Ever since graduating from university, considering it really forced me to think a lot, I had that mindset that I had most of my life (if not all) figured out. At least compared to most people. Man oh man was I wrong! It turns out, I knew not even 1/100 of life. How did I know I was wrong? I started working in a company called Bridge Southeast Asia. And these are some of the things I only learned while working that I think no one or rarely someone could learn while in school.
Either you do your job excellently or you do it poorly
Don’t get me wrong, I love school but that doesn’t mean that I won’t criticise it a bit. One thing that I used to love about school was passing grades. That means for me that I don’t have to exert a lot of effort and I just have to push myself to a certain extent that I feel I would get at least a passing grade. It’s great for us students since it won’t take a lot of work to be promoted from one level to another. But it isn’t the same for work. This is an important lesson I learned immediately after I started my internship. There is no passing grade in the professional life. It’s either you do it as expected of you or not at all. If you can’t do what’s expected of you, then find a way around it. For example, my job is to get leads and the primary way we go about it is through calls and emails. To say that I have excellently done my job, it means that I get a constant in-flux of leads. But of course, we all know that simply calling and e-mailing won’t guarantee me a lead every time. This would then entail me to think creatively about it. I would then research the best times to call, the best subject heading, the most optimal workflow, the tone of voice I should have over the phone, etc. Because whether the results are bad or good, I would be the one accountable for them.
No matter how hard you work, results are the ones that count the most.
This is one principle that I really agree on. For me, this just tells me that simply doing the task or what’s being asked of me won’t cut it. I would have to think critically and intelligently about my tasks and activities so that they would get the desired results. I remember a story toled by one of our managers wherein he baked cookies for his brothers that were rock solid. He poured his best efforts into his cookies but they didn’t just reach that level that they would even be considered edible. At the end, it didn’t matter how much effort he spent baking those cookies. They just couldn’t be eaten and they weren’t good.
This forces me then to really think about my tasks and the best way to approach them. It isn’t just about working hard, but it’s also about working smart. If someone works 10 hours and another works 4 hours but they get the same result, wouldn’t you prefer the one who works shorter hours?
The goal never changes, it’s the way to that goal that can change
One aspect of school that many students benefited from was that if majority of the students failed in a test, the passing or the perfect score would be curved so that many students would pass. Working in a startup, I realized (although used in the right context) this could be beneficial, but it doesn’t help the person grow. For us in Bridge, if you ask the objectives for each individual and each department, you would realize that they are stretch goals and most are out of each of our capacities. Every quarter we would then evaluate these goals and how much we have achieved. Although most of us haven’t even reached half of the goals, the topics for these meetings involve asking of ways to reach the goal and not what a realistic, reachable goal is. The question then becomes how we are to achieve these goals? It becomes a question of creativity, thinking of ways that doesn’t rely on our capacities but rather on increasing our capacities. Which brings me to..
Your goal should be uncomfortable and bigger than yourself
That being said, the goal should be something that is beyond your current capacity, not something you know you could achieve. In Bridge, we call these Big, Hairy, and Audacious Goals (BHAGs). They are big because they really are goals that are beyond ourselves. They are hairy because they are complicated and involve critical thinking. They are audacious because these goals are so big that we have to take a bold step to say we will achieve these goals. In the end, although these goals are rarely achieved 100%, we ask ourselves if we truly pushed ourselves to the limit to really go out of our comfort zones and did everything we can to accomplish them. In the bare minimum, one should have at least grown. Not only that, these goals are so big and ridiculous that even if we just accomplish 50% of it, that in itself already brought a lot of value to the company.
A recurring theme I saw among these lessons I learned is that they always involved getting the person out of their comfort zones and pushing themselves to the limit which I think is what school in general doesn’t really give much emphasis on considering the passing marks, curving and pity points. This is one of the reasons I would say I really recommend students to have an internship as early as possible so that they could experience and hopefully also learn these lessons I learned. If I had learned these lessons as a student, I could just imagine how life would have been much different for me back then.