The best career advice I ever received

In 2009, I moved from Canberra (possibly the dullest capital city on earth) to Sydney. Sydney was the polar opposite of Canberra. It has a vibrant, exciting and cosmopolitan culture, with a never-ending amount of sights to see and things to do. I was really excited about starting my new life in Sydney.

I arrived to a new role in recruitment. Within only days, I realised that it was not a job for me, so I started to furiously send out applications for other job opportunities. I applied for jobs where I had experience and could perform confidently.

After a couple of weeks, I secured an interview for a role in payroll. Unlike most interviews I had attended, I found that I was not particularly motivated prior to the meeting and had undertaken almost zero preparation.

The interview got underway and I started to answer the questions but again, I was struggling. I didn’t have that nervous energy that I almost always have in interviews. My answers were satisfactory but flat.

After 20 minutes, it seemed the interviewer was sensing that, while I was responding reasonably well, I just wasn’t into it. He paused, then asked ‘Why did you apply for this role?’. I normally have a formulated response that demonstrates my interest in the role, the opportunities it provides, how it utilises my skills…blah, blah, all that sort of stuff. This time, I hesitated, then blurted out ‘I need a new job and I have experience in payroll work’.

After such a response, I am surprised I wasn’t escorted out the door with a kick up the ass for wasting his time. However, he reflected for a moment and said ‘What sort of work do you want to do?’. I looked back with blank eyes and said ‘I don’t know’. Was that important??

His next comment was simple advice but completely changed the way I have looked at work from then on. ‘Look at your CV and every job you have ever done. Work out what is the one thing about every job that you enjoyed. Find that and follow it.’

I left the interview feeling confused. I had always applied for jobs where I had the experience and capabilities that met the advertised role. I had never applied for a job where the main criteria was, do what you enjoy.

That night, I reviewed my CV, which had developed into the size of a small phone book with the number of jobs I had accumulated. I looked at every job. What did I enjoy about each job. It didn’t actually take long for me to realise that what I enjoyed was providing customer service. Customer service where I genuinely helped people with no benefit to me to be exact.

I started my job search with a new purpose. I sought out jobs where I could help people. Roles were somewhat limited as a lot of customer service roles had a sales component that didn’t appeal to me. However, I did eventually find one role that provided services to people with dust diseases (I will explain this another day). I was excited! This was the feeling I wanted. I researched the role, the company, the relevant diseases and drafted up an application for the role and sent it off to the company.

Shortly after, I was made redundant from my job at the recruitment company. After a couple of hours of feeling miserable as I hadn’t lost a job since I was 15, I felt great! The job was unhealthy for me and I could now focus on looking for a positive job. I had a few thousand dollars saved and could access unemployment benefits, so I calculated I could survive a few months without finding myself out on the street.

I picked up a couple of casual hours of work here and there over the next few weeks until I received a call asking me in for an interview for the dust diseases job. Over the next week, I started furiously studying everything I could and creating hypothetical questions they may ask.

The interview day came. What a difference from the payroll job. I was excited, confident and enthusiastic. I answered each questions with detail and great examples. When they asked me the same question about why I applied for the job, I responded with an answer that was honest. The short message being, I wanted to help people. I walked out confident I had the job. Luckily I didn’t know at the time that 160 people had applied for the job or my confidence may have wavered.

Over the following weeks (and months it turned out), I barely even looked at other jobs. I was so sure I had secured the dust diseases job and just had to wait. I waited so long that my unemployment benefits were going to be withdrawn but I was barely concerned. I would get the job.

And I did. My first pay arrived literally days before I was totally broke.

I loved the job. Every day I coordinated services for people with terminal diseases to provide quality of life up to their death. Depressing for some, rewarding for me. I stayed with the role for 5 years and other than management going in a new direction with the role, I would still be there today.

The pay wasn’t great to be honest but I was doing what I enjoyed. I didn’t struggle to get out of bed to work each day. I worked hard every day but rarely felt drained. I usually left for the day thinking about how many people I could help the next day and how I could do my job better.

