Friday, January 17, 2020

20 Observations on 20 Years of Work

This month I'm marking the milestone of 20 years of full-time corporate work (and entering my 15th year with my current employer). I recognize that I've been very lucky to have continuous, white collar employment, and that this piece is written with a great deal of privilege. But it is my experience, and I hope it's worth sharing. Here are 20 things I've learned about the world of work after 20 years in it.

1. Technology can change A LOT in 20 years. I used to have to dial in to a network through a noisy modem at a certain time each day and then a many-hundred page report would automatically print, and I would need just one number from it to do my job. I then had to file away all of that paper. I bet there are still boxes of that paper in a storage facility somewhere. People who do that function today can probably look up that one number on their iPhones if they even need it at all.
2. Regardless of modern software's capabilities, I'm really lucky that I was taught to do some things "by hand" in Excel. We didn't know all the formulas to make our lives easier, or have programs that did the calculations automatically, but we did have a sense of what was throwing the numbers in one direction or another. It's very hard to have that sense without having plugged in the numbers yourself.
3. Commuting is the worst. The only people I've met who don't find it completely soul-crushing have apartments within walking distance to our office. No matter what strategy you try to figure out to make it better (stop telling me about your podcasts), I'd rather just be home already.
4. Flexible working arrangements are the best. I *cherish* my work from home days. It's still only one day a week, but that one day makes my life so much better.
5. Responsiveness counts for a lot. I don't need you to know the answer right away, but if you tell me you're working on it, I will be very grateful.
6. Kindness goes a long way too. Please and thank you are still the better route to take.
7. That said, if you reply all with only the words "thank you," well, watch your back.
8. Nobody knows what business casual means. Especially in the summer. Especially if you're a woman. We're all just trying to do our best - and it would be a lot better if it didn't matter so much.
9. The interns get younger every year (it can't possibly be that I'm getting older!).
10. Everyone is replaceable. Everyone, even you. It might hurt for a while, it might never be the same, but things keep going.
11. If you're fortunate enough to work in an office with a door that closes, know when to close it. And then keep it open as often as you can.
12. Meet in person when you can, but keep it brief.
13. Pay attention to the diversity in every room. Work on it explicitly. I'm often the only woman in many rooms I'm in, and it stinks.
14. My job now is a lot more about thinking than it is about doing. It's hard to not fall back into doing mode sometimes, because doing can be so satisfying. It's much more challenging to sit mired in the thinking.
15. Flat organizational titles are great, but it's unnerving to stop having to strive for that next level. I was always taught to be striving, thinking about what that next accomplishment should be, and that you'll just keep moving up. When that's not true, it's hard to find that same motivation.
16. Being involved in outside organizations that don't use the identical skills you bring to work can help you bring new skills back to work. I've seen that through blogging as well as the nonprofits that I've been involved with.
17. Business travel is generally not as glamorous as it sounds. There are occasionally nice meals and nice hotels, and sometimes you can connect with friends or family along the way. But most of the time it's really lonely.
18. I really thought I'd have a "regular" order somewhere as an adult, where I went to lunch and they'd know me and anticipate my needs. That has not happened, and it's because I'm too irregular for it to occur.
19. I still love inbox zero. I don't see it as often as I'd like, but it's such a good feeling.
20. Twenty years is a long time. Considering I was barely sentient for twenty years when I began my career at 22, it's astounding to think that 20 years have passed. I couldn't have anticipated where I'd be now back then, and I feel pretty lucky to have the experiences I've had.

What about you? What would you add to a list like this?

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