When I was 22 I was shooting, stabbing stuff and blowing things up
Yep, that’s me at 22, doing basic training in the Australian Army. It was surreal, but I have always appreciated the life lessons I learned during those three months. After basic training, I joined the Australian Army Band Melbourne, as a musician, and my instrument was the euphonium. I can tell you one thing, I played Colonel Bogey a lot during my military service.
So why did I join the Army? I always had a belief in High School that I’d end up in uniform. Police or military didn’t matter, it was going to be one of them. But equally, being a euphonium player, there weren’t too many professional opportunities on offer. So when I was offered a job after graduating from Monash University (with an arts degree majoring in music and ancient history) I figured it was as good a place to start as any. The truth is, I had no other ideas about what I wanted to do with my life.
When I look back at my time since then — from army musician, to army PR, aerospace PR, London for technology PR, Boston for the .com boom (and bust), NYC for a little data extraction and analytics PR (as well as 9/11), Sydney for credit bureau PR (who knew it could be so interesting?) and then Singapore for events, marketing services, marketing and content marketing — where I remain 12+ years later — I’d say my life and career has been quite a ride and one I’ve enjoyed immensely.
Throughout all of it, I’ve been super-stubborn. I’ve always been connected to who I am. I don’t know why, but I am, and over the decades I have come to appreciate that this is actually quite a struggle for a lot of people — no matter their age. So my focus in writing for my 22 year old self is not to change too much at all, because what I’d keep the same is my very core — even though it’s been battered, bruised and challenged for more than 20 years. How do you stay connected to your core?
Here’s what I’ve learnt…
If you really have no idea what you want to do, don’t worry about it
You’ll work it out. I had no clue what I wanted to be, but have adored my journey. My skill is in understanding the big picture of business and working out how to translate that into communication and content strategies for the companies I work with. I certainly didn’t get that knowledge at University or in the Army, but I found my strengths as I went along, and found jobs that matched those strengths. Young people today will be going into jobs that don’t exist yet — hey my current role didn’t exist 12 months ago — so try and work out what your innate skills and abilities are, which is far more important than having a clear career goal when you’re really young. I’m a communicator and a big picture thinker — I worked that out over 20+ years. Once you work it out, go after jobs you want and don’t take no for an answer. A good boss can see true spirit and character. You can’t teach that.
Don’t be too focused on sticking to a path at the beginning
Give yourself the freedom to change jobs and directions — especially in your 20s. The world and business is changing dramatically, but you will change dramatically too. You can’t help but start your career with firm ideas, but you may find it all rather disappointing and wonder what the hell happened. Don’t feel trapped if you get to this place. Make different choices. Go and educate yourself. Do volunteer work to learn new skills. Just keep your mind open and if you find yourself unhappy, then always be open to making changes, because there’s nothing more important than being happy. You are not stuck. You always have choices.
Be Brave. Travel and work abroad
If you can make one commitment as a young person, it should be to get on a plane and live somewhere else, preferably as an ethnic minority. I did that and I’m still going 20 years later, although I did manage to pick up a husband and two kids along the way. For me, it’s hard not to keep moving. It’s addictive. Travel will open up possibilities you can’t imagine in your early days, but equally, it’s critical developmentally.
Every nation on this planet has unique ideas, creative styles, and work ethics that can teach you different ways to approach things. No one way is right and no one way is wrong, so it’s about learning as much as you can from all of the different styles and becoming more open minded. I’ve lived and worked in five different countries, and travelled for long periods of time through more than 60 at last count. That has been the greatest achievement of my life, and I believe it makes me adaptable and more understanding. If you can, have the courage to get on a plane with no job at the other end. Live on the edge, take a chance. If it doesn’t work out, go home. You’ve lost nothing and gained a tonne. Today is the time to be brave. Are you brave?
Keep your inner light burning, no matter what
I recently worked with a wonderful and ambitious young lady in her first job. She produced veritable sparks, her ambition and desire to make an impact was so great. I LOVED seeing that in her, and I’ve seen it in so many other young uns’ throughout my career. When I see it I tell them, don’t let anyone take that away from you.
The reality is, working life can be laborious. People around you can be tired and wrung out. People are used to hearing no and therefore they start saying no. When you’ve got fire in your belly, if you’re not lucky to have others around you who are the same, over time, your spark can die out. Don’t let it. Believe in your spark. Go for it and make the world a better place. Believe in your awesomeness and ability to make a change, and don’t let people make you think that because you’re young you can’t do it. Look at all the billionaires under 30 — not that being rich is everything. Young is good, go for it.
