Want a successful career? Never burn bridges

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Recently, I did a mental count of all my networking leads. I’ve been lucky in that many of the projects we’ve won at Relab came from word of mouth — people who referred me to opportunities and jobs. And most of these people were either ex-colleagues or friends in the industry.

Then it hit me.

I don’t have a single contact from my first job. I didn’t keep in touch with anybody there and, quite possibly, nobody knows that I’m running my own agency now.

It’s not a big deal.

Except it reminded me of how naïve, stupid and cocky I was when I first graduated.

The fresh graduate

After finishing my university degree, I thought I had the world in my pocket.

Like many inexperienced and passionate 20-somethings, I had a strong idealistic opinion on the kind of work I wanted to do, which company I wanted to work with and where I wanted to be in my career.

I was certain I would get hired by one of the trendy design studios in my ambitious list. I imagined myself working on cutting edge projects that raised the bar in the industry.

Of course, it didn’t take long for reality to come crashing down on me.

Soon, I was looking for any job to survive. I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t try hard enough, was unlucky or simply not good enough for the companies I was aiming. I’m guessing it was more the latter.

My first job

Eventually, I was hired as an in-house designer by a premium skincare company. The first few months were good because I was the only designer there and there was a tonne of work.

I felt important.

A few months later, they hired a marketing manager, who became my boss. She wasn’t bad per se, we just didn’t see eye to eye on every single creative direction, which made projects a big pain.

That’s when things started to go downhill at work. It didn’t take long for me to hate coming to work and soon I was scouring job websites again. In my mind, I was more than ready to burn the bridge to open a new chapter in my life. I thought, I didn’t need these people and most likely will never see them again.

I slowly withdrew into my own world at work.

I didn’t make small talks.

I didn’t try to make friends or connected with people.

I wasn’t mean or anything, but I wasn’t exactly a ball of sunshine at work.

Looking back, I cringe at how I behaved.

I know now that every day gives you new opportunities to learn and grow no matter what your situation is. There’s always a silver lining if you care to find it.

Thankfully, my brain began to mature and my ego took a backseat in the next job. I made friends, became involved in team meetings and started to enjoy work, which helped my job performance too. I learnt a lot from my managers and colleagues about design while beefing up my interpersonal skills.

Deep inside, I’ve always felt bad with the way I left my first job. I don’t think my ex-colleagues thought highly of me, and I don’t blame them. Since then, I’ve tried to leave a job as graciously as possible when better opportunities came.

No more mister sourpuss in the corner sulking about how his job stinks.

You see, karma is practical. To no surprise, I have received zero opportunities from my ex-colleagues at my first workplace. On the other hand, I’ve had many ex-colleagues from other jobs recommend my work to clients or outsource jobs to my agency.

These are three things I’d tell any fresh graduates. Chances are, you will end up hating one of your jobs down the line, switch professions, further your studies or start a business. Whatever you do, always:

1. Be nice

Because it is the right thing to do. Respect is a two-way street and you need to give it before earning it. You’ll also end up happier at work, trust me.

2. Be a team player

There are very few lone geniuses. Great ideas come from sharing and collaborating. If you want to produce the best work, you need to contribute to your team and that includes leaving your ego at the front door.

3. Never burn bridges

Always leave respectfully when it’s time to go. Keep in touch with the colleagues you’ve clicked with. I’ve had numerous opportunities thrown my way simply because I stayed friends. When they need your help, make sure you are there too.