Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Ten Years of Lessons Learnt

So, given my ten years of professional work, I must have learnt a few valuable lessons, right? The kinds of things you can’t learn through the usual academic coursework and research? I had a good think about the main lessons I learned through my extensive experience.

Just say yes. This is the first, and easiest lesson - when a valuable opportunity comes by and taps you on the shoulder, say yes. In my case, it launched my career working in Darwin as a professional, which quickly turned into valuable management experience and working in top cultural agencies, and then working overseas. People often say that they're jealous of what I've been able to do, but they could have done it too, if they'd just said yes. Of course, this goes hand in hand with…

Be prepared to take risks. I’ve taken a lot of risks in my career, as you can clearly see from my earlier post. Some of them didn’t pay off in the short-run, to my perpetual frustration, but they all amounted to something in the end. I still take risks, opting for short-term contracts in dream jobs, rather than long-term security in something that’s less suited to my professional interests. 

Find your champions. Network in the industry and seek out those people who can provide you with support and advice - particularly those in higher places who you would ideally like to work for, and those who care about the future of the library industry, and want to foster the careers of those who will come after them.

Be confident and ask for opportunities. It’s not arrogance to talk yourself up and put yourself forward for upcoming opportunities. Most hiring managers often have an idea of who the main contenders are for a role that they hire for, and it’s important to be a contender. As above - network, and be mindful of your strengths, so that you can promote yourself and match your skills with a position when discussing an upcoming opportunities, whether it be a project or a vacancy for an ongoing position.

Know your limits. The beauty of having ten years of professional experience is that I now know what I want for my career - and what I don’t. I don’t waste my time - or a recruiter’s time - by applying for a job that’s not suited to my skills or interests. And know when to walk away.

Take time out. The nine months that I spent in Japan five years ago was one of the best things that I could have done for me career. Sometimes it’s important to take time out, recharge, and adjust one’s perspective.


It’s not who I am, but what I do, that defines me as a professional. Yes, I totally paraphrased that line from Batman Begins, but it’s an important realisation that I came to a couple of years ago. A professional career doesn’t amount to a historical list of position titles, but rather what my achievements have been in those roles. It made me realise that the scope for professional work was much wider than I’d originally conceived.

But you can’t have it both ways. There was a time when I wished I’d just stayed in my first job, and done the hard yards, building a ten-year career with one organisation. I see people who have done that, and are in much higher positions than I am now, and are in a position to be able to start a family, get a mortgage, etc. Having spent ten years building a strong portfolio of professional skills, I do feel that now is a good time to settle for the long haul with one employer - and if that opportunity comes up, then I would give it very careful consideration. If it doesn’t, then the long and winding journey continues…

LESSONS STILL TO LEARN...

So, what am I still working on? Here’s a few lessons that I still need to learn, and I’m working on every day…

Being a change agent. One valuable aspect of working at the UN is that it’s extremely process-oriented, and it’s meant that when I come to a new organisation, I’m keen to document and review operational processes in my role. Of course, something that goes with this is a desire to improve processes, when the opportunity to do arises. Unfortunately, whilst I am highly attuned to detecting these opportunities, and proposing solutions, the act of influencing senior colleagues and implementing changes to operational processes is still something that I need to develop my skills in. Key to this is developing working relationships, and building the confidence of those colleagues who I don’t necessarily work closely with, so that when I go to them with proposed changes, they can trust my judgement. But in large organisations, this can still be a challenge.

Managing expectations - of clients and colleagues, and of myself. Starting a new job, I’m often asked by colleagues, (a) what my position / team is, and (b) where I worked before. I daresay that the way I respond to these questions will then prescribe that colleague’s expectations of me. Coming from a very diverse professional background, I still struggle with getting my “elevator pitch” right. Similarly, with clients, I’m probably seem more as “that youngish-looking guy on the front desk” rather than “an information professional with over ten years of progressive experience in Australia and overseas across government, education and cultural organisations”. The more that I’m able to convey to colleagues and clients the value of what I have to offer them, the more professionally satisfying and productive the interactions will become within the workplace, which as far as I can see would be a win-win situation. Similarly, I’m always needing to manage my own expectations of a role that I’m in. After all, at the end of the day, it’s not about me. If I wasn’t there, then somebody else would be doing the same job…

Making myself indispensable. And this is a clincher. With a wide range of experience and knowledge, I still need to learn to find ways to capitalise on those skills which are in high demand in an organisation. Anybody with a Masters in Information Management can do most of the individual jobs that I’ve done. However, by finding ways to take the initiative and offer something outside the square which is much-needed in an organisation, then I place myself in a position where I bring something valuable to an organisation, rather than just being a replaceable cog. I recognise that my current career path is unique and valuable - I just need to learn to leverage that specifically to my advantage.


So, that’s enough navel-gazing for now. I wonder how things will change, looking back on these posts ten years from now…