What I wish I knew – Reflections on conversations that shape us
In our blog today, we take a detour to just look back and reflect on some of the conversations one would have appreciated having before entering the corporate world. These are conversations that shape us, because they inform our perceptions on life, work ,personal goals, and inform our decision making. I probably speak for most people out there when I say that I wish we all had someone to give us a “warning” or prepare us for the world of work before we go into it. Those conversations would have made a world of a difference.
Most of us, we find ourselves in situations where we shoot ourselves in the foot because we just don’t know any better, we learn the hard way. I’m going to share conversations I think were key to have had prior to entering the workforce, conversations around money, office politics and visibility in the workplace.
My Money story
If I knew better, I would have done things differently. You what they say about “ignorance is not bliss,” and that people “perish because of lack of knowledge”? Those two statements hold true, having no knowledge of something is like shooting in the dark and hoping to hit a target. That’s basically the story on money for most of us, where we find ourselves fresh out of varsity, you start working and earning some money, and you think you have arrived. Before you know it, you find yourself starting a cycle of debt, and its usually debt that you actually don’t even need, to begin with. In looking back, you actually realise that the money issue is deeper than it seems on the surface, debt is just a physical manifestation of the rooted issues.
Coming from a family where you probably had to barely get by because there was “no” money, you find that in these families, it is taboo to just speak about money openly. We are nearly not taught about wealth creation, the further you can go in discussing money with your family would probably be around saving, but that’s all. When you are older, you find that your relationship or how you perceive money becomes a problem because you have created your own stories about money, stories that get you into debt, or you find yourself living until the next paycheck.
Take time to understand what your views around money are and listen to how your body reacts when you hear about money. For instance, if you grew up experiencing financial hardships, you may feel anxious when you remember the trauma of your childhood. Sometimes you find that you spend money impulsively—or compulsively—only to feel buyer’s remorse after you have made the purchase.
Now that I know better, my advice is that whatever your situation, money issues don’t have to rule your life, start by identifying some of the underlying causes of your relationship, then look for ways to alleviate them. We should have different conversations with our kids and make it a comfortable conversation to have it with them. If you are still starting out, find someone to help you relate with money, some people will tell you that money is spiritual, its an energy.
You need to be ok discussing money matters without you having to be anxious about it. When you are comfortable, it even gives you confidence to know what your value is when it comes to you negotiating your salary at work. But that also means you must clearly understand what you bring to the table, right?
Navigating office politics
The second thing I would have loved for someone to speak to me about before my career is the system of office politics. What comes to your mind when you hear the words “office politics”? Is it all about “backstabbing,” and “sucking up” to the right people? Most of us when we hear office politics, we want to stay away because the picture/perception of what office politics are, is negative.
But, like it or hate it, office politics are a part of life in any business. All companies are political. Key to understand is what kind of office politics exist in your company, are they constructive, do they build you up or is it politics that are destructive and toxic? What’s important to understand is that it is possible to promote yourself and your cause without compromising your values or those of your company. Practicing good politics enables you to further your interests fairly and appropriately. Being aware of the “bad” politics around you will help you to avoid unnecessary trauma.
Acknowledging and understanding that every work environment has some sort of office politics will help you a lot. Remember that the office is a space with different individuals from different backgrounds, individuals who bring their personal emotions, ambitions, and needs into their professional lives. Office politics then rears its head when all these personality differences are not well managed.
The bases for making politics work for you in a positive way is to accept it as a reality and then develop strategies to recognize and understand political behavior and to build a strong and supportive network.
The trick is finding a way to navigate office politics without losing who you are, or compromising your integrity. You may want to consider, looking at your organizational make up, look at who are the influencers, who are the brains behind the business, who are the people with authority.
You need to be intentional about understanding the power dynamics that exist, you need to know how to develop strategic networks and leverage on them.
Lastly, I would like to touch on visibility at work. Most of my clients would say that they are not visible in the workplace. But what is to be visible? Do people know who you are, do they remember wat you bring to the table? You need to be able to ask yourself what it is you need to do to be visible, who are you as a brand, what are your values you stand up for?
Some tips on how to make yourself visible…
Be confident enough to speak up – it’s not always easy to voice your opinion, but if you want to be visible in your workplace, you need to learn to speak up and share your views.
If you have trouble coming up with good ideas spontaneously, prepare some thoughts prior to the meeting. Consider reading through the agenda and brainstorming some questions, points, or ideas in advance.
Own and showcase your work – be clear in what your contribution is when you do teamwork, be able to showcase what you are capable of, your skills. You want your direct boss to be aware of your abilities, and ideally even your boss’s boss too.
Use your previous skills in your new role – Think through your complete list of past accomplishments and talents and look for ways to apply them to your current work role. It’s one of the great ways to give your talents exposure outside of your role and work responsibilities.
Volunteer to sit in for your boss in their absence – Volunteering to sit in for your manager can be a big responsibility, but it can also be an opportunity to expose your talents and skills to managers you wouldn’t normally have access to.
Offer to do cross-departmental training.- If you know you have knowledge of what others can benefit from you, offer to do cross-departmental training to share your expertise. Sharing your knowledge freely, and informally not only demonstrates your know-how, but your goodwill.
I hope these reflects will help you look at your own life and give you courage to interrogate yourself and have a meaningful conversation about where you are in life. Dig deep into why you have that negative relationship with money. Be smart and find a fair and positive way to navigate your organisation’s political system. Lastly, it is not enough to just work hard and providing value to keep your career from stagnating – you need to make yourself visible. Get your head out of the sand.