Well summer is officially over and everyone I’m meeting is shifting into “back to school” mode. September always signals new beginnings. I’ve been reflecting about how important it is to collaborate with others to succeed at work. Sometimes this results in some unlikely alliances.
Here’s how my work story started. Right after I graduated from university I finished first in a selection process to get my first job. My spectacular interview performance put me on the “she’s the one to watch” list and my future looked bright. Despite a promising start, my entry into the world of work turned into a nightmare.
I experienced what happens when you don’t get the training you need to learn a complex job. I experienced first-hand the hell of high expectations to produce, yet receiving minimal direction and support. What a humbling experience. I didn’t have past work successes to balance what I was experiencing in this first job.
It was a horrible feeling wanting to do a great job but not having the support to get it right. What a rude awakening and confidence shaker for anyone – especially your first real job. I was absolutely mortified watching older adults behaving so badly. There were so many lessons to learn about office politics. If this was being a grown up I wanted out. It was all so disappointing and I couldn’t help but feel like a failure.
Lucky for me a few important things happened that turned things around. A chain smoking older employee with a military background named Ida took me under her wing. She swooped in and taught me what I needed to know to do the job right and showed me the ropes. Under a cloud of constant smoke Ida straightened me out and gave me the direction and support required to master the job.
My shaky start also got me very interested in how to create a different learning experience for someone new to a job. I also realized this was the most work I’d ever done ever to just be average. I knew this work was not my place to shine. I could see that easier once my work performance improved and I wasn’t just preoccupied by the fear of failing.
I am still so grateful to this woman. We had absolutely nothing in common outside of work but she was a great teacher. And she didn’t have to help me either. It wasn’t in her job description but she cared that I was struggling and offered to help.
I never forgot her generosity and I’ve tried to pass it on. I have seen that same stricken look on young people coming into the workplace all the time. Workplaces can be brutal. There is so much more to learn that they don’t teach you in school.
This wasn’t the last time I reached out and received what I needed from someone who was different than me. Teachers come in many forms. Who has been your most unlikely teacher? How has building relationships been critical to your success? When was the last time you did an inventory of your relationships at work?