1% Better Than Yesterday

5 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently At My First Job

workspace & coffee

This is part 2 of the post. Read part 1: Key Takeaways From My First Job After 4 Years

There is always room for improvement, right? Looking back to those 4 years at my first job, there are a lot of things I would have done better or differently. This reflection will be something valuable I carry with me to the next adventure.

Be intentional and reach out

Before the pandemic hits, I get to see my coworkers in the elevator when coming into work. The same crew would be lining up at the coffee machine before going into our first meeting in the morning. We get to have some awkward conversations while waiting for the coffee to drip into our cups.

When everyone starts working remotely in March 2020, everything changed. I no longer see the morning crew I used to see in the break room, no longer get to have those small talks asking how their son and daughter are doing. The only way to keep in touch is to be intentional about keeping in touch by sending them a direct message at work. For me, this was really tough to do because it doesn’t come naturally compared to bumping into someone in the hallway.

I’d go on with my work for a year or two without actually talking to the coworkers with whom I used to grab coffee or lunch. It honestly felt quite weird, and sad. I felt like something was unresolved when I was sending out an email to them on my last day. With surprise and joy, some of them actually reached out asking to meet up sometime. Seeing those messages really mean a lot to me as it shows they care and that they value the relationships we have built in pre-pandemic times.

Given that most companies will be remote from now on, it’d be hard to stay connected unless you work together. If one day you suddenly think of someone whom you used to talk to, be intentional, reach out to, your coworker will feel appreciated being bothered by you (or not)!

Be assertive and have an opinion

Conformity is a social norm in the culture I grew up in. If you want to get along with your friend group, you’d want to fit in the pack by conforming. I’m that friend who doesn’t care where we’d go to eat or what we’d do when hanging out. I’m comfortable letting others make the decision because I want to make sure everyone is having a good time by doing the things they like.

I don’t use to having an opinion about things because I don’t want to be seen as a “picky” or an obnoxious person. My culture avoids confrontation and prefers harmony. Even if I disagree with something, the elders trained me not to speak up, as that is considered rude and disrespectful.

I carried that norm into the individualistic work environment where people tend to value assertiveness and having an opinion. Society expects us to have our own unique identity, personality, and opinion. At the beginning of my career, when my coworker asked me, “What do you think?”, I would have a very hard time formulating my thoughts because my brain was not wired to form an opinion. The critical thinking part of my brain was like me running a mile, slow and breathless. It took me a few years to slowly build up the stamina as I got better at active listening.

Nevertheless, a part of me still has reservations about whether something is appropriate to say, and how to say it so that it doesn’t come off as offensive or rude. As my confidence grew over time, having an opinion and being assertive served me well as coworkers saw me as someone who was constantly listening, thinking, and processing. Though it is very important to stand behind the opinion that you have asserted to show that you actually mean what you said. This increases your credibility and projects your personal brand.

Be a little rebellious

This one is related to the above, where having an opinion is the start of the rebellion. This term may sound bad, but what I actually mean is: Don’t blindly follow what you were told. Why? When you’re just following the order, you’re not critically thinking. Is that the best thing to do in your opinion? Is that how it should be done? Why are we doing this?

If you ask yourself these questions, you will open up many opportunities to make improvements and suggest a better idea to an old way of doing things. You would foster innovation. You would be a creative problem solver before you realize it. This is a valuable trait in today’s world where innovation is key in making radical and disruptive changes.

I wasn’t asking enough questions when I was told to do something. Again, it’s that conformity part of me not wanting to get into trouble. Ironically and luckily, a key part of my role as a Business Analyst is to ask questions. As time passed by, I was able to slowly turn that into something that comes more naturally.

Try pausing and asking those questions to yourself next time your boss or colleague asks you to do something. Of course, we shouldn’t come out too strong as being doubtful about the assignment. You could say something like, “Could you help me understand why…” or “Would it be better if…”. Be genuinely curious and understand the reason behind it. Over time, you will find yourself thinking more critically; an important skill to acquire for any profession.

Assume more ownership

When renting a car with a rental company, most people will not spend time cleaning the car prior to returning. However, they sure take the time with their own cars. It’s a natural tendency to care for something you own or someone you care about.

It’s the same at work. If you’re the leader of a project, you’re most likely to do everything you can to ensure the project’s success. But what about when someone else is leading it? Would you put in the same effort as if you were accountable for the success of the project? If the answer is yes, great, keep up with that mindset as that will bring you success everywhere you go.

In meetings, I realized when I am not the facilitator, I don’t typically step in too much when the situation actually requires it. This is because I didn’t want to be seen as the hijacker that deviates from the objective that has been set by the facilitator. An effective meeting is a win for everyone in the room including myself, and hence, I am responsible for the success as well.

Imagine the magical things we can accomplish as a team if everyone in the room adopts this mindset; if everyone is responsible for achieving the objective of the meeting. We can easily turn an hour-long conversation into 20 minutes and everyone feels empowered walking out of the room. This would in turn boost the overall performance of the team and yield extraordinary results.

Don’t be sorry or afraid to ask questions

When I first started, I would always have questions in mind. What is COB? What’s a PA? AOP? I’d go off and search for these answers myself or ping a colleague after the meeting. I’d feel bad asking them during the meeting as it feels I’m taking away everyone’s time to answer my dumb question, despite never being in a corporate working environment before.

Because I wasn’t able to fully grasp the context of the conversation during the meeting, I was having a hard time contributing. I would walk out of the meeting feeling not adding any value and it damaged my self-confidence. Feeling bad about asking questions is also a sign of low confidence and low self-worth, which was true for me at the time.

As I gain more experience in my role, my confidence grows over time. *Side note, Toastmasters Club played a big part in boosting my confidence. I will go into that more in the future post.* I learned that I can provide great value to the team by listening attentively and asking good questions that may seem obvious or need clarification.

Something that I do often is to echo back to what’s been said to ensure understanding. Asking good questions also allows something deeper to surface up which really helps me understand the intention behind a word or a sentence. So, ask away!

Conclusion

My overall experience at NWEA has been really positive. I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to learn and grow alongside amazing people. Below is a quick summary of the 5 things I wish I had done differently:

Food for Thought

Feel free to share in the comments below so that we can all learn from each other. 🙂

Where am I going next? Catch my next blog!

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