Every Workplace is Just another Playground (Part 1).
“Sophs, you must know loads about the workplace, you’ve done loads of jobs and you’ve moved about and stuff!?”
(You’ll have to excuse the compliment im paying myself here. V sorry.) But anyway, over the past month or so I kept finding myself in this conversation. I’m not sure if I believe in ‘signs’ and whatnot, but if there ever was one, here it was.
It is quite true that in my humble 29 years, I have done a lot of different jobs, dabbled in a few different careers and maybe spent a little too long nestled in the safe(ish) world of education. The list in pretty diverse: luxury hotels, medicine, psychotherapy, restaurants, the holiday industry, television, a string ofvery boring temp jobs in banks and a smattering of truly random things I can't really even remember that well. Currently I have found myself working for a creative agency that specialises in pharmaceutical exhibitions and how I got here I will never know – but its going very well and I may have (finally) found my groove for a while.
Anyway I’d never really seen any value in bouncing around so much and was pretty ashamed of having a C.V. that didn’t seem to follow any logical career path unlike many of my peers.
But these conversations got me thinking, which then lead to even more thinking, before I fell down a huge hole of recognising that jumping about and moving careers had actually given me some valuable insights into how the modern workplace really works. They say you write best about what you know best – and it turns out I know a lot about the world of work, what to think about when choosing a career (I’ve overthunk this a lot) and just a whole lot of other random knowledge of different workplaces and environments.
Soooo I’ve split this post into 2 parts (tis v long, soz not soz) and here is Part 1…
1) Every workplace is a just a playground and people never really grow up.
Seriously, everyone really is just stuck 16 inside. We never really grow up, we just all learn how to behave so we don’t get fired – and some of us don’t even manage that. This is across the board; there is no industry more mature than any other when presented with a free bar and dancefloor. From the most highly educated doctors, to senior partners in huge firms. I once worked on reception at an extremely expensive hotel, spending many an evening shift watching CCTV of professional grown men slowly morphing back into teenager boys via the gradual consumption of more and more expensive whisky. We’ve all still got the kid inside the second we clock off, just in some industries this is more acceptable than others
Offices are also just like playgrounds; with cliques, flirtations, conflicts, crushes, scandals, popular kids - and not so popular kids. And funnily enough the best places I’ve ever worked seem to not only realise this, reducing the expectation of forced formality formal, but they also recognised the creative value of staying in touch with your inner child.
So we're all just still kids. And its something to remember the next time you feel intimidated by a more senior employee; there really is no such thing as a real adult, just large children playing dress-up.
2) Ask yourself do actually want a big career?
I mean it’s not for everyone. I watched both my parents and most of my family have big careers and my god, if you don’t love what you do, its stressful, time consuming and, although it can bring financial comfort and a sense of identity, it often leaves space in your life for little else (i.e. fun and sleep) and how people do it with children is just beyond me.
Being from a profession-heavy family, academic and subsequent professional success was just sort of expected, yet as I’ve gotten older I realise that you don’t actually have to have a huge big career if you don’t want to, it doesn't necessarily equate to happiness for all of us. You can just get a job, pay the bills and find a nice balance - and that’s totally fine too. So with this in mind, and before you do what I did for a long time and go tearing your hair out obsessing over a career that doesn’t seem to be appearing, remember it’s totally alright to not be very ambitious – and even just to coast for a while. At 29, I can’t help but notice a few people out there losing their marbles over their big, stressful, scary careers…when maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible if they just got a nice easy job and chilled out for a while.
3) Remember when you choose a career or job, you’re also choosing a whole lifestyle.
This is a bit of a head-wrecker if you think about it too much, but you will spend 35% of your waking hours at work over the course of a 50 year work-life. And that’s if you work 7 hours a day. Many of us will work way more than that so the job and career you choose will shape your whole life in more ways than just financially. I am currently in the 9-5 where I spend the majority of my day sitting down and if I don’t get to sleep by 10:30 (which never happens, cheers Netflix.), I’m knackered the next day. When I worked as a waitress, holiday rep, receptionist, etc, even though I did odd shift patterns and worked long hours, I was somehow super-fit and never as tired. My lifestyle was just completely different, and this was reflected in my physical health – which I didn’t even realise.
Anyway, I drove past a lit up Canary Warf the other day in a taxi and wondered what the daily lives of the people who work in those offices in fancy banking and lawyering jobs is actually like. Do they ever see fresh air? Or daylight? Is the massive pay worth it? How stressed are they? Do you get enough sleep? Is everyone as brutal and rude as they are in Suits?
