10 lessons from my 10 years at work


As I approach a mini milestone of 10 years of ‘working’ it felt like the perfect time to reflect and think about the key lessons from this time. I’ve written this in the hope at least one person will takeaway something and apply it to their life. It should be helpful for everyone, but it’s aimed for those who are in the early part of their career.

10 or 18 years? Well, if I count my teenage years of casual working then I’ve actually been working for 18 years. From working on a chicken farm, washing cars, painting lighthouses in Guernsey, working in the kitchen at Dobbies garden centre and waiter at two Oxford university colleges. All these experiences have helped me compile these 10 lessons:

  1. Don’t be a moaner

Us humans seem to have a long standing love affair with moaning. Whether it’s about our workload, not getting a job we wanted – people seem to love a good moan at work. In life things won’t always go the way you had hoped for, or people may not behave as you expected, and it’s so easy to fall into trap of moaning about it. It achieves absolutely nothing, isn’t productive and is a negative spiral that leads to a dead end every single time.

Remember: No-one likes a moaner and people will rarely call you out when you moan, so you need to self-regulate this.

Solution: Take ownership and be accountable. Make positive steps towards improving the situation that is causing you to moan.

  1. Focus on the marginal gains

This is even more important for the Instagram generation who are in the first decade of their career. Nowadays there is more pressure than ever to be a ‘success’ and for this to be represented in your Instagram account. Success doesn’t happen overnight, it happens through consistent hard work each day and by compounding marginal gains over time. What is marginal gains, you ask? It’s simply lots of small improvements that add up to make big results. It’s great to have ambitious targets and aiming for stretching jobs, but you need set clear steps towards that and then work backwards and focus on small changes and personal development improvements.

Remember: Every experience counts, so be pro-active in seeking feedback and get involved in as much as you can. 95% of learning happens outside your comfort zone.

Solution: To keep focussed I set myself 12 week targets that I work towards. These targets keep me motivated and in themselves won’t achieve my end goal, however they’ll compound overtime to support me in achieving the overall aim.

  1. Be bold and apply for jobs that you deem ‘out of your reach’

One of my successes in the first decade of my career has been about not being scared to apply for jobs that were slightly out of my comfort zone or seemed a few years away. The majority of employers aren’t looking for someone that’s 100% and ticks all the boxes.

Remember: It’s for the employer to decide and assess if you’re ready and capable to do the role, not you. So, if you don’t apply for the role, then I can 100% guarantee you won’t get it. Fact.

Solution: Apply for jobs in the same way an actor goes for auditions. You don’t hear many actors going for one audition. If you want to progress you’ll need to stick your neck out and put yourself out there by applying for roles.

  1. This is your life and your career, take full ownership of it

If you line manager spends more than 1% of their time thinking about your career and your development, then you’re lucky. And to be fair, it’s not down to your line manager, so bin the expectations on others, take ownership and make it happen. Start building your personal development and career plan (DM me if you’d like a copy of my template).

Remember: You need to own and drive your development

Solution: Develop your own career and personal development plan. Consider whether a mentor would be helpful, if so look at your network and reach out to someone who would make a great mentor, someone who is willing to support and help you achieve your development goals.

  1. Chase the experience and the opportunity, not just the money

It’s really easy to see your salary as the key measure of ‘success’. In your first decade it’s more valuable to focus on opportunities that will enable you to gain experience and learn new skills. If you’re deciding on a job that has a slightly higher salary, I would recommend basing it on the opportunity itself rather than the salary alone – what kind of organisation is it? What experience and skills will I learn? Will I be able to go beyond the role scope? These are way more important and more valuable long term than a few extra thousand per year.

Remember: Opportunity first then the salary. A sideways move is not always a bad one over the long term.

Solution: When deciding on a new role, don’t just compare the salary. Compare the organisation culture, the learning opportunities and experience you’ll gain.

  1. Diversify your learning opportunities, don’t just focus on training courses

I’ve learned the least from a training course. I’m not dissing them, as they have a place but should form a portfolio of learning. Therefore, don’t rely on them completely or think a course or degree makes you qualified. Without sounding too cheesy, learning is a mindset and you need to have this switched on at all times, by being present and having a learning mindset you’ll be surprised how much you can learn from situations that you don’t see as ‘training’.

Remember: It’s not all about training courses, think about other ways to learn.

Solution: When you’ve developed your career / personal development plan, think outside the box and think of all the ways you could learn a specific skill. This could be getting a mentor, reading articles, researching best practice, networking in/outside your organisation, self-reflecting, shadowing meetings/specific person and practising the ‘skill’.

  1. Your well-being is number 1 priority, not work

I didn’t always put life in this order in my first 10 years of working, and it’s something I’m still working on. Well-being obviously includes physical, however my point here is really aimed at the wellbeing of your mind which tends to be neglected by most.

Remember: You’re number 1 priority, if you don’t look after yourself then you can’t be there for family/friends and without family/friends behind you, your career won’t go far.

Solution: Don’t just have a career/personal development plan, have a well-being plan too! Your career won’t be going anywhere if you’re not well.

  1. You won’t be everyone’s cuppa tea, so just focus on being you

This is something I’ve had to work on, and I’ve definitely got much better at being more comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to like or rate me. Not everyone will see the potential in you, so stop worrying about that and focus your energy on people that do.

Remember: Be you and not who you think other people want you to be

Solution: Don’t be ignorant, do spend time thinking about why someone doesn’t seem keen on you. As there might be some valuable lessons to learn from. But don’t over-think it and move on quickly.

  1. Don’t forget, you’ve got two ears and one mouth

Listening is completely underrated and something most of us could be better at. How many of us listen for a gap so we can say our thing and how many of us intently listen and think about what someone has said? I’ve always found the model of two ears and one mouth helpful way to self-regulate, meaning you should generally speak for 50% less time compared to your time listening.

Remember: Make sure you spend more time listening than talking. You learn so much more from listening to others than you do from talking.

Solution: Practice active listening – with clear focus and intent on what the other person is saying. If this is in a virtual setting, don’t look at email or your phone during a meeting, just listen 100%.

  1. Always be kind

This speaks for itself. Be kind and think about others.


I’d love to hear from you….

what lessons do you have from your career? what lessons of mine stand out the most?

If you’d like to receive a FREE one hour career / personal development mentoring session with me, just reach out and we can get something booked in.


4 Responses

  1. So many fabulous lessons in here Paul, I really like the suggestions you make for each too. Thank you for putting this together, I really enjoyed absorbing it.

    I’ve definitely been a moaner and on reflection the only productive way forward was to change what I could and accept what I couldn’t!

    My most valuable lesson to date has been to forget the money and follow my heart.

  2. Love it Paul and I can see myself on a few of them. It has made me think and reflect. Waiting for you next piece now. I am hooked!!

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