With the COVID-era rah-rah around the great resignation, it’s hard not to get sucked into the zeitgeist that young people are disgruntled with their workplaces and eager to yeet to the next shiny thing.
But taking a step back, it’s not always the job that is the root of our career discontent.
Often, it’s how we perceive the job, and our attitude towards work lives on even as we switch roles and companies.
I can recall being apprehensive about whether to take a sales internship at Uber, because I had a misguided perception that sales wasn’t cognitive, strategic, intellectual, or prestigious enough.
It ended up being one of my favourite roles as a student, I learned a ton from my manager’s approach to team culture & motivation, and I built a muscle for sales after hundreds of outbound calls to small restaurants in New Zealand that will serve me for life in shamelessly shooting my shot.
In musing on this topic, I was lucky enough to spar with wordmaster Tash Gillezeau, who spent the first three years of her career writing for the Australian Financial Review, specialising in covering the Aussie tech & business landscape.
Now moving into her first startup role as a product manager at Flux Finance, here’s what she had to say:
"The best drug in the world is novelty — new people, new places, new projects.
But unless you understand the value of commitment and growing something under your feet over time, you risk growing addicted to the “switch” and not being able to do so from a mindful place.
We’re in the midst of a great employment reshuffle, if mainly among professional workers according to ABS statistics. It’s especially true in tech, where newness holds particular allure for people attracted to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.
But experiment with changing your perspective before changing jobs, because I guarantee you will bring aspects of how you view work in general into your next role.
I don’t mean toughing it out in work that obviously doesn’t suit you in an environment where some serious workplace voodoo sh*t is going down. I also don’t suggest ignoring structural issues within an industry.
But I do believe in treating the opportunity in front of you like it’s exactly where you’re supposed to be right now, and seeing what flows from that, because that’s what I did about six months into working at The Australian Financial Review and it helped me to feel genuinely excited working as a journalist.
In November 2018, I was one of seven candidates to land a cadetship at The AFR, which turned into a full time job as technology, media and marketing reporter at the end of a whirlwind year writing about politics, markets, companies, property, and technology.
I was excited from the get go about the opportunity ahead of me, surrounded by the best in the business, but it took time to dial the stress-to-fulfilment knob radically towards the latter.
Halfway through my cadetship, I read a quote by Korean monk Haemin Sunim telling young people to “learn to love the job they have”.
He wasn’t saying stay when you know you should go — Sunim himself quit academia to become a monk — but what resonated for me was the provocation to take control of your own gaze on the world.
From this place, you can see what needs to change — if it’s the job or your attitude.
For some irony here, this year I’m leaving the AFR to go work in product management at an incredible start-up called Flux.
But this was a deeply considered decision where I weighed up leaving a job I grew to love for a different opportunity that I feel is the right purpose, right time, and right people.
Existential questions are great, but answers come from experience 🤔
Many young people are plagued with questions like:
- What is my dream job?
- In what role will I find my body undulating with pure passion each day that I open my laptop?
- Where can I feel my breastplate dripping with sweat from the ecstasy of checking things off my Asana daily To-Do list?
Those questions are important. Keep them coming. Note that instances of pure euphoria are unlikely to happen at work, however if this is you, please slide into my LinkedIn DMs with the juicy details.
More importantly, the best way to get some real feedback on your existential dilemmas is to give your current job a really good go and find out what’s possible at your organisation.
Meme culture has been a boon for understanding the ‘real’ side of many industries — from slide deck jokes in consulting land to revamped pitch deck banter in investment banking. But social media is more simulacrum than anything else, so there is no substitute for trying things for yourself.
For me, journalism was a fit. However, one of my fellow cadets found that despite her long held dream to break into media, she preferred the buzz of a courtroom. She quit to become a barrister. Get out of your head and have a go.
Our stereotypes of roles and industries miss a lot of nuance 🔎
Developing a deep respect for humanity involves understanding different roles in society, and as a journalist, I’ve had a front row seat to this. I’ve:
- Attended Liberal and Labor party functions
- Interviewed US Democrats from an inner city pub
- Gone to fund manager conferences where I was one of the only women in the room
- Chatted to ordinary people about their thoughts on everything from dating apps to parks
- Interviewed leaders from startups like Hinge, Dovetail and TikTok to more established companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Xero
From this, I learned that we all carry a lot of preconceived ideas about what the world is, how the ‘other’ thinks, but you have to go digging to find out what ‘reality’ is for yourself.
This is how you can ‘learn’ to love something — you actually find out for yourself what a job, industry, or role type actually involves, rather than making assumptions from stereotypes.
Before starting at the AFR, I knew a lot about writing and some about law. I knew little about business, and although I had a latent interest in the topic, I also harboured some Succession-style stereotypes about its actors and vague notions that free markets necessarily rely on “exploitation” from my Sydney University days.