I have never really wanted a big corporate or city job. Maybe it was from hearing too many bad things about investment bankers and cut-throat law firms, but city life has always felt like an endurance test rather than a final destination. Plus I really hate wearing tights and pencil skirts, so that was that.
Anyway, when you’re choosing a career path, think about what you want your life to look like overall, right down to your wardrobe options too. You’re picking a lifestyle – and is there any point in a big fancy paycheck if you end up sacrificing your health, sanity, youth - or you work so much overtime that yes, you get a fancy title and an ego boost – but never get to enjoy any of the money you make or have time for what you really want to do. It’s a bit of a cost benefits exercise as there is rarely a job that will give you everything, but it just boils down to what you want more. It might sound silly but I love clothes, and my current job lets me wear exactly what I like. After years of ‘formal wear’ or ‘uniform’ and people telling me how to wear my hair, I absolutely LOVE that I have this freedom.
Your career choice will also influence how flexible you can be in your whole entire life; i.e. Can you work anywhere from a laptop? Can you choose your own hours? Where can you live? Do you eventually want to move abroad permanently? Do you have to spend long periods of time travelling? Do you even get to leave the office ever? How much interaction with other human beings do you generally get? What will your social circle be like? How much will you physically move around on a day-to-day basis?, and of course, what actually is you’re overall earning potential? Is it capped?
That’s a bit of an overwhelming list, (sorry), but facing it and figuring out what is acceptable and what you can’t budge on is a good exercise in the long-term. Your life will ultimately be made up of the small things you do everyday so considering this early on is a good idea. and your most valuable asset will always be your time because when that is gone, you can never get it back. Which leads me to….
4) Do you want to be paid for your time, or for your skill?
In other words, with some jobs and career paths you can demand an hourly fee rather then being paid by the hour. In other words, are you selling your time – or your skill. If you develop a skill, you can then charge a fee for your time, maximising the opportunity to have more free time to do what you really want, and on your own terms. You work a few hours, make enough to meet your daily desired wage and then the rest of the day is yours. Dreamy. In all the jobs I’ve ever done, I’d always considered this to be the perfect 'financial vs. time' set up and something to aim for if you value flexibility and freedom over stability and routine.
5) ‘Follow your passion’ is really bad career advice – particularly if you want any stability at a young age.
Oh god, this advice is everywhere and I may have even said it myself (sorry for the hypocricy..) Its good life advice (see my next point), but not in terms of career if you want financial or professional stability. I mean, if you figured out at 15 what you’re mad passionate about and go from there, maybe by the time you’re 25 you’ll have carved out a solid career path for yourself, but for most of us, including me, it takes a bit of living and growing to find out what we’re good at, what we want and what makes us tick. Until then there are perfectly good linear career paths and jobs that will keep you well fed, well heeled, and with a roof over your head. You might not be passionate about pulling teeth or spreadsheets, but being able to monetise on a passion can take years. It can also be done on the side. Yeh ok, that’s not easy, and most of us would rather spend the weekend socialising over putting together a business plan, but with structure and self-discipline it is entirely possible - without staking your next meal on it.
6) However..‘Follow your passion’ is actually very good 'life' advice.
I’m a pretty passionate person and have several topics I could talk about for hours and hours- most likely completely boring the pants off you all. There’s also a lot of things I like doing. I’m not making any money from any of them – but that doesn’t mean they don’t add some serious value to my life. I will always fly the true millennial flag for seeking out what you care about and what you’re ‘passionate’ about. Money and success aside, its important for your personal happiness to find things that light you up from the inside out, but making money out of that is a bit of a privilege. Thanks to social media, there are whole generations growing up with an inaccurate perception of how many people are actually doing this, and what the reality of getting there is really like. From personal experience I know how hard start-up entrepreneurs work, and the sacrifices they have to make to make it. It’s not glamourous, has many false starts and roadblocks, and takes exceptional focus, patience and often a certain level of ruthlessness with your life choices.
My point is, you don’t have to be making money out of something just because your passionate about it. You can, you know, just enjoy it. And if you do make money, it’ll likely be after years of hard work – or entirely by accident. Even people who seem successful at a young age have been working hard for a long time behind the scenes - they probably just started at 7 years old rather than at 27. So yes follow your dreams, I will always advocate that, but be smart and keep the stable job until otherwise. Most importantly though, don’t devalue something you love doing just because it doesn’t pay you anything or bring any glory. Finding something that makes life brighter can be as important to your overall happiness as food and exercise.
7) You have to put yourself out there and If you don’t look, you won’t find, if you don’t ask you won’t get.
I hate this but it’s an annoying truth. If you can’t back yourself, how can you expect anyone else to? I know its not very British to go around singing your own praises, and I’m fairly certain it’s in our DNA to squirm when someone says ‘so tell me your strengths?’, but if you want to do something, or you think you may be a good fit for a role, it’s up to you to knock on the right doors and get yourself noticed. Employers won’t come looking, so you will have to go showing. Urgh. Yes I hate it too. On the plus side I don’t think having confidence in yourself always has to be a noisy affair, so you can leave the megaphone at home and just be your awkward (but still confident) self.
The same goes for asking. In my experience, people are always happy to offer help and guidance. Even if you feel silly, you definitely don’t look it. All you have to do is ask and whatever you’re interested in, there will always be someone willing to help. Anyway, the worse someone can do is say no..and is that really so bad?
8) ‘If you died they would replace you in a week’ – remember this, but don’t take it personally.'
If I ran a company, yeh, if an employee died, I probably would go about replacing them as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be very sad about the loss or that I didn’t care or appreciate what they contributed to my company. It definitely would not be personal; Business is business and my job is to keep my business going. The last thing anyone needs is a leak and a sinking ship as well as the death of an employee. So, although its a great phrase to remember when your job is stressing you out, it shouldn’t be used as permission to disrespect the workplace. More as a reminder that creating emotional boundaries with your work/life is important.
By ‘emotional boundaries’ I mean how much you respect your personal life by keeping the importance of your job in perspective in relation to the things that truly matter. Being confident enough to assert those boundaries is often hard in a society where if you skip lunch you’re seen as hard-working (no, actually you’re just silly as now you can’t focus in that meeting.), but you have to be strong enough to respect yourself and your own life.
No, your job won’t keep you warm at night, and it will replace you in a week, but it does pay for a roof to keep the rain out, and for that, there has to be a certain level of respect.
9) People who bully, belittle, undermine, manipulate and dominate usually a) don’t even realise they’re doing it and b) probably had a tough time at home or school in their formative years.
I am definitely not saying any of this is ok but if you’re in a situation you can’t simply move away from, it can help to understand the origin of such behaviour is often a place of poor self-awareness and unresolved pain. Its’ nothing to do with you, your competency or who you are. People who are happy and comfortable within themselves simply do not need to put others down around them. If you can find a way to move away from it, do. You can get another job, even another career, but regaining your self-esteem or your mental health after workplace bullying can be a much harder road to take. Also, it never hurts to learn how to say ‘fuck off’ - politely of course.
10) YOU CAN GO BACK TO EDUCATION AT ANY AGE.
Thanks to neuroplasticity, you can literally learn anything at any age. The human brain is pretty special, and yes, things like languages and music maybe harder, but they’re certainly not impossible. From spending the majority of my twenties in and out of education, I have sat in lectures with people from all ages and backgrounds. Age is no reason to not go back to school if at 27 you want to be a doctor, or at 35 you discover you love rocks and want to be a Geologist, or you really want to work in the welfare of children at 42. We have one of the best education systems in the world, and you did not ‘miss the boat’ if you didn’t go to University in your early adulthood.
11) Customer service jobs will give you a goldmine of skills and insight that no amount of education can ever give…not to mention the stories.
Ask anyone who has ever worked as a barman, waitress, receptionist or any other customer service job, and I bet they can probably read and understand a room like no-one else. Working on a bar or in a restaurant is a front row seat in the theatre of human nature. You see and hear everything. It’s an education in people – something that simply cannot be learnt in a book. To be able to read and adapt to a changing situation, think on your feet, work quickly, know when to charm and when to be quiet, along with handling rude and sometimes aggressive people – all with a smile - is a highly useful set of skills in any top job or fancy company, and not to offend anyone, but again, (in my fictional CEO job), I wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t have at least a few years’ experience working in hospitality. If you’ve done this, I already know you will have a level of humility which isn’t necessarily found in those who just leaped from university to comfy grad job.
Impressive looking people can be shockingly rude and obnoxious to those who serve them, and service jobs will teach you that true character really is in how someone treats the waitress. Also, being humbled is essential to remaining grounded, being able to handle mistakes productively and being a good team player.
I wouldn’t ever want to work with anyone who thought a job title gave them a special license to treat or be treated differently. It really doesn’t. I went from ‘medical student’ to ‘waitress’ literally overnight – and depending on what day it was, I know there are people in this world who would have had a lot more time for me on one day over another – even though I was exactly the same person.
However,...charm and emotional intelligence are great for business(!) and often only learnt through life experience. So, if you’re currently stuck in customer service don’t underestimate the value of the skills you’re acquiring, and don't sell yourself short on your next job application. That terrible waiting on job may end up paying serious dividends down the line.
ok now i'm going to sleep...and I’ll bring you part two next week!!