I have been working as an accountant for 5 years in both Sydney and Hong Kong before calling it quits and pursuing music therapy. I used to complain about my corporate job all the time. But undoubtedly I learnt some valuable lessons along the way. Today, I am going to summarise 5 key lessons I learnt from working in corporate. If you’re interested in my story, read it here.
First thing first: not everyone is “supposed to” work in an office environment (i.e. white-collar work). It took me years to figure this out and eventually let go of the idea that it is a natural thing to get an office job after graduating from Uni. It was probably due to the fact that I was being brought up with that idea ingrained in my head. If you are someone who can’t sit still, who hates the same routine or same environment, office work really isn’t for you. You have one life to live, so find your own happy place. Nonetheless, my 5 years of corporate job experience did teach me a few life lessons.
1/ The importance of routine, human connection and discipline
I have a contradicting relationship between routine and discipline. On one hand, I need certain routines in my life, but on the other hand I hate boring patterns. The truth is, human beings are creatures of habits, so no matter how much you hate mundane lifestyle, you still have certain