10 Hard Career Truths That Transformed My Life (I wish I had Learned Before My 40's)

 For the past 24 years, I grew up and matured A LOT in my career. I didn't get this way by nature. I had to crawl through some deep, dark tunnels, often full of brown sludge. So how did this sludge transform my life?

I came out the other end dirty, bruised and battered.

The 'sludge' included:

  • Bullying bosses.
  • Clocking 65-hour week for 12 months.
  • Expectations of "Whatever it takes".
  • Hard-to-please stakeholders.
  • Putting up with many politics.
  • Unrealistic standards imposed.
  • Unrealistic deadlines.
  • Constant productivity pressures — "Just do more with less".
  • You are not doing enough (despite achieving significant milestones, delivering over and above).

While I was going through this crap, of course, I was cursing the job, the people, the environment. Many moments, I wanted to QUIT.

But, I'll often wake up the following day and do it again, like Groundhog Day.

I didn't have it in me to quit, nor the luxury.

I never reflected in the mirror to see how I let some of this sludge impact me and didn't pluck up the courage to set boundaries.

So, now that I have left the corporate world behind, I had a great deal of self-reflection. I came up with the ten hard career truths that have shaped me as a career coach, sharing my experiences with my coachees to help them shorten their journeys and avoid my mistakes.

More importantly, what I would do differently if I had my time again.

Especially when I am privileged enough to hire my team again, I would apply these hard truths and mentor my team to be the best versions of themselves.

10 Hard Career Truths That Transformed My Life

1. Work is not everything

Without balance, I burnt out. I didn't see a life outside of work. I thought I was a super person, an Energizer bunny who could keep working. It got worse when juggling a full-time job, coaching and family. Until one day, I collapsed. So, every year, I take one week out from everything and go to my "island". I chose an island destination and spent time with myself. To reflect and rebalance myself. It's been a saviour (I need to pick this back up now we can travel!).

“I see a world on the edge of a blade. Without balance, it will fall.” — Victoria Aveyard

2. Always have options to EXIT at your choice

I was made redundant three times in my career. I didn't have a backup plan, so it was super stressful when it happened. I managed to pick up a job quickly, but the process was painful. Then I realised I would NOT leave my fate in someone's hand (the company's). So, I thought of what I could do as a passion project to help build my backup plan. I also started to SAVE for rainy days. It's so FREE to know I can now earn money without relying on some boss or some job or some company.

“There are no perfect life plan formulas. It’s a roller coaster with various exit ramps.” — Jason Landry

3. Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S)

Thinking back, I wasted SO much time at work. Like budgets. How the hell do we spend 3 to 5 months doing a budget that gets changed the first day of the year? Why? No one ever asks Why?

We just follow a budget timetable. Repeatedly. That's like 25% of the year we spend on the budget. That's not even including forecasting, month-end etc. No wonder I didn't enjoy accounting. That time could have been better spent driving top-line, business partnering, process improvement etc.

If you did a budget in one month, would it change the numbers that dramatically? I often felt we complicated things to keep us busy at work.

Now in my coaching, I learn from this and keep things simple to get to an outcome. IT doesn't have to be in pretty slide decks or many models. It doesn't require ten rounds of meetings to come to an outcome.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo d Vinci

4. Care factor

I worked with people who turned up to work for a paycheck. I used to judge them until I turned into one of them. I lost my passion because I didn't enjoy accounting. I didn't CARE. When you don't have passion or care, the work is unchallenging, and you are disconnected. The problem was that I cared about the standards of my work, so that was a massive conflict internally. Aligning to doing a great job and having a high care factor is extremely important. That's the fuel to motivate you to go the extra mile.

