On his 1984 album ‘About Face’ David Gilmour sang
“Thinking that we’re getting older and wiser
When we’re just getting old.”
Today is my birthday. So I thought I’d share with you one or two things I’ve learned in my 42 years on this earth. I can’t claim any great insight into the Human Condition, but it’s my birthday so you have to indulge me. But I will keep it roughly work related just so it bears some relation to the rest of the site.
The first thing to say is how important it is to do something you love. Over your working life you’re going to spend an awful lot of time at work, so if you’re working at something you don’t enjoy how is that going to make you happy? I’ve seen too many people made utterly miserable by their jobs and careers and in the end it’s their health (mental and physical) that’s going to suffer. When I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do for a career, so took the first job that was offered to me, and consequently spent far too long working in catering which I absolutely hated. But here’s a thing – when I’d figured out what I wanted to do and was on the verge of going to college to train I ran into an old school friend who I hadn’t seen since leaving school. We sat over a beer and moaned about how we both hated our jobs. I was earning minimum wage and he was earning good money as an accountant or salesman (I can’t remember exactly what he was doing, but it paid well). On the face of it he was doing better than me – he was at least being rewarded better for his crappy situation – but take a step back and look again. I was about to re-train to do the thing I wanted to do, he couldn’t do that as he couldn’t afford the loss of salary whilst he trained. He had become trapped in his unsatisfactory career choice by the financial package it gave him. A better situation to be in than mine at the time? You decide. Did he escape his job? I don’t know I haven’t seen him again.
The second thing to say is that whatever career you choose for yourself, it’s all about the people. Easy to say if you’re working in a service industry, but it’s equally as true if you’re not. There are very few jobs that aren’t done for the benefit of humankind in one way or another so we should think about them as we work. One of my crappy catering jobs was doing hospitalities in an NHS executive building and it was quite disheartening delivering refreshments to meeting rooms and hearing people talking about cancer treatments in terms of financial costs and not in terms of the lives that would/wouldn’t be saved and the families that could be affected by decisions made around the boardroom tables. Particularly if we work in a service industry we should give the kind of service we’d want to receive if we were our customer. Treat your customers like human beings and they will come back to you and may even recommend you to their friends. Yes, they’ve asked you to do this tiny thing for them and strictly speaking it is chargeable, but maybe if you did it as a freebie it’d help build up a long term relationship with them and maybe stop them asking one of your competitors for something bigger when it comes along. I think if you lose sight of the people and just think about the money you may make a few short term gains, but in the long term I doubt it does you any good. People don’t like having to deal with people they don’t like. So be nice to people, give good customer service, and you will win customers.
Thirdly and lastly, listen to criticism. I find this one really difficult, but it’s important. Some criticism will be unjustified and erroneous but you should still give it your attention just to make sure it is. However good we are at our jobs we are not perfect. However much experience we have in our field there is still more for us to learn and improvements we can make. ‘The customer is always right.’ Even when they’re wrong about what we do they may be right about the way we do things. I used to hate it at school when I had to go up to the front and let the teacher mark my work whilst I stood there, but training, correction and criticism are all vital parts of an improvement process. So man up and hear your faults; then do something about them.
Right, enough of being serious on my birthday. I’m off to the pub.