“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” — Steve Jobs
And I couldn’t agree more but how do you know what you love in work if you know absolutely nothing about the working world.
The Lack of Information
When I first started work there was nothing out there to tell me what to expect. For some reason there is all the information in the world about what to expect when going traveling, an A-Z about trekking mountains or finding the person to spend your life with but when it comes to knowing about work and understanding the reality of work, there’s zilch.
Nothing that I could lean on to understand what my first days / months would be like. There was nowhere I could turn to get an understanding about what work entailed. I just completed some online tests, turned up to an interview, tried my best, got the job and then I was excited about the vague concept called work.
I’d had jobs before but they weren’t the office type, 9am –5pm, 5 days a week kind. They were the bar type, 7pm-1am, a few days a week kind. It was a different ball game entirely.
There is a lot to write about the world of work. It’s vast, it’s confusing and it can feel a little overwhelming at times. For me, for the last 4 years, I’ve gone from complete confusion to kind of knowing what I want to do with my life and about 2 years I’ve become a little obsessed with one question.
How can we work happier?
It’s the question I spend a lot of my time thinking about. There are some scary stats that say how unhappy we are as a society about working and there must be someone out there who is where I was 4 years ago. Just utterly confused. So this article is for you.
There is So Much to Learn About Work — Take Your Time
The thing about work, well there’s many but the one thing I want to talk about is that, for some reason, no one ever tells you what it’s really like. I’m not quite sure why there is this vague idea of what the working world without much background or detail about what the day-to-day is like. No one tells you about work being hard because you need to manage expectations, not because of the actual work. No one tells you that you don’t have to be ruthless and cut-throat to get on at work. People don’t talk about work being good and bad, just like life and that that’s okay. That’s to be expected.
It’s the Combination that’s Complicated
In my opinion, the combination of things at work makes it complicated. I can’t name one thing in particular that is overly difficult in work, not head-scratching-pondering-for-years kind of head scratching. It’s the combination of different factors, people, expectations and desires that make things difficult. Don’t get me wrong, there are of course huge challenges to overcome. What I’m trying to say is that the individual pieces of work are fairly simple, it’s when they all get added together that slightly blows your mind.
In your early days, it’s as much a battle with your mental wellness and expectations of yourself than the actual work. That is a really important point to hammer home. Work is hard, you being even harder on yourself is not going to help.
In those first years, it’s more about learning from the people around you and learning about them, as a pose to the intricate details of work. As you grow you learn that work, like life, is really about people. It’s not about the pace of a project or the results or any of that stuff.
Well it is, but what comes first is the people.
When I first started work, I made the horrendous mistake of writing everything down. I kid you not, almost like transcribing what people were saying. Every look, every word went in my book. Needless to say that I was completely clueless and that’s in part why I’m writing this.
I look back at that time and think about how much of a wasted opportunity it was because I’d missed actually chatting to the people that were talking to me.
Work is a Combination of Important Things
There are perhaps 7 things that come to mind which I think are the building blocks to work. This isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s the things that resonate with me, that I believe are key parts of work. They are things that are likely to make up your working day and thus are important to pay attention to.
The 7 Things:
Meetings — the places where decisions are made, opinions are formed and where structure is absolutely critical to getting anything done. A good meeting will push things on, a bad one will hold you back months. The key bits to think about, especially if you are holding the meeting, are:
What is the purpose? To inform, to get a decision, to get an opinion, to ask for help.
What do you want to achieve? A decision to be made, a confirmation on the way forward.
What are the key things to get there? Intros, expectations, key agenda items — — it’s boring but it works.
2. Communication (phone calls / email / text) — what are you trying to say and why? What do you want out of the conversation and what’s going to help you explain that? What’s the message and what is the best method of communication?
3. Documentation and administration — inevitably in a few weeks time, someone will pick your work to look at. Above and beyond the basics — spelling, grammar, clear messaging, what do you want this to say about you.
4. Time / Project Management and Organisation — setting up meetings, spending time working out where to fit things in, planning what you need to get done in 6 weeks time and working backwards is all part of working. You’ll spend a good portion of your time planning, it’s good to get a system that works for you. That could be reviewing your calendar every week, it could be planning blocked out time to complete certain tasks. Whatever works for you.
5. Reviews and Performance — every few months or so you will have some sort of performance conversation. It’ll include your current work, what you’re finding easy / hard, your areas to improve etc. All this stuff is good to get a head start on early if you want to appear prepared in your performance conversations.
6. Expectations — not just of the people you work with but of yourself. Managing someone’s expectations is hard, especially when you don’t know the outcome. It’s best to undersell and over deliver rather than over selling and under delivering. If you think it’s going to take a week, make sure you communicate it’ll take two. You never know how long things really take until you get into it, they’ll be something that throws you off. If you give yourself some wiggle room you won’t disappoint people.
7. You / your mindset — the most important without a doubt. Managing your mindset especially in the early days is so critical. I say this because I didn’t and I suffered for it. In the beginning be kind to yourself. Look after your mind and your body. Don’t be too hard on yourself — you’ve got a lifetime to figure this out.
These 7 things are not an exhaustive list, they are just my list. The list I’ve thought about for the last four years as I moved from complete newbie to growing and figuring out the things I like and the things I definitely don’t like. Which is huge progress. At least in my opinion.