All the space between then and now
I still remember that day, the very first day. I remember I wore jeans with pink spots, a white shirt, a grey jumper and heels. I remember what the room looked like; who was in it. I remember the awkward self-consciousness of a newcomer amongst a group of people who seemed to be a well-oiled machine with no need for me.
Today, the last day, is unseasonably warm; blue skies, iridescent sunshine. I’ve already had two coffees, I rode my bicycle, my hair is less blonde and my clothes are more casual.
The space between here and there is immeasurable: I feel as though I’ve inhabited so many different lives, personalities, journeys and realities between May 21, 2012 and September 11, 2015. But I suppose that’s how it feels for most people in their twenties (apparently there’s a scientific reason for it). Who you are changes so rapidly, so often, that it’s almost dizzying. You can’t trust your feelings, opinions, or outlook because in a few short weeks you may go from one end of the spectrum to the other.
How could I possibly quantify so much change, so much growth?
Of all the things I learnt, there were of course some very practical and useful things: I feel like a much more mature writer and editor (though I still have a long way to go), I love process and organisation more than ever before, I’ve learnt to get over my hatred for spreadsheets, I’ve been amongst the behind-the-scenes workings of a magazine and publishing business for over three years now, I’ve learnt so much about business, startups, measuring performances and why KPIs aren’t a necessary evil but a necessary good. I understand more about working with people, being a leader, being a coordinator, about communicating, being diplomatic but directive. I can confidently tackle Wordpress quirks, have much greater abilities in graphic design than before, sometimes have success fixing code and DNS issues, and the day I figured out what FTP files were, how to edit them, and updated some CSS on our homepage without breaking the website was one of my favourite achievements. I couldn’t figure out how to do it again though, so don’t ask…
That’s one of the wonderful things about working in a startup: you really do everything. And, with such a trusting boss, I was able to dream up ideas and run with them. It’s hard, but incredibly worthwhile. And it’ll teach you who you are much quicker than working in a large company will.
But beyond these practical skills, the best and biggest things I learnt are also the hardest to quantify. If I had to distill them into just five points, I think I’d choose these…
- When you’re not afraid, you’re probably not learning
The best things happen on the edge of uncomfortable. So, if you feel terrified every day you’re at work, then, depending on the reasons, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The last three and a bit years have stretched me, my abilities and what I was capable of — and I have Judy to thank for that. Every time I hit my head against a brick wall, she’d push me until I got through it. She gave me space and trust to find my feet and grow, and direction when I needed it most.
I don’t think you truly know who you are until you have to find out under pressure. It’s in those in-between times — between the beginning and the end, between one stage and the next, between failure and success — that you often lose yourself, only to find a much more richly coloured in version than you knew before.
2. People are complicated — take time to learn why
What I loved learning most was to discover, differentiate and determine the differences between the many people I came into contact with. It’s still a skill I’m still mastering, but it really just requires approaching every person as an individual with their own separate set of experiences, beliefs, opinions, values and understandings. The best place to begin is with a conversation: take the time to know them, to understand them, to walk in their shoes.
3. Perspective is everything
Seeing the details is useless if you can’t see the bigger picture. But only seeing the bigger picture is highly ineffective if you’re unable to drill down into detail. Being able to shift your perspective is incredibly useful. It allows you to work smarter, understand other people better, and also find ways to trick your own brain. Finding different ways to approach things that have lost their excitement will inject new life and energy into the most lifeless situations.
And if you honestly can’t understand where another person is coming from, or how your actions affect them, you may as well be running around in a glass factory smashing everything in site. Because that’s pretty much what it’s like when you refuse to apply perspective to your interactions with others.
4. Don’t put limits on anything — on you, your coworkers, your abilities, your work, your plans, your imagination
You might just surprise yourself. Or those things might just surprise you. Be open to changing your mind, to discovering a new side to something or someone, and to being amazed. Give yourself the space to be pleasantly surprised.
5. Where you’re going is usually not where you imagine you’ll end up
I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Media & Communications) and a double major in French. I wanted someone to pay me for writing; I wanted to be editor of a magazine. I wanted to travel, meet people and be someone. Most of that came true.
But eventually I realised that for all my desire for control, the smartest thing for me to do was to give it up completely. We have no way of knowing where we’ll be next week, let alone next year. If we follow our noses, our guts and our hearts, I firmly believe we end up in the exact place we were meant to be. It’s about finding that balance between action and acceptance.
I could never have foreseen that I’d be doing the things I am now. And if there’s such a huge gap between where I was and where I am, then what’s the point in trying to see the future? All my prophetic attempts have been way off. I learnt to have dreams, know what I want and reach for that, but not try to see my future.
Only when you let the present mould you, do you become the person you were always meant to be.