What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

jungleIt’s that time of year when we’re welcoming a whole new intake of talent into MediaCom.  Fresh from academic pursuits.  First jobbers.  Up for anything.

All of them have survived at the time of writing.  There are precedents here.  I worked somewhere once where a new graduate didn’t make it through the first day – she went out for lunch and didn’t come back.

Recently we had an evening in the bar, where some of us who have been around the block a few times (including me, Claudine Collins, Josh Krichefski, Matt Mee and Karen Blackett OBE), gave some of the advice that we would give our 21 year old selves.

What a range of advice!  Plenty to pick and choose from and from very different personalities.  It included “Put your hand up for everything”, “Don’t be worried about asking questions” and “Surround yourself with talented people, don’t worry if you think they look cleverer than you, actually it will rub off on you”.  “Work hard, play hard” goes without saying, though getting the balance correct can be a bit of a challenge particularly at this time of year in the run up to Christmas when there is lots of seasonal work and lots and lots of seasonal entertainment.  In my first job you were expected to get in before your boss and not leave until the boss left, and then to go to the pub with him.  I can remember wondering when he saw his wife and children, as he seemed to spend from 8am until 1130pm with the team at work, (and then to play golf during  most of the weekend.)

A couple of us talked about how important the culture you’ve landed in is to your enjoyment of the first year or so of work.  You need a match for your personality, and there will be a great environment out there for you, but you’re lucky if you’ve landed in it first time.  If you like routine and boundaries then somewhere too dynamic can be a daunting, even stressful experience.  On the other hand if you can’t help but challenge the status quo (and this does seem baked in the bone for some people) then a hierarchical culture might crush your spirit (and you don’t have to put up with it).

Wherever you work, whatever your role, there is only one person who is responsible for whether or not you have a good or bad day at work.    You.  The power of this is enormous.  You can’t control at all how anyone else behaves around you, you can control your own reaction to everyone and everything.

In the opening of The Continuum Concept (actually a book about parenting) the author talks about a journey that she undertook in the rain forest with some business men, on a team building trek.  The journey was a tricky one.  Although there were some experienced indigenous guides everyone stumbled and dropped things.  The heat was overwhelming, the terrain difficult.  She said that she noticed that the business men were mainly miserable.  They swore every time they fell.  They cursed the heat, the flies etc.  The guides, despite their experience, were going no faster than anyone else.  The difference was that when they fell they laughed.  They were in the moment, they enjoyed the companionship, they were pleased to be working.  The business men were desperately frustrated about not being in control of the things that were impossible to control (the rain forest environment).  The guides accepted the limits and the power of what they could control.

There is a profound lesson here, for everyone at work.  We all fall, we all stumble.  Some of us get diminished by it.  Some of us enjoy the trek, pick ourselves up and keep on going.  The choice is yours.  I wish I had known that at 21, in my first job in media.




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