So, eventually, I called it quits. Why put up with it? Do something about it! Your career is too short to be clocking in and out. Life will pass you by, and you'll retire wondering what impact you have made.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” — Dr Seuss

5. Strive for progress, NOT perfection

We strive for perfection, and it's flawed. I realised the most important thing to make progress, compare yourself ONLY to your yesterday self. Will you feel better reconciling to the nth degree on that balance sheet? Will your customer be grateful if you had the perfect sales pitch or presentation and you stayed up all night to nail it? Having standards is good, but it only hurts us when we kill for perfection.

“As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.” — Vincent van Gogh

6. Don't stop dreaming and visualising

Everything seems impossible until it's done. I NEVER ever dreamt about being a finance executive or a director. I didn't believe it. Then it was done. I had to pinch myself. Then with coaching, I NEVER dreamt about coaching anyone. I limited myself due to the lack of self-belief. When I got my first coachee, I started to believe, and my dream grew bigger. Every coachee I have, my dream grows. When I dream, I go into Neverland, and I visualise and imagine what it would be like. This visualisation makes it tangible.

“During your life, never stop dreaming. No one can take away your dreams.” — Tupac

7. Grit is just about getting through that moment — the world will keep spinning

I have been in situations where I thought it'd never end and how the hell was I going to get through it. At that moment, I was in my head so much that I missed the forest. I was focused on one tree. The pain and throwing myself a pity party. Then, when I pushed through it, it felt great and guess what, one year later, I forgot the pain (except you labour pain. You don't forget those!). I didn't die (though I was dying at that moment), and life went on! Grit is accumulating many of those moments and solving problems.

“Grit is having the courage to push through, no matter what the obstacles are, because it’s worth it.” — Chris Morris

8. Saying no and stop pleasing everyone

I was a crowd-pleaser for the first seven years of my career. I wanted to be liked by EVERYONE, bending over backwards for EVERYONE or doing everything for EVERYONE. If I were well-liked, I'd be popular (like High School, right!), and more opportunities would come.

Also, when I didn't say "No", I was distracted by someone else's to-do list. I didn't focus on what was important to me. I prioritised others' work over mine, and guess what was behind.

As I was brought up to say "Yes", this truth was challenging and repeatedly came up to haunt me. It took many difficult lessons, frustration, and anger to unlearn. Set boundaries, be comfortable with who I am, and people will get over you by saying, "Thank you and no.". After all, HOW you say no will keep the relationship intact.

“It’s only by saying “No” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” — Steve Jobs

9. Have fun at work

My fondest memory at work is when I had fun with my team. We worked hard, but at the same time enjoyed a laugh and got to know each other well. We spend many hours at work, sometimes more than we see our family (which is against no.1 hard truth 😊), that's why having fun to counterbalance the stress was so important. My most enjoyable time was when I worked with my Commercial Analyst at Lion. Ten years on, we are best friends, supporting each other in our new careers. We still have many laughs.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie

10. Don't judge a book by its cover

Never assume someone's capability by their looks, what they say, or their CVs. My best hire was someone who didn't have experience and oozed an energetic-thirst-for-learning attitude. I hired her immediately. On the contrary, I have hired people who said all the right things yet were toxic for the team and were lazy. Moreover, when people are cheery at work, I never assume they are happy. I realised everyone is an iceberg. What goes on deep inside is not always on the surface. Having empathy as a leader is sooooo crucial. This skill has become my key strength in my coaching now — walk in my coachees' shoes.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover till you’ve read the book.” — Jamie Lee Curtis

What I would tell my younger self…

Life is one big adventure. The ups and downs are there to teach us lessons. The many difficult, hard career truths have transformed my life. It's now paying dividends in the next stage of my career. I have taken those corporate career truths to be more self-aware and use this wisdom to help my coachees.

The hard truths are the teachers. They are there to harden me up. They didn't appear to make my life more difficult. I didn't see it when I was "in" the lesson, and now I am more resilient by looking at each challenge from a different perspective.

No matter what you are going through, there is always another way. You may not see it as you are in the thick of it. I encourage you to talk to someone to offer a different perspective.

Please share this if you feel this could help someone you know, like a friend or colleague.

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