10 Years, 10 Lessons

In 2005 I started my professional life. Ten years later I knew it was time to call it quits, not my profession but my job.

Its been ten days today of not waking up to a 10 am to 6.30 pm routine, but to a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. Sounds like a dream! In these ten days I have been working non-stop, more than ever, to start a social venture to mainstream upliftment of traditional artisans. My previous experience of working for social and environment development propelled me in this direction.

While I am set on my new path, every evening I sit with a cup of tea and reflect upon the lessons I have learnt as a professional thus far. These are important lessons that will lay the foundation for the value I must create going forward, first for myself and then for those around me – be it people who will work with me, or for whom I will work.

  • Lesson 1: There is always time to breathe

Life is not about chasing deadlines. It is important to take a moment, breathe, feel what you are doing and make amends wherever necessary. Neither will the passing time nor approaching moment come again. Work a lot, but not at the expense of going out for a coffee date with your best friend, seeing your child perform in school, holding hands with your spouse, pursuing a hobby or simply eating a meal with your family. There is no work pressure that is more important than your need to ‘live’ life. Your job helps you survive, the value you create around you is imperative for you to stay alive.

‎”Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

  • Lesson 2: Appreciation is beyond people and project milestones

My lessons here have been twofold. One, a colleague (senior or peer) who cannot appreciate you the first time, will never genuinely mean it otherwise. Genuine appreciation is not loud. It is just appreciative. Two, if you know your own worth and are true to your work, you would not need fake endorsement. True appreciation will find its way, if not in the confines of your office, then outside among the larger audience – be it your business circle, among your peers or just your customers and project beneficiaries. This appreciation (or even criticism) is what matters and you should strive to seek.

“I’ve learnt that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

  • Lesson 3: Projection only diminishes the chance to really improve in the bigger journey of life

There will always be colleagues who believe in self-projection. It is a good thing, as long as you ‘do’ and then project. For those who project themselves as suave doers without actually working, only breed negativity in the team. They might win the battles, from one appraisal to another with their charm; but in the lengthy war of professional life, their laziness and inability to do hard work will hold them back. They will stand to be exposed and loose out on the real merit of erudition. Surround yourself therefore with the doers and achievers so that you learn from their knowledge and insight.

“The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself.” ~ Herman Hesse

  • Lesson 4: Genuineness is naked

There are always genuine colleagues and professional allies wishing you well and converging to collaborate meaningfully with you. Invest in them, they help you grow as a person. At the same time spot the ingenuity around you and keep it at bay. The one who is superficial will always over-do it, will tell you lots of stories, will try very hard to win you over, will show off his/her limited knowledge, will be full of artificiality and pride.

“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.” ~ William Shakespeare

  • Lesson 5: Real leader goes beyond seeking consensus of others, listens, shares credit, rectifies team mistakes, commemorates

Being a boss doesn’t make one a leader. Leadership is a journey, one that might need mentoring and coaching too. Natural leaders know how to propel a team, understand the importance of listening, have a spine to take decisions and live through them, celebrate victories (big or small) of the team and reflect together on failures. Most of the times this growth is possible if there is a meaningful inward journey first, which then radiates outwards and inspires others. Inspiration is not plain talk, it is an emotion, a feeling, a real game changer. You either have it or not. Find the leader who inspires you and stick to them. He/ she will transform something in you magically.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” ~ Arnold Glasow

  • Lesson 6: It is give and take in professional world, be aware and time it well

Invest your time and effort into an organization that invests equally back into you. You might end up spending the prime of your youth or even your lifetime in a company. Think about it, choose wisely, be aware of your path. The day you know you can no longer learn in that organization or that team, move on. Find a new challenge and a new goal. Time is of real essence in life. Take charge.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

  • Lesson 7: You got to negotiate for yourself; find your sponsor and mentor

This is one of the best lesson I have learnt. We all need to know how to lean in, especially if you are a woman. There will be a mentor that you might find outside of your organization who will be the professional guru you solicit; however, within your organization you need to know who will be your ‘sponsor’ or the one who helps you grow and pitches for you at the right places. This person may or may not be your boss, he/ she could be your super boss, or even a colleague in senior role. Find him/ her. This person will believe in your capabilities, appreciate you, coach you and will help you realize your ambition.

“Believe in yourself and negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.” ~ Sheryl Sandberg

  • Lesson 8: Cooperate, Collaborate, Celebrate

If you have an idea, talk to people. Get feedback and follow your instinct. Identify the right people to collaborate with. Join hands, replicate your idea, celebrate, share your success, and remember what worked for you and what did not. Make notes and create a journal, if you must. If you have a team that does not cooperate and collaborate with you, or a boss who cannot celebrate your success, then work towards building a team that does. Be part of a team that adds value to you in the end and vice-versa.

“Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” ~ Robert John Meehan

  • Lesson 9: Have a dream and work very hard

Yes, of course it is all right to have a dream, most amazing people we know, clearly knew where they wanted to reach. Once you set your eye to your goal, work very hard to get there. Turn a deaf ear to the ones who ‘blame’ you for being ambitious. Smile for they know not that even Gandhi sounded ambitious when he spoke of “freedom” in the 1930s. Greatness starts with a dream, provided it is shared with others. So work hard, for there will never be a shortcut to achieve it.

“You have to dream before your dream can come true.” ~ APJ Abjul Kalam

  • Lesson 10: Stay humble, stay grounded

There will be highs and lows all throughout. There will be people who will inspire you, be happy for you, encourage you. There will also be those who will challenge you, envy you, show you down. One day your appraisal will be good, another day your project will fail. In the end none of this will matter. What will matter is what you make of it. Know your character, be classy, do not forget what your ‘onlyness’ is all about – the uniqueness in that team which only you bring and no body else can replicate. Earn respect for who you are, not what others make you out to be.

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” ~ Thomas Merton

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~ John Q. Adams


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