Bad workplaces, poor work experiences and incompetent managers

It is natural to work hard to avoid one or more among bad workplaces, poor work experiences and incompetent managers. And we should. But, it is also hard to overstate their value in the long run when we do find ways to overcome them when they happen.

Spend a bit of time reflecting on your painful experience and you walk away with perspective that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It is very hard to appreciate what is really bad if your experience of work only involves fancy office spaces, free food, projects that involve smart colleagues and hyper growth, and thoughtful managers.

However, if you’ve worked in a mind numbing data entry job, dealt with a manager who never failed to make you feel insecure or cleaned toilets at a restaurant for three months, it makes it a lot easier to appreciate what you have.

I don’t think the takeaway is to go seeking bad career experiences. But, I do think there is value in seeking varied experiences in our careers – especially in the early days. One of the biggest benefits of doing so is that some of those varied experiences will turn out to be bad.

And, while great workplaces typically help build great careers, bad experiences can give us the sort of perspective that can help us build happier lives.

PS: If all you have experienced is a great work environment, this is just a reminder to work extra hard to be conscious of all the privilege and be grateful.

Interpersonal skills vs. Intrapersonal skills

Job descriptions frequently cite interpersonal skills – or variants like the ability to influence cross-functional stakeholders – as a required or preferred qualification. While intrapersonal skills get the occasional mention (“self starter” or some equivalent), they don’t seem to ever make it up to the list of top 3 skills required.

What are intrapersonal skills and how do they differ from interpersonal skills? While interpersonal skills deal with the communication between two people, intrapersonal skills are about the communication we have with ourselves. They deal with our mindset, our approach to analysis and learning, and our response to situations.

We’ve likely had plenty of training on interpersonal skills. But, when it comes to intrapersonal skills, we are, for the most part, on our own. And, that’s a big miss because it is in our interest to focus first and foremost on our intrapersonal skills.

Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are analogous to personality and character. There’s a saying that personality opens doors while character keeps doors open. That’s just one way of saying that the best long term indicator of your ability to build trustworthy relationships is your character.

Or, put another way, your interpersonal ability is only as good as your intrapersonal ability in the long run.

The 100 year career

Oxford university scientists expect us to live to be 100+ with many routinely expected to reach 150 years. Working life will, thus, last well into 70s, 80s and even past 100. How might we approach a career if we knew it was going to last 100 years?

Here are six ideas –

  • Regardless of the career you choose, approach learning like a chef. When you learn something, focus on building the skill to reason from basic ingredients/first principles. Learning how to learn is a high RoI skill because you will need to learn many different skills over a 100 year career.
  • You don’t have to prove anything to anybody for a really long time. Judging your success in 25 years will be like awarding the NBA title to the team leading the score in the first quarter. Again, we’re talking about 25 years.
  • Retiring early is a misnomer. Instead, if you want a way out of your lucrative but uninteresting career, look to get wealthy enough by your desired age so you can spend the next few decades working on ideas that interest you. And, if this path is avoidable, you may want to consider it. Also, if you’re a university administrator, I hope you’re planning out your continuous learning curriculum.
  • It will help to find work you enjoy or feel passionate about. A great way to do that is to get incredibly good at whatever you are doing. We love things we are good at.
  • Your biggest performance improvements will come from improving your attitude. A growth mindset that allows for openness to new ideas will be your biggest asset.
  • Don’t let a setback in your next expected raise or promotion get to you. You’ve got time. :-)

Of course, these ideas apply just as nicely to any career. Maybe we should adopt them regardless?