This week we had a 15 years old (close to 16, I know) girl visiting us for 3 days at work. Hi Eva! It's all part of an exchange program meant to familiarize youth with the job world, so they get a better feel of what is to come into their lives in a few years time.
We had lunch one day. It seemed like the polite thing to do. It ended up being a revealing conversation. Firstly, Eva proved to be a great girl, with a rich background, an extraordinary sense of responsibility and great passion for a number of things, all of it concealed in a shell of distracted looks and prudent and exquisite behavior. I was impressed! Eva is doubtful on questions that will not be as crucial as she thinks, but questions that seem determining at this point in her life. Clearly the exchange program is an excellent idea to pour more info into the crossroads. Whether this info clarifies or confuses I don't know, but at least I do think this info is, no doubt, relevant.
At some point in time during the delightful conversation I thought: "Am I supposed to be giving advice now on how to face the job world?" And I felt strongly that yes, it seemed like the right thing to do. But I was totally unprepared for it and, honestly, I still don't feel entitled to, in a mix of humility and self-delusion. I must confess I feel closer to her in mindset than to most of my colleagues, whom I pictured sitting in my place and doing a much better job than I. But there I was, feeling like a hundred years older, improvising a few points that, despite the rush (or perhaps because of it), I do believe in.
- I suggested to get exposure to foreign experiences, to other cultures. Any form is fine, you don't have to spend 5 years out (I haven't) but just have contact with other people and be willing to listen. The reason is not foreign is better, but foreign is different, and cultivating an open mind has been a key factor for my own happiness and contribution at work. It´s a humbling exercise to realize how many things we take for granted but are
approached differently elsewhere.
If you cultivate an open mind, though, you'll be more permeable to manipulation and deceit. So you better develop a good sense of Truth, Lie and Storytelling. I have absolutely no clue how to do this, but just pay attention to it and you'll eventually get it right (I guess). Beware of naivete on one extreme and paranoia on the other. Use your intuition and back test it over time. In summary: keep an open mind and a careful intuition.
Always be doing something else apart from your day job. Having other commitments and interests will give you perspective, and will keep your sanity. Mixing your interests with your job will make you different, and different is very important now. We don't need one more business administrator.
Learn quickly to prioritize and to say no. Most of us have felt the irresistible attraction of over investing our time at work. We're trained at school to deliver what is expected from us. I know you do. You excel by delivering all that you are asked for. But an interesting job, the one you deserve, will always ask from you more than you can deliver. Good students can collapse at work because we've never been trained at discriminating, at prioritizing. Discarding things is counter intuitive for us, but ends up becoming essential for our effectiveness. Learn it quickly. (Interestingly, more challenged students learn to do this earlier and have an advantage over others at getting things done).
- I didn't tell you this during lunch but I tell you now: beware of those recipes for success you build on your own. You are doing great now, which means you have a pattern that works. When conditions change, you'll be tempted to apply the same patterns that gave you great success in the past. They may not work. Many times, the skills that take you to a certain place, to a certain job, to a certain promotion, are the skills that will kill you there. Re learning is extremely hard (there are neurological reasons that are too long to describe here), but having a flexible brain is to your work journey as important as a flexible knee is for your journey in basketball. Always be open to do things differently, and this is something you can learn from the people around you.
- And, well, take advice from someone like me with a grain of salt, I´m not really sure what I´m doing (even though it seems to be working, somehow).
I wish you luck on your way, but please never forget that you´re already a privileged girl; most of the things that worry us in this world just have a marginal effect in the big scheme of life, so don´t get caught on them, and enjoy every minute. It was a pleasure meeting you!