Learning legend Helen Blunden asked this question on her blog recently, and it struck a chord with me. So I’m answering from my perspective and exploring what those remembrances mean.
Like Helen I have recently been reflecting on my work life. But before I begin, please read Helen’s blog post, and subscribe to be the first to read her insights.
While I have had part-time and casual jobs since I was about 10 years old (family business) I think of the start of my career as being when I began a retail traineeship with a major Australian supermarket chain. I had previously been in hospitality and wanted something that had more regular hours and no night shifts. I had no idea at this point that it would be the beginning of a 10 year career in retail.
I was eager to learn and progressed from retail trainee to management trainee. I received recognition for my efforts at a state and national level. My hard work was always appreciated and rewarded with awards or new opportunities. A milestone was getting a job out of stores and into state office where I was eventually offered a secondment to national office in Melbourne. The chance to move from Perth to a big city seemed like a dream at the time.
Being away from all of my family and friends was difficult, but I immersed myself in work and exploring a new city. I put university studies on hold when I moved but picked them again focusing on a Marketing degree. I had started studying because I thought the degree was what I needed to get “The job”. While at head office I worked in many different areas of the business, moving based on retail experience and transferrable skills. I picked up new skills and training with every role.
I got the opportunity to travel around Australia, be trained in skills I still use today, build long-lasting friendships. I was rewarded with interesting side projects which gave me a sense of accomplishment, particularly when those projects had real impact for stores and the bottom line. Like Helen I remember breakfasts and lunches and dinners, workshops and conferences. Shared successes and commiserating when things were not going well. I remember celebrities and samples and massive company celebrations.
While I remember the wonderful opportunities, and still remember the people who helped me, I also remember challenges and disappointment. Managing a team at a young age, giving the speech at the retirement lunch of one of my team. Trying to figure out how to build a team when I had never done it before, some of them remote, some of them resistant. I remember being told I needed to dress differently and speak differently and to follow the behaviours of the successful people, the people who got promoted. I remember comments about leaving early even though I had been in the office since 6 AM. I knew when the lights came on and off and when the air-conditioning would stop working. I remember being yelled at in an open plan office for a decision I made that they were not happy with. So many years later I don’t remember what was said, but I remember who it was and how it felt.
My last job in retail set me on my career path. The first “The job”. I got “The job” before I even finished my degree. I sought out a role in the internal communication team and was offered a Portal Administrator role. I was adamant that I didn’t have the technical skills required but the manager saw something in me and I became an intranet manager. I found my niche and realised that to grow I would need to leave. Even though I didn’t think I was good enough or that the money could be better I applied for a role and left my 10 year retail career (I think it was 9 years and 10 months).
I remember feeling completely out of my depth in a different culture and a different industry. I remember feeling like I didn’t deserve it and that I didn’t belong. And I remember being surrounded by smart and passionate people. We delivered many projects and events and one big intranet. I received more training and was exposed to disciplines that fascinated me like user experience design, accessibility and change management. I finished my degree. But I already had “The job”. This job and the great people I worked with built my confidence up enough to get another “The job” and another “The job”.
With every “The job” I have learned more, met more brilliant people been introduced to further disciplines and refined the ones I enjoyed. For me there was always a big project, but so many smaller projects that at times it’s hard to recall everything I’ve been involved in. But I remember the people. People who taught me things. People who I clicked with. People who challenged me in all senses of the word. Through those experiences and relationships I’ve honed in on what I enjoy doing and I’ve taken on further studies.
Someone asked me recently if I had one highlight that I could say stood out among the others. I don’t have one. I have a lot. Many of them involve a project or an achievement, but all of them involve people. People who supported me or believed in my in a way that made me push harder towards our collective goals, while I was trying to figure out what mine were.
So, in five years from now when I look back what will I remember about my work life? I think I will remember:
- The communities I am a part of, that I learn from and grow with.
- Celebrations, coffee catch-ups and lunch chats (and missing them not being on video).
- Prioritising my long term goals by starting a psychology degree.
A lot of the details will have faded, that is what CVs and LinkedIn and portfolios and blogs are for. I will remember the big decisions that felt life-changing and the people who were with me along the way.
Right now I am not working. Finished one contract and am looking for the next “The job”. The timing lines up with exams and the new university trimester. As I look for the next job I am reflecting on all of the other ones. Talking and writing a lot about what I have done. And I am thinking very carefully about what my priorities are, the communities I want to be a part of and the people who will be there. Because I know that it’s people who make the great memories and shared experiences.
And now, perhaps it is over to you. I have reflected based on the question that Helen asked. What would you remember from your work life?