That advice I received (from an unlikely source) has led me in the roles I seek out now. Do what you enjoy. Money is necessary but surely being happy about what you are doing is at least as important.


 

 

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Have you offered your hand lately?

I made a trip to IKEA today to pick up a new kitchen sink. The new kitchen had been installed 4 months ago but the sink I wanted was out of stock at the time. The waiting time of 4-6 weeks had drifted out somewhat and I have tired of washing dishes in my bathroom basin.

Well, the sink arrived back in stock today, so I went to collect.

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I walked out of IKEA today and had in mind to blog about the genius of the IKEA concept and in-store marketing and how it has influenced the décor of homes today. However, that has already been covered perfectly in Fight Club.

The IKEA closest to me has a separate warehouse for the collection of some of the larger items. You wait at the front of the warehouse and the items are rolled out by staff on a trolley for your collection.

I was waiting for my order when I saw a young lady pushing a trolley out the door with a very large mirror on top. My order came out next, so I pushed my trolley out to the car park. I looked across and saw the young lady attempting unsuccessfully to place her very large mirror inside her small hatchback. Unless she broke the mirror in two, there was no way that it would fit.

I walked over and asked if she wanted me to put her mirror in the back of my ute and drop it to her place. The young lady was very thankful, so I loaded the mirror onto the ute and delivered it to her home.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to bask in the glow of adoration for my good deed today. Quite the opposite. The experience actually made me realise how apathetic to people in obvious need. I was, in fact, hesitant to ask the young lady if she needed help. Partly, because it would inconvenience me and also as my offer of help be taken as a sneaky sexual advance. The later possibly getting a ‘F**k off you old bugger’ directed at me.

I reflected on how many times I have looked the other way when I could have offered a hand to people. There used to be a time when I would pull over to the side of the road and help to push a car that had broken down. Now I just think of how pulling over would cause me to be late for some ‘important’ engagement.

The thought disappointed me. Had I become so self-absorbed that I can’t even make the effort to offer help to a fellow person in need? Am I really that important that the world will come to an end if I’m 5 minutes late to an appointment? Has society changed so much that any offer of help from a male stranger should be viewed with caution? Well, in the case of the last point, as I’m 6’3″, have a shave head and numerous tattoos, maybe erring on the side of caution is understood.

I try to have the point of view that any experience is an opportunity to learn. Today I learned that I could be more caring towards people. Offering a hand, a kind word or even a smile takes little effort but gives back so much.

Don’t stand on the dreams of others. Empower instead!

I was working today and got into conversation with a colleague. For the purposes of this post I will call her Jill. I mentioned to Jill that another colleague (lets say…ummm…John) would be joining the team the following week.

I stated that John would be pursuing an internal qualification to allow him to progress in the business. Jill remarked that she had been in conversation with John during the week and told him that he wouldn’t be eligible to get the qualification as he had only recently joined the organisation and that he wouldn’t be able to progress.

I let the comment slide without responding.

It is worth noting that Jill has been in the organisation for a number of years. During this time, she has not advanced significantly. It is also worth noting that she has developed a reputation for being less than motivated in her work, was unreliable, demonstrated little in the way of initiative and has to be constantly directed to undertake a task. In short, she is lazy!

John on the other hand is a hard worker. He has studied the policy and procedures that apply to his work and applies himself productively and enthusiastically. He will seek opportunities to improve the appearance and safety of the workplace and is active in learning. In short, he is an asset to the business.

By chance, I had the opportunity to talk to John later in my shift. Without mentioning my conversation with Jill, I suggested that she should pursue the qualification in the new team. John brought up that Jill had advised him that he would be unable to obtain the qualification. I advised John that if he wanted to obtain the qualification and progress, that he should do it.

I provided John with the example of a manager at another location who had managed to achieve the qualification and progress within the business within months of commencement through hard work and dedication to their goal.