Speak the language of the possible, not the impossible
If I get exhausted by one thing, it’s people telling me something can’t be done, especially if they’ve never tried. I detest hearing “we’ve always done it this way”… “You can’t change this company, it’s too big…” “They’ll say no, they always do.” YAWN!! Worse is giving up along the way because the journey gets too hard. I get it. I’ve been on the journey. Sometimes you feel like you’re fighting everyone to bring a dream alive. KEEP GOING! Believe it can be achieved. Hey if it doesn’t happen — for whatever reason — you’ll have the most amazing life lessons.
But if it does, you’ll be a superstar, and believing in the vision is what will get you there. The challenge is, as you win, those who couldn’t see it, or said it was impossible, lose your respect. Try not to give into that — mainly because it’s not a nice place for you to be. Instead try and take them with you for the ride. Make them believers and change their lives. Often the only way to achieve great stuff is by sheer force of will — trust me, it’s gotten me to places no one believed I could get to. With all that said, not everyone appreciates it when you “win.” Be prepared for that, BUT don’t let them bring you down. There will always be downers in the world. Rise above and be a positive force
Authenticity is more important today than ever before
I blogged about this back in 2012, and it continues to be a topic close to my heart. Being who you are is actually not that easy. Many never connect to themselves, but to be happy, you just have to. I believe the biggest career challenge most face is keeping hold of who you are. As careers unfold, you will have a lot of teachers — some good, some bad, and some completely misguided. To prepare, answer these questions and come up with an answer: Who am I? What do I stand for? What is important to me? Answer them, put those answers in your heart, and as your professional journey evolves, keep checking in. Are you still linked to your core self?
If you do this, you can match your career in the context of who you are, not what other people are telling you to be. I have always had a lot of advice, but the challenge with advice is, it’s not always relevant to who I am. It’s relevant to the person giving me the advice — they’re often telling me to be them! Try and be selective in choosing your mentors and apply the advice that makes sense to you — block the rest out. Hey it’s actually good practise in preparing for parenthood. You need to blank a lot of advice then too. The important thing is work out who you are and don’t try and be what you’re not. You’ll be dissatisfied and you’ll lose your way. There’s plenty of lost souls out there.
Politics and managing up
I detest office politics and have always seen it (and divorce) as an example of why we can’t have world peace. If we can’t get on with the person sitting next to us (or sleeping next to us) how do we expect strangers across borders to get on with each other? The reality is, politics does have a place, and it’s about distinguishing between good politics and dark side politics. The latter is when people crush others to gain something for themselves. I’d rather lose everything than hurt another to gain something for myself.
However, take note, I offer this advice, knowing my unwillingness to play politics has meant I’ve lost along the way — jobs, career opportunities, money, etc… but I’d rather keep hold of my soul and I’m happy with that. Will you be? It’s a choice you have to make, and a good one to make when you’re young. What are you willing to give up in yourself to gain something for yourself? Make a deal and don’t cross the line when/if that time comes. It’s hard when you’re young, because if politics is playing out all around you, you often get sucked into it and before you know it, you’re one of them. Good politics is understanding how to communicate and use information to help your boss, your team and your broader company look good. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The arsehole boss
I think there’s one more thing I’d add to my lessons along the way. Across a career lifespan you will almost certainly experience the “absolute arsehole boss” — I’ve had a couple. These experiences drain you more than anything you’ll ever know BUT there are lessons too. My advice is to learn the lessons, allow it to be an opportunity to work out how to be strong with this person, use it as an opportunity to stand up to them (what have you got to lose?), and always make sure you’re 100% on your game when working with them. Within 12 months, if you are still grinding your teeth and not sleeping, do the right thing for yourself and get a new job. Any longer and you’re a mug right? Also, and most importantly, do not become the boss you hate — deal?
I promise you one thing about the “absolute arsehole boss” — in hindsight, once you get over that deep anger you feel when you think about them, which can take a while to go — you will look back and appreciate what this person gave you. The lessons you learned and the personal strength gained. The important thing is DO NOT hang around too long. Life is about being happy. It’s the only thing that really matters. Do you believe that?
Now with all of the above I need to provide a warning. If you take my advice, your career will be a rollercoaster not a merry-go-round. If you prefer the merry-go-round, ignore everything I’ve written OK?
Concluding at last. The only thing that really matters in your career (and life) — and what I teach my sons — is: be a good person; make the world a better place; be kind to everyone; be respectful to everyone; never ever stop learning; and focus on happiness as the most important achievement in your life. Not everyone thinks this way and I’ve fought hard to stay true to it. Do you want to join me?
Over to you? Have you joined the #IfIwere22 discussion? I’d love to read your views and experiences.
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