March 27, 2018

Things I learned about work

One of my first jobs was in a factory that produced a variety of things made out of cardboard. I had to attach metal retainers to ring binders with a machine, one by one, put ten binders in a box, label the boxes and stock them somewhere. Here I learned that time can be sluggish if you spend it with boring repetitive work.

I was eighteen.

Now I am thirty-seven years old. Most people in my surrounding seem to dislike their job. The expectation seems to be that one has to be stressed and annoyed by their job. Yes, one spends more time at work than with his loved-ones, but still: work is always a pain in the ass.

I totally disagree. My past experiences have left me with the profound conviction that life is too short to spend most of the time hating what you do. I understand that this conviction takes some time to mature and some experience to grow. Usually, with your first employment, you are so happy to be employed that you do nearly anything they want from you. With your second job you like being appreciated for something you are good at. Then you move on, gaining expertise in the field and after years you find yourself working on something you’re good at – but something you don’t like.

Now, at my age, I hope there is still a vast amount of new things for me to learn in the future. Many things I have already learned, and some of that I want to share:

– at the age of twenty-five you don’t have to know what you will be doing at thirty-five or fourty-five. Whatever your field—the job, the market, new technologies—it all will evolve and change and you along with it. Unexpected things will happen and you can’t predict all of it anyway. So don’t stress out too much about the future.

– it is rarely seen that one starts with a job description which stays the same for years. Unless you are working at a production line your co-workers will recognize your strengths and your job will automatically shift in this direction.

– no boss will ever asks you if all the existing responsibilities and the new tasks are too much for you. Bosses try to get  you to work as much as possible. You are responsible for establishing your workplace, your workload and your working hours.

– don’t try to be someone else for a job interview. Of course try to be the best version of you but be authentic. You spend too much time at work to pretend to be somebody else.

– working usually means spending time with other people. Some of them are nice, some of them are difficult. Always. It’s unrealistic to find a workplace where you get along with everybody well as with old friends. It’s more realistic to find out which peculiarities you can deal with and how.

– if you do what you really like it is more likely that you are good at it. So find an education and a job in this area. We live in a part of the world where we can afford to do what we like. We don’t have to decide on a job just by its future salary expectations.

– money is a strong motivator. For two months. Then you need a salary increase. Alternatively you could start working on something that makes sense to you. Finding purpose in your work is a motivator that can last for a lifetime.

To sum it up: you have to be decisive. You have to coach yourself. You have to take the lead for your work education. And if you don’t know how: don’t worry. There are experts you can ask. You can learn from books, from a job coach, from a mentor, from a friend.

Why do I care about this subject so much that it inspired me to write a blog article about it?

First of all, because this is a topic that I believe isn’t talked about enough, especially by younger people, entering the workforce. As in everyday life, people are hesitant to admit that they asked for help. I bought and read two books about time management. I had a mentor. I had three sessions with a job coach. I had inspiring conversations with friends who love their job. You can’t expect to learn these things without help.

The second reason is my current situation. I graduated as an information designer in June last year. Since then I wrote around fifty job applications, most of them speculative. After my first few time-wasting interviews and email correspondences I knew that I had to be even more precise with my wording. „I am looking for a new full-time challenge“ can still lead to a job interview of fourty-five minutes (and an additional hour and a half traveltime ), concluding with the words „we are currently not employing anyone“. These frustrations made me think about what I am looking for and how I can phrase this explicitly. The difference between „what can I do“ and „what do I want to do“ became significant.

Now I am working self-employed. I still have to get used to the insecurity. It all depends on me. I can choose who I work for – but this means that I have to make all decisions on my own. I don’t like that at the end of the month I don’t know if i’ve made a profit, or at least broke even. I am still a bad negotiator when it comes to hourly rates, especially when I enjoy the expected task. I appreciate  that I can learn something new nearly every day and that I can choose what to learn.

I doubt I will do this for the rest of my career but one of the most important lessons i have learned up to now is that „the right thing“ for me depends on my personal situation. So, evaluate your personal situation and try to find the right thing for you, even if it’s not long term. It might lead to you to your broader goals. At this moment this is the right thing for me!

by Katrin Beste