I have seen examples of ‘Jill’ often during my career. An unsuccessful person that will undermine another persons goals because they have failed with theirs. Almost always, the same people will complain that they have failed due to ‘politics’ in the business. Friends, relatives, gender, race or whatever excuse will come into it. Not once will the person ever reflect on themselves and what failings they may have.

I’m embarrassed to say that I was once one of these people. My lack of success was everyone else’s fault but mine. I was not a particularly hard worker, spending the majority of my time organising my social agenda. Thankfully, with maturity, I have realised that I am the one that controls my success and encourage others to achieve. Certainly, there will be occasion when politics do play a part but on the whole, the people who progress are the ones that deserve it.

I hope that John continues with his strong work ethic and is successful in the business. I also hope he is not drawn down by the negativity of others and finds strength in the success of others.

I hope that Jill realises one day that she is the owner of her own destiny. I also hope that she will not be negative when John bypasses her to progress. But, I kind of doubt it.

 

 

The best day of my life – Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety

Yes, the title is accurate, the best day of my life was being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I expect that most would say something joyous like their wedding day, the birth of a child or travelling to an exotic destination. Not me, the best day of my life was something that would be considered…well, depressing.

Let me give context to my statement. For as long as I can remember, my life has been difficult. I would wander through each day in a state of exhaustion. Nodding off to sleep was extremely hard as my mind was racing through a multitude of thoughts of what could go wrong the next day. I would be late for school and have to walk into a crowded classroom…I would be called on to answer a question… would have to read out loud…someone would tease me…I would get an upset stomach from eating too much (so I ended up eating a single apple each day) etc etc.

When I finally did drift off to a troubled sleep, it was with the knowledge that should I wake during the night, the thoughts would start all over again and I wouldn’t return to sleep. 4-5 hours of sleep per night was common for many, many years.

The sleeping issues continued well into my 20’s, where I started to include girlfriend issues and jealousy into the mix. Needless to say, I was beyond miserable. Though I never actually attempted to terminate the pain with suicide, I would be lying to say that I didn’t often daydream about how I could do myself in without pain to me or family members.

I started to drink alcohol in my early 20’s. It was not uncommon for me to drink heavily several days a week. This assisted in quieting my thoughts and going to sleep but a drunken sleep is not productive sleep. Fortunately, I had developed a passion for weight training that stopped me from drinking every day immediately on leaving work.

This was a time before the internet and mental health issues did not have the profile like it has today. Subsequently, I actually didn’t know I had a problem. I assumed that everyone was going through the same amount of daily suffering I was.

One day I went to the doctor to ask for a medical certificate as I wasn’t ‘feeling well’. This meant I was feeling tired, lethargic and the thought of going to work made me feel physically unwell. I had been to doctors with these symptoms before and was told I had a virus and I would come good in a day or two (which I generally did). This doctor, however, asked if I had ever been to a psychiatrist. Of course not, I’m not crazy person I probably replied, as was my lack of knowledge of mental health at the time. However, with some convincing, I was given a referral for a psychiatrist.

To cut a long story short, after several sessions of consultation, I was advised I suffered depression and anxiety. I was told that the thoughts I had were not common to everyone else. While there was not necessarily a cure, my mental health could be treated with further consultations and medication.

Returning to the title of the story, it was the best day of my life. To me, I understood the psych’s words to mean that I didn’t have to lead the rest of my life in mental torture. My mood was immediately elevated as I had been given something I had never had, hope for the future.

Well, having mental health problems is not all rainbows and sunshine. I have incredibly down times when lifting my head of the pillow is impossible. My mental health has also manifested into other just wonderful problems such as OCD, the abovementioned eating disorder, Social Anxiety and Claustrophobia (now that was just delightful) that I have had to manage. What I do have now is the knowledge that I have mental health issues.

I have not have much success with traditional psych counselling but I have developed strategies that help me cope. I know I will have mediums and lows (highs are very rare) and that if I manage the lows that a medium will come. Perhaps a ‘medium’ seems a terribly sad way to live but when you lived a large part of your life dreading going to sleep and waking up, a medium is great!

