The things I wish I knew then

Way back on 12 December 1967, I started my first job – with the princely salary of $1,589 per annum.

Fresh out of school and with the dream of becoming an accountant, I started working for the Australian General Insurance Company, part of Mercantile Mutual Insurance.

Their un-air-conditioned offices were at 117 Pitt Street Sydney, the lifts were driven by lift drivers, and the lunch rooms in the basement were segregated for the male and female staff.

Becoming an accountant never eventuated – but there is still time!

As I looked back on those days, I started to reflect on the things I have learnt over the past 50 years and what advice would I give to myself if I could have my time over. Of course, a lifetime of learning and experiences – both good and not-so-good – can’t be commuted to one article but let’s see how we go – in no particular order:

  1. Start learning – continue learning – never stop learning. This applies equally to formal and informal learning. You don’t need a university education to succeed in life but sometimes it might help. Never begrudge continuing professional or personal development.
  2. Love what you do – there is no point in working in a job you don’t have a passion for. Find your passion and exploit it.
  3. Respect others – be they bosses, fellow workers, our own staff, customers or competitors. If we respect others, that respect will be returned.
  4. Never say or do anything we would not like to have go viral on social media.
  5. Be on time – for everything – work, meetings, appointments, training, and social events.
  6. Plan ahead – have a clear picture of what needs to be done each day to achieve your goals and objectives.
  7. Do the best you possibly can in every situation. Nearly good enough is unacceptable. Aim for perfection. Put 100% into every task, no matter how menial it may be. Even if it is simply making a cup of coffee or cleaning the bathroom, make it the best coffee or the cleanest bathroom ever. The increment between good and great can be achieved with little extra effort.
  8. Prepare solid foundations for life. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Be ambitious but learn to crawl before you walk.
  9. Pass on skills to others. None of us are important enough to think we don’t have an obligation to help others along life’s path.
  10. Be humble, gracious, polite and courteous to everyone we come across. Make their day. Say something nice and unexpected to a stranger.
  11. Learn to say ‘no’, but with dignity and grace (I am still learning that one!).
  12. Under promise and over deliver – a cliché I know, but it works.
  13. Always dress appropriately. Dress one step above the crowd. You will stand out and be noticed. Nobody with healthy self-respect achieves anything positive by looking like a slob.
  14. Never say or write anything about anyone that you wouldn’t be happy for them to read or hear. All too often things we say in confidence will come back to bite us.
  15. Email and texting can be wonderfully convenient and instant. But if typing something in the heat of the moment – take a breather before hitting the ‘send’ button.
  16. Be confident in your own abilities. Invest time and money in self-improvement or personal development. Attending live events adds another dimension to simply reading a book or listening to a podcast. Embrace the opportunity to grow.
  17. Embrace goal setting. Set goals – visualise what you would like to achieve – chunk goals down to bite-sized pieces, and get started. Don’t forget to review your progress and reward yourself for your achievements. Keep a journal and record your progress.
  18. Learn from the masters. In every field of life, there are people who stand out from the crowd as recognised experts. Learn from them and apply their teachings to your own life. Surprisingly most high achievers are willing to share their experiences with anyone who will just ask.
  19. Eat healthy food. Exercise often. Obesity is the new smoking!
  20. Understand and embrace your ‘WHY’.

Many readers will be familiar with the work of Simon Sinek. If not, have a look at his 2009 Ted Talk. With almost 36 million views, this is the third most popular Ted Talk of all time. Nobody is really interested in what you do or how you do it. They are interested in WHY you do it.

In 50 years of working life, understanding my WHY was one of the more defining moments. Once we know what drives us, what motivates us, what gets us out of bed each day – everything else falls into place.

So what does the future hold?

I know my WHY – and I still have a lot of work to do.

Thank you for indulging me in this personal journey.

Here’s to the next 50 years!


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