Digging into the world for myself, I developed a far deeper respect for the players and organisations and wound up igniting a personal passion for business.
Are there issues, BS, and sometimes even fraud too? Yes, of course. That’s human nature.
But I realised that my views lacked nuance, and some weren’t even my own.
In the areas of your job that you’re less interested in, find the nuggets that energise you 🔋
As a junior employee, it’s inevitable that you will spend time in areas or rotations that frankly are not your bag. For me, that was property and markets at the AFR.
My editors were awesome, but the subject matter wasn’t what got me out of bed in the morning. But I was there to learn.
And honestly, finding the nuggets of fun and curiosity within each domain helps you to understand what your colleagues are doing and also to respect that all the parts make the whole.
One example in the property space: chatting to a barrister on the phone and finding out about a case, going to the case, finding the complainant's address, and rocking up to her house in person.
Property reporting as a whole didn’t thrill me, but I liked having to work out the tactics of getting a person to open up about a tough experience and agree to have it published in the paper.
Don't feel the need to match the typical image of someone in your industry 🖼
When you enter an industry, you also unwittingly enter a “story” about what your profession looks like. For journalists, that includes rambunctious alcoholics raging down the phone at sources to characters like Zoe Marie Barnes from House of Cards having her career and life cut short after Frank Underwood has her pushed in front of an oncoming train.
Salacious on screen, ruinous in reality. You don’t have to become a character to do your job, and in fact you’re not going to love the job you have if you don’t feel like ‘you’ when doing it.
Don’t be totally naive about an industry or institution’s capacity to shape you, in both good and bad ways. You will pick up habits, a lingua franca, a way of seeing the world, and a unique set of ethics.
But carve out time for the things that matter to you. For me, that’s dance, reading, and seeing loved ones.
Work out the non-negotiable aspects of living a happy life for you and don’t let that slide.
Sigmund Freud once said a marker of a whole person is someone who devotes time to work, love, and play. Work does not need to consume your life now that you have a “real” job.
I have had great chats with people from ASX-listed company CEOs to top tier law firm partners in my three years at The AFR, and I think that there are only a tiny minority of people who truly seem to thrive with work being the centre of their universe.
Let me be even more frank: I’ve had grown men on the phone tell me that they are lonely and struggling to connect with the people around them, and that they have suffered from burnout so severe they needed to go to hospital.
The people who can make work their life and be energised by this alone do exist, but they are the minority. Everyone else needs a balance, and the habits and choices required to make that happen start now.
Be open and push for what you care about 💪
This took me some time to learn, but your managers, editors and senior leaders cannot read your mind.
You have to make it clear what you enjoy, once you’ve built up those relationships and you have learned more about how your organisation works.
There is a fine line between self-advocacy and entitlement, but with some awareness you’ll know in your head and heart what your weak spot is, and which of those two characteristics you need to put the accelerator or brakes on at your current job.
At the end of my graduate year, I made it clear that I wanted to specialise in technology, media, and marketing, because:
- I was the most interested in these topics.
- These were changing industries, and I thought I could compete with fresh ideas and perspectives better in these areas than aspects of the paper where we have some of the best and most experienced reporters in the country - people like Phillip Coorey in politics and Jonathan Shapiro in financial markets.
I also like analysis, which led me to exploring the gaming industry, the future of social media, and Apple’s consistently classy approach to advertising. I’ve left those interviews energised, inspired and eager to go and write about the people and their ventures.
On the flipside, I realised pretty early on that something I didn’t like was throwing sources under the bus for a scoop, like I did with this story on Atrium’s collapse.
To me, that just wasn’t the kind of journalist I wanted to become, even though it can be essential to hold power to account and to get stories ahead of time.
These stories all came about due to the pitching culture in journalism, which is when you go to your editor with an idea for a story. They can grant you a green light to go make it happen, an amber light to give you modifications, or a red light if the idea is no good or not suited to the publication.
If you’re in the right place, people will want you to be working on things that you like.
If they don’t - and this wasn’t my experience - that’s good feedback that this work environment isn’t supportive.
Even if you cultivate a positive perspective on your work, and start to feel the benefits that come from this both in terms of how engaged you are at your job and the quality of the work itself improving, there will be lulls.
For me, during a particularly boring tear of writing straight financial results articles and COVID-19 reporting, I pitched and wrote a story on founders having fun, because I wanted to give AFR readers some good vibes in the midst of a deluge of bad news and also to reignite my own passion for writing during a stressful time.
The power of perspective is not a one time choice, it’s a gaze you can cultivate. To me it’s not about forced positivity out of kilter with reality, or staying put when it’s time to move on.
But in a culture where comparison is rife and grass-is-greener syndrome can make you feel like where you now are isn’t good enough, turning your attention to what job is in front of you and embracing every element of it can be the very answer to getting the most out of it 🧡