I will no doubt touch on my mental health history again in future posts. There have been some considerable challenges but I’m still here today and for the most part, I’m content and happy with my life.

 

 

Obstacles to the dream – Options and opportunities

I was called early last week to advise that I have been deployed to a work location for an indefinite period of time. This was not an offer but a statement. This secondment is considered a reward of sorts as it recognises my work ethic by placing me in semi-permanent location for stability.

However, my initial reaction was disappointment. I had worked the particular location for numerous shifts. I found the location did not offer me the opportunity to interact with many customers, provided little to do for a large part of the shift (which may suit some but not me) and possibly worst of all, did not have weekend or morning penalty shifts. There would be a significant financial impact that would compromise my early retirement goal.

Unfortunately, I can’t always think logically immediately after a disappointment, so for a day or two I felt sorry for myself and saw my early retirement goal drift away. I woke up a few days later though to pull my thoughts together to look at what options and opportunities the secondment would offer.

Plan A – My first option is to dispute the secondment. This proposal is proving to be somewhat difficult, as I am obliged to agree within the terms of my employment agreement. Nonetheless, I am pursuing the matter with a reasoned approach. Rather than just approaching this matter by bemoaning my personal concerns, I have primarily focussed on the benefits to the business by redeploying me to a more dynamic location. Of course, the locations I am recommending far better remunerate me but in all honestly, I do believe I am being underutilised in a quiet work location.

Progress – I have secured an appointment with Human Resources to discuss further. I’ll be approaching this meeting carefully as I don’t want to complicate my future in the company but I do want me point of view to be considered favourably.

Plan B – If Plan A fails, I considered how the secondment can benefit me. As the work location is quiet, there is 2-3 hours each shift of downtime that I can utilise to my benefit. This time can be used to learn more about the managers role to obtain an internal qualification. Once I have the obtained the qualification (which, generally takes only a few months), I can be redeployed to temporary manager roles throughout the network. This is not an ideal preference for me as I don’t necessarily want to pursue a manager’s role, however, it would assist in reducing the financial loss.

Progress – I have several rotating managers. I have approached them to ask for training, which has been welcomed.

Plan C – Start applying for higher level jobs. Strange as it seems, I can make considerably more money by continuing to work night and weekend shifts at a base level role than I can for a lot of higher-level jobs that are in Monday to Friday work locations. Again though, the purpose is to reduce my financial loss and keep my goal on track.

Progress – I have applied for a higher level role. Realistically, my chances are poor but by expressing my interest I am making myself noticed. I will consider an interview as a success in this instance and take any feedback as a learning opportunity.

Plan A is the ideal. I continue to work hard and make good money in the job that I enjoy in locations that are busy. While I do like the ‘all the eggs in one basket’ type of thinking as it promotes the desperation to succeed, Plan A may be restricted by formal legislation. Therefore, to ensure that I do not become desponded should Plan A fail, I have other Plans to pursue to maintain my motivation.

Every problem has a solution. Not every solution may be perfect but as long as I’m moving forward I’m not going backwards.

 

 

 

Better a pipe dream than no dream at all

pipe dream

Noun

definition – an unattainable or fanciful hope or scheme

I recently commenced my pursuit of retiring to Thailand in 5 years. Based on my current financial situation and incoming salary, this is not a practical goal. A more realistic goal would be 10 years and even that is a bit of a stretch.

10 years, however, will not work for me. I am mentally committed to retire in 5 years and will find a way to make it happen. Even in the early days of my mission, I am amazed at the increased focus I have on finding small ways to save and create money.

An unfortunate aspect of my current job is cleaning. Often times, I am scheduled for public toilet cleaning. This can be a fairly unpleasant activity due to the smell and the interesting ability that some people have to miss the bowl with their movements. Without going into more graphic detail, it hasn’t been my favourite job. With my new focus though, I attack the job with gusto, attempting to make the best of it, with the mindset that every task I do is making me more money towards my early retirement. Realistically, I would make the same amount of money doing an average job or even hiding in the storeroom. My passion for my retirement though has instilled in me a purpose to succeed in whatever I’m doing, even if menial and unpleasant.

