Lessons learnt from the first job

Just got this video yesterday on Facebook So You Want to Be a Journalist. Was absolute hilarious fun watching the exchange between a wannabe journalist and a seasoned journalist and any journalist worth his or her salt would say that they did behave like the kid in the video at one time or the other. Then another FB contact started a thread on the silly mistakes everyone made in their first few months. This finally prompted me to write on something I have been thinking of writing, that of my learnings from my first experience as a working professional. The idea had come to me after I was called by my alma mater SIMC for a lecture, but somehow I never got down to writing it down. So here goes :

Lesson 1 : Your boss is not your teacher/mentor

All throughout our school and college life, we have guides, we have encouraging people around us (yes even in the worst places there is atleast one teacher who inspires you). But that doesnt extend to the workplace. I am not saying that your bosses will be mean, discouraging people; all I am saying is that they won’t take decisions for your ‘higher’ good or give you opportunities so that you would ‘learn’. The basis of their decisions would be based on other factors like company policy, equations with others in the organisation, their perceptions/prejudices and if you are lucky you will have a purely objective boss, but even then he/she won’t be there to coax you into learning the ways of the trade and make it easier for you to adapt. That is totally upto you. So please don’t get discouraged that they don’t seem to be acting as nice, fatherly figures. Not happening.

Lesson 2 : Nothing is personal
This is a tough cookie and stumps most of us. Say someone is cutting you at work, someone is being mean to you, realise that this is not about you. It says more about them than about you, so don’t take anyone else’s bad behaviour personally. Its not about you, its about them. They are behaving badly because they think that is the easiest or best way for them to succeed. Let’s face it, at the core of it, all of us think only about the best for our own selves. So take that as a given and if there is a difficult situation try to work around it in a different way rather than feel bad about this person who is out to get you.

Lesson 3 : A litte self promotion is needed

This is where I struggle myself a lot, but I have seen that it always helps. Don’t make a hue and cry about how much work you do, but make a few subtle suggestions for sure. You need to make yourself heard, don’t be a wallflower.

Lesson 4 : The praise in the first few months doesn’t mean much

At this time you are new, the company yet doesn’t know what you are worth or how much you can deliver. This is the honeymoon phase for both you and the company. Whatever you bring to the table might seem great and there might be mails flying about what a great job you are doing. But then after a few months it will cool down and people might start finding holes in your work. Don’t panic, it just means that whatever you did till now, was being treated like your first outing. The criticism coming now will only help you grow and only means they expect more from you.

Lesson 5 : Think long term
Whatever you do, whether you stick around, switch jobs, work harder, don’t work at all, whatever you do, try to keep the long term in mind. Its especially tough in jobs like journalism, where every day is a new day but still look at the bigger picture of how what you do today will help you later on. Don’t just stitch the sails to keep the boat from rocking today, get money to buy new ones.

Lesson 6 : Remember this job is your dream not that of the company

It helps to remember why you are here in the first place. In most cases, we are the ones who decided we want to take this career path. So it is our dream and not someone else’s. The responsibility for its trajectory therefore lies with us. There will be people who will try to put you down, there will be people trying to mislead you, there will be people who will think that you are not worth making it. Forget all that, what is important is what you think. Remember these people were not the ones who made you decide to study hard and choose this particular job. You did it on your own, so when you decided where you are right now on your own, you are the one who will decide where you will go from here. Yes, there are people who are more powerful in the hierarchical system and it can seem that you are but a pawn, yes there will be things that you might have to do that you don’t particularly fancy, but the final choice in everything lies with you.

But going after your dream doesn’t mean that you just do what you like without considering the larger mission of the organisation. You do have to align yourself with the company’s mission and culture, your progress should not be at the cost of the overall good of everyone on your team. All I mean is that you can’t be sitting and blaming the company or its policies for why you didn’t succeed. Either you work around it or find another path that fulfills your goals. Buddhism says there are only three choices in life 1. Change the situation by talking it out, 2. Accept the situation or 3. Leave.

Lesson 7 : There will be people who compare you to others to get a rise out of you

Hopefully this is not your boss 🙂 Many people try to compare you to someone else of the same league, my only suggestion to this is, adopt what most successful people I have seen in my short career span have done. If there is some area which you acknowledge you need to work more on it, try a course correction there, but don’t take the comparison personally. Try what you can, but don’t change who you are. You are unique, as cliched as it sounds and despite how much other people might try to convince you otherwise, there is something of YOU, something no one else has, that you will bring to your work. Don’t get reactionary to the comparison.

Lesson 8 : Your GK scores don’t make you automatically eligible for special consideration at work
This has happened to some very close friends. They are good writers, they read voraciously, they know all that is happening and make intelligent conversation. They can write wonderful essays on just about anything. But that doesn’t impress their companies enough to give all the important work to them. Some of them become disgruntled idealists, blaming the system and mediocre seniors (they might actually be, but that’s not the point) for their lack of progress. Please don’t fall into this trap of blame, it only harms you. You have to realise that people want to see that vast reserve of GK being applied somehow to your job and once you start doing that, the work will pour in. Unless you show it in your work, your seniors aren’t going to appreciate it. The workplace is not someplace where you will get a certificate for your general knowledge or witty reparties. Doesn’t mean you kill that part of you, just try to apply it to your work or keep that separate from work.

Lesson 9 : You are more than your work
As we spend a lot of time at work, we sometimes come to associate all of our existence, its success and failures with our work. Work is of course important, as it pays the bills, but remember you were a person before the work came along, you are still a person after it. Sometimes competition has a way of making one feel inadequate, inefficient and these feelings spill on to other parts of your life. Sometimes the people around you maybe myopic enough not to see what a brilliant person you are, but that means nothing. All of us have instrinsic value that shines through at the most unexpected times and others can live in denial of it, but the truth is it exists. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are nothing if you have not conformed to a particular idea of success. Who knows, you are probably the one who is going to set new standards? So stick to what you know of yourself, don’t let anyone tell you what you are or how much you are worth because frankly only you know that best. You need not seek complete approval from the clique at work, you are only answerable to yourself and your near and dear one sometimes.

Ok, so now the sermon is over. And yes, I wrote this not just to answer some questions people asked me, but also to reiterate to myself what I have learnt. Anyone else who has any other suggestions to add, especially the ones who already have spent many more years than I have, please add to the list.


  1. Extremely well said. Could be a primer for people starting out in the big bad career world. For someone who has taken a leap from finance to journalism, I have found that all those cliches about courage taking you where you want to go and doing what makes you happy actually make you perform better as well. Self-doubt is one's biggest enemy, it will probably never go away completely for most of us, but keeping it at bay helps.

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