When I started working in a start-up setting, I was fresh out of college and I didn’t know how people function in a workplace. Since our department was relatively new, the processes hadn’t been formed yet, and we only based our improvements on client feedback. We were all in the baseline, and we were tasked to challenge ourselves to upgrade our services.
At that time, I decided to focus on knowing how things worked and listening to one of our managers, who I fondly thought of as my mentor before. He was very curious, and I aspired to apply the same level into my work. Employees like me knew much more about the granularity of the work itself compared to their managers, which was why I got excited quickly, learning more about our processes and improving them as I went.
It came to a point where he decided to take me on as one of the members of his team – the product development team – which the other managers didn’t approve of. They told me they had preferred someone more qualified for the position.
At that time, I understood: the department required a deeper level of commitment. Internally, I was already beating myself down. I felt unworthy of anything, and my current position felt like a downgrade, in spite of all the work I did to reach that level. I began messing up because I realized I didn’t want to do the work anymore, and the emotional streams got the best of me.
Regardless, my mentor believed that my soft skills, despite my role, could take me further. I decided to change the entire package for our department, pitched it to our managers, and left the company quietly. Reflecting on this now, I was emotionally unstable and immature to respond more appropriately.
So, here are some of the things I learned:
1. Be patient. All companies have goals, and sometimes, maybe you’re better off accomplishing a goal that your expertise requires first. Learn all you can from that area, and slowly rise and show them your potential. Some managers will be able to see that, but some will prefer to look at the actual results you can deliver. Some roles will require both, too. And that’s okay. The important thing is you keep on showing up, and maybe someday, they’ll see you rising, too.
2. Be curious. Never settle for what’s already there. Question everything, and question your answers. What I love about the world right now is that we have access to a lot of resources. There’s a resource out there that is bound to make your life easier; so, never fall in love with the first solution. Create more, weigh options, settle for one, and then iterate. As our resources evolve, we should upgrade, too.
3. Be daring. Age is not just a number; age comes with wisdom and complexity, but those will not come if you don’t see the world for yourself. Experience things from your perspective by enriching your mind, learning from subject-matter experts, or just tinkering with what you already have. If you spend at least one hour every day doing one thing, what more can you do with 365 hours?
4. Learn how to compartmentalize. Most of the time, the issues at work aren’t about you. Your bosses have personal objectives, and as they sit on higher positions, they have better visibility on what the company requires. Stop making things about you — you don’t need that weight on your shoulders. Accept what they can give, and if it doesn’t match, you can either learn to negotiate or to leave. Never forget that there are always options in your life, if you only look hard enough.
That happened only a year ago. Now, I work as a Product Manager, and I’m still learning from my previous mentor and all the new mentors I met on my journey thus far. I’m pretty sure that the list will lengthen as I meet new people, tackle new projects, and hit new bumps in the road. Some people will think of a young person as inexperienced and probably dodge giving difficult tasks to them, but I learned that you cannot change their opinions. Above all else, learn how you can respond instead, and find new opportunities in your job, outside of the workplace, or wherever you go.