I have lived a lot of my life without direction. I was basically living day to day. I lot of the time I was doing the minimum I could so I would continue to get paid and not make it obvious I was barely making an effort. By good fortune, I obtained a job coordinating services to terminally ill clients. Many of my colleagues struggled with the role and it was not uncommon that there were tears in the office when a client passed away. I was the opposite. I found the job invigorating and thrived on providing some quality of life to my clients up until their death. I recall one conversation with a client, at a time at which he started to enter the end-stage of his condition. Paraphrasing, he said ‘Scott, if you want to do something, do it now. You don’t know when your time will come’. He ended up passing some weeks later but his words (albeit not verbatim) have stuck with me. I don’t know when my time will come and my health scare 18 months back reinforced it.

I’m not one of these ‘live every moment’ people. I find that tiring and try hard. I have no compulsion to bungy jump or socialise every day. I do believe though, that life should have a purpose and a destination.

I have gone off on a bit of a tangent from the title of pursuing a pipedream but hopefully not far that I have lost the point completely. I know many people, including family, that don’t have a dream. They seem content to just continue on with life but with no clear destination. I don’t judge them and they are welcome to live their life however they wish but I struggle to stay motivated without a goal.

I believe that your goal should be big. Bigger than you really can achieve without being so unrealistic that it can never be reached. I like the idea of the carrot that is slightly beyond my reach to keep me constantly trying and working hard. An easy goal doesn’t breed effort and provides little satisfaction if achieved.

A friend of mine once said to me ‘Reach for the stars and you may reach the sky’. It has taken me some time to actually follow his advice but now it is happening. I’m reaching for the stars. But what if I fail? At worst, I will be much further ahead then setting no goal at all. At best, I might just make it! Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration and Motivation – The Power of a Smile

I woke up this morning a bit out of sorts. I had worked late last night and was looking forward to a bit of a sleep-in before I started work. No such luck though, as I was woken from my slumber an hour before my alarm by a loud knock on the door. I jumped up to find some guy at my door trying to peddle some life insurance, a new religion, a change of internet plan….actually, I didn’t take much notice. I just politely declined and excused myself.

Anyway, even though I wasn’t really listening to the guy at the door, I was still fully awake by the time I closed the door. I thought there was no point going back to bed, so I went about making my breakfast. I aimlessly faffed around for what seemed like 20 minutes (but was more likely 2 hours) and suddenly it was time to go to work.

For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling it today. Maybe it was the early wake up, or maybe it was the grey and drizzly weather, or maybe it was because I wasn’t entirely sure where I would be working that day and had concerns I might be rostered to one of my less favourite job sites. I note quickly that I have a permanent job but occasionally I’m not rostered onto a specific location until the day of work.

Whatever the reason, I wasn’t really that keen for work. I wasn’t what you would call miserable but I certainly was very flat and didn’t really feel like talking to anyone. This is not particularly desirable for a face to face customer service role.

Perhaps by good fortune, I was assigned a particularly busy work site, with no opportunity to make myself busy doing other things in an effort to avoid customers. I had no choice but to interact with the customers. I was looking at a long day ahead.

It wasn’t long at all when I was approached by someone with a big smile to ask a question. What did I do in return? I smiled back. It wasn’t forced, a smile just naturally came to my face as I answered the question and said goodbye.

That smile totally sparked me up! One smile! Immediately, my attitude towards the day improved and I looked forward to the next customer contact. In fact, I actively started seeking it. I started wandering looking for anyone with the slightest confused face to help or even just to say hello. I carried the smile with me and received lots of smiles back. Every smile was that little bit of fuel that carried me through the shift. Surprisingly, the time flew by and it didn’t really feel like I was working at all. Just having 30 second relationships with people.

It’s incredible how quickly my mood changed in an instant. Next time I’m feeling work is a chore, I hope I remember to give someone a smile as it’s a gift that is often returned.