’s most important to you, then by all means spend all the time you can doing it. I have a close friend who loves his job – and I’m fairly sure he would rather work than not, because it gives him an intense sense of satisfaction, and I still love him all the same.

My point is that our best course of action is to prioritize consciously, so that we don’t end up getting roped into things which we derive no pleasure from. We want to spend our time on the things which brings us the most value. This doesn’t mean skipping out on family get-togethers or only doing things which you want to do, but it does mean that we can say No without feeling bad or guilty. It means that we need to figure out if other people’s opinion are important to us, and if so, why?

Here’s the main point: I can’t decide what’s important for you. I can only decide what I find important and that only applies to me. If I can pass along a single idea from this post it is this:

Decide what is important to you and what is not, and make your best effort to spend your time according to that decision.

Do you have the right stuff?

If you’re a millennial like me, you’ve most likely grown up in a world where our basic needs were cared for.

We didn’t have to hunt our food, and we were pretty certain where our next meals were gonna come from. This has left some (most?) of us with a profound sense of longing and wishing for something more.

Many of us wish that there was somehow more to life than going to work and coming home and watching Netflix. This is not a complaint – it’s an outcry against the hollowness that many of us feel from our daily routines.

The words “There has to be something more than this” echoes in the back of my mind like an almost constant choir of haunting voices.

In my brief career I’ve managed to hold more positions than some people do in a lifetime because of this echo, and I know I’m not alone.

I know that many people feel this emptiness in their hearts and minds, and we all attempt to fill it in different ways – some with social media and TV, others with food and wine and some with exercise. There are people who foster children and yet others fill their hours with work to the exclusion of almost everything else.

When our father’s fathers and their fathers were young men, there was something to fight for.

A country, an ideology, an idea, a belief.

I envy the founding fathers, because they had an idea worth fighting for and an ideology worth dying for. They were willing to sacrifice themselves and die for the freedom we now have.

According to legend, John Adams aspired to be a politician, so that his children might be mathematicians, philosophers and poets.

And here we are.

With all the freedom to become anything that our hearts desire, but that very freedom is crippling.

It is suffocating.

It turns into FOMO.

But don’t get me wrong – I’m not an activist.

I’m not a radical.

What I want is for you to fight for what is yours. I want you to find an occasion to rise to. You have to find a challenge you can meet.

Live up to the ideals that made us who we are.

We must all strive to be better humans. To make a difference. To be bigger than just ourselves. To create something meaningful for others, however small.

That is how we move ourselves and each other forward.

That is how we silence the constant inner chatter.

That is how we show that we are made of the right stuff.

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

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.


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