When I was in my 20s, I got a lot of good career advice. Let’s just say I’ve had both parents work in Human Resources, and one still does. At home, I can’t take a long shower without getting counselled on personal time management. So when I hit the job market, I did it with about 200 self-help books worth of career advancement knowledge. And that’s how I put the “over” in “overdoing”. Don’t copy my mistakes:
It’s About Moderation
The following career advice has taken me far in life. It’s just that, like too many Singaporeans, I believed anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Overdoing the hell out of.
What follows is a much needed amendment in several career guides. I’m just going to go ahead and stick them here: I call it the the non-Beta version of “How to Succeed at Work“.
- Don’t Cling Too Tightly to Your Job Definition (Until Your Facial Muscles Spasm, then You Better)
- Do What You’re Passionate About (Unless You Want it to Remain Your Passion)
- Upgrade Yourself (Maybe Even in a Way the Boss Cares About)
- Don’t Point Fingers (Because A Neon Sign Works Much Better)
1. Don’t Cling Too Tightly to Your Job Description
You know the reason behind this one right?
When your boss asks you to do something “not in your job description”, you have two options. You can turn him down (and be remembered as “the guy who said no”), or jump on it. Next time, when there’s budget for raises, a chance for overseas training, a promotion opportunity, etc. you’ll have a better shot.
So when I first started working, I agreed to do anything. I racked up so many pats on the back, I still have a herniated T5 in my spinal column. But amid the glowing job prospects, I realized one drawback:
When you do something outside your job description, you’re often expected to do it again. And when you take on tasks outside your own, it’s just like stepping into Merlin’s cave: at least one person has to be trapped inside at all times. And by stepping in, you just let the other guy slip out.
Now it’s your job, until you target someone else.
After about a year, I found myself (the writer for a corporate journal) doubling…no, quardupling…as secretary, in-house brochure designer, filing assistant, and photographer. I literally forgot what the insides of my eyelids looked like, and I quit after the third anxiety attack.
Lesson: Go ahead and show you’re versatile. But never take on jobs to the point where you can’t cope, or your main job (most of what you get paid for) suffers.
2. Do What You’re Passionate About
I always wanted to be a novelist. So I figured, hey, why not freelance writing? I’ll be improving my skills, chasing my passions, and making money. Money flows where passion goes (which is a disturbingly apt description of the Geylang business model).
So I cranked the passion up to 11. I took on any writing gig, whether it was writing reviews of hair clips or The Lard Hut’s new 36 cheese pizza. And that’s when I realised I was getting less passionate about writing.
In fact, it was starting to suck.
My passion was becoming work, and that killed it. It was only after trading my writing gig for a restaurant job (for a time) that I actually got fired up enough to do it well again.
I know I’m not the only who’s experienced this. I’ve met engineers, start-up owners and even pet store owners who’ve been through it.
Lesson: When you do what you’re passionate about, you run the risk of killing that passion. So if you follow this advice, be sure to work in moderation.
That’s harder than you think; when you’re all fired up at the start, you’ll want to over-do it.
3. Upgrade Yourself
Upgrading improves job prospects...if you know what sort of upgrades your bosses value.
I used to be a serial qualifications collector. As a testament to that, I have two extra Diplomas I’ve never found a use for. And more qualification certificates than a 90 year old boy scout has merit badges. Of those, exactly two upgrading courses have actually improved my income:
Both were management courses, which were the only ones my bosses happened to care about.
I don’t regret the money spent. But the amount of time blown on extra courses means missed opportunities. I turned down many assignments that would have helped my portfolio, just to be off studying something irrelevant.
Lesson: Constant improvement is a good thing. And if you’re studying just because you like studying (it’s a hobby), taking extra classes is fine too.
But if you’re doing it for career advancement, check if the bosses will care first.
4. Don’t Point Fingers
“If something goes wrong“, a lot of management handbooks say, “don’t point fingers. Just look at yourself, and see what you could have done“.
Not accusing anyone is a fine idea. Unless, of course, it actually was someone’s screw-up. And if you have to keep working with him, while he repeats his mistakes. That’s what happens when you don’t tell him.
Now that’s just problem number one with this rule: taken to extremes, it means you don’t correct bad work.
Problem number two is, I’ve worked in a company where this rule was heavily enforced. The slightest hint of an accusation could kill your bonus.
Let’s just say that, after about two or three years there, everyone eventually got passive-aggressive. There were no pointing fingers, just an unspoken vow to never work together. My department couldn’t co-operate enough to build a bucket chain if the building caught fire. Forget about a “team” designing good marketing campaigns.
Lesson: Don’t rant and rave, or deflect blame. I agree with that. But if you have to keep working with certain people, you can’t have a prolonged relationship in which no one’s honest.
While you don’t have to humiliate them before the boss, you shouldn’t be shy to speak to them privately and honestly.
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