Lessons from 35 years of work

I recently announced that I’m going to be retiring from work and one of my colleagues asked if there were some key lessons I’d learnt from my working career that I could share with them.

So here it is, Sandra’s 15 lessons (in no particular order) for surviving a long career. Some of these lessons come from mistakes I’ve made, and some are from observing the mistakes of others but I’m going to leave you to guess which are which.

1. It’s only work, don’t let it stress you out, so long as they keep paying you most other things don’t matter. Just make sure you communicate what you are and aren’t doing and don’t try to be the super hero all the time (just occasionally).

2. You sign a contract — uphold your end of that contract. If they ask you to do something, do it graciously, they’re paying for your time. I’ve always found my flexibility has been repaid 10-fold (but not necessarily financially), it has never been taken advantage of.

3. If you don’t like it, leave — you’re not a prisoner, if you don’t agree with the direction of the company, or the views of your colleagues, or it’s not helping you develop in the direction you’d like to go, then leave and find somewhere where you will be happier, there’s no shortage of different companies out there.

4. Don’t burn bridges — it’s a small world, you may bump into those people again and you never know who’s saying “Oh yes I remember ……” to your current / prospective employer.

5. Changing yourself is hard, it takes dedication and practice, it can be done, but it is hard.

6. Changing others is all but impossible, (they have to want to change) try to focus on their strengths and not the weaknesses, don’t struggle to put in what’s not there, make the most of what they have (this applies to yourself as well.)

7. Changing an organisation can take a long time, if you really want it to happen play the long game and be patient, you might need to try a variety of approaches or it may just be a case of waiting for the right moment. Build allies who’ll help support the change.

8. One thing’s certain, things will change — be alive to the possibilities, don’t focus on the threats.

9. Be kind to people, do things with a smile on your face — you’ll get back your kindness in spades and you’ll feel better about yourself.

10. Don’t criticise people in other roles — you’ve probably no idea what their pressures are or exactly what their context is; make the effort to try to understand it. Constructively deal with issues in your relationship, how you can help them and how they could help you.

11. Keep learning — keep it broad as well as deep, look for the trends, decide where you need to be (or would like to be) on the adoption curve and act appropriately, don’t just follow the latest fad.

12. It’s team work — at whatever level you are in the organisation, don’t just focus on your own goals and ambitions, help your colleagues, especially if you want to progress. If roles change you might value their respect and trust.

13. Trust is hard to establish, easily destroyed and just about impossible to fully restore.

14. Do what you say you’ll do and don’t over commit — there’s only 1 thing people hate more than people who say “no”, it’s people who say “yes” and then don’t do that thing.

15. Live for today but with one eye on the future, have both short-term and long-term goals and review them regularly. Don’t expect a company to map out your own career path, it’s yours, take ownership of it. Don’t put off investing for the future, it will be here sooner than you think 😊

As I move onto the next stage in my life, I suspect that I’ll need to keep applying many of these lessons (though maybe not the first 2!).

Keep smiling.