It’s been almost seven years since I did a career reboot of sorts—packing my bags for a piece of the little big island that is New York. It’s been quite an adventure, a roller coaster ride. These days, it feels like I’m finally cruising along, although I’m not immune to not-so-great days at work. As I’ve re-tooled and rebooted NY Minute Now, I wanted to share snippets that I’ve learned, career-wise. I’ve listed five for now, although I have a feeling I’ll be adding to this list at some point. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but for sure, they’ve helped me survive, understand, and overcome challenging situations in the workplace.
1.) Speak your mind…but watch your mouth.
If there’s one tip you take away from here, it’s this one. This is still work-in-progress for me. I am constantly watching myself and the things I say. Since I’ve gotten in trouble in the past for times when I should have kept mum, it’s a constant struggle to find the balance between being vocal and filtering thoughts as they manifest in words.
But, there’s hope. The key is to be mindful of time, space, and opportunity. While this can be difficult—especially if you work in an industry where you’re required/expected to present your work and be able to explain your thought process verbally—it can be done.
TIME – Can it wait? Do you have to say it right this second? Is it better expressed via email, after you’d given it some thought?
SPACE – What is the environment? Who is present? Will what you’re about to say positively or negatively affect the air in the room?
OPPORTUNITY – What do you hope to gain from expressing this particular thing? Can it be finessed further in tone and approach? Is it respectful? And are you sure it’s necessary?
2.) Your boss is always right.
It’s the old cliché, but hear me out. It was only in recent years that I’ve had a better understanding of how this works. Your boss is always right because most of the time, your boss has the big picture/full scoop and this information is not necessarily trickled down the food chain for various reasons. The most obvious: Your boss just doesn’t have the time to walk you through the backstory of this one thing you need to do ASAP, because there are tons of other things that need to be done. Now, if you do find yourself in a situation that your boss is 100% wrong, refer to #1. Be respectful. And by all means, DO NOT do this in front of their boss…unless you’re performing surgery then you better TALK. NOW.
In my experience, I’d say 9 out of 10 managers want direct reports to be happy. Surely, some bosses can be very difficult to work with, some, you may wonder how they even got to their position. But, bottom line? They hired you, you’re getting paid to do the job, and you are free to leave (okay, that may not always be the case, but you get the drift).
3.) People first, work second.
Okay, this can be very, very challenging especially on days you absolutely would rather not be disturbed. At all. But, people are more important than work. Same as the “Family first” rule, where you pick up the phone anytime your spouse/child (or a close relative) calls.
Always make time for people who come to you. Anybody who walks in and needs to talk, talk to them. Even if it’s just chit-chat or office banter. Avoid gossip though and steer the conversation away from it. (I know, I know, it can be juicy and intriguing, but just, don’t.)
That said, if you’re the one walking in, be courteous and mindful of the other person’s time and availability.
4.) Show up on time. Or even earlier.
I am going to sound like a hypocrite in saying this, given that I was always tardy until my late twenties (oh, I just noticed the pun, haha). I am a night owl by nature, like Mariah Carey! And President Obama. If left to my own devices, I would go to bed at 4am and wake up at noon every day. I savor those moments in the wee hours where laser focus happens naturally; the organic flow of creativity. Or on the flip side, the total indulgence of laziness.
Waking up early/on time to be at work early/on time is something that I do consciously. You’ll find that people in leadership positions—e.g. author and former Cosmopolitan editor Kate White, FLOTUS Michelle Obama—are early risers, it’s just the way things work in corporate America. True, I usually end up putting makeup on at my desk or drying my hair in the bathroom (I work for a haircare brand and we have hair dryers around the office).
For sure you’ll find articles saying that it doesn’t matter whether you wake up early or not; or that night owls are actually more productive than the early birds. But based on personal observation from working all these years? Go the early route.
5.) Be true, be kind, be you.
Are you new at work? Give yourself time and don’t worry about fitting in or adjusting to how things are done at your new job, or how people relate to each other. Being the new girl/guy gives you a chance to observe, learn, and absorb your surroundings. I made the mistake of being a know-it-all at my first office job in New York. I was cocky, tardy, and stubborn. I was bent on trailblazing a career path without realizing that there were protocols and common courtesies in place. One of life’s blessings was losing that job, once I got past the egotistic rumination of how wrong it was, it dawned on me that I would have fired my entitled 27-year-old self anyway.
It’s true that you need to be able to assert yourself at work; I’m all for cultivating a strong, hardworking persona that gets things done (cue: Beyoncé/Sasha Fierce). But it still has to feel like you. Be the genuine ingenue. Be a generous boss. And most importantly, be kind. To everyone.
From the mundane to the marvelous, be true to who you are and what your beliefs are. Like dating and relationships, it’s the only way you’ll know if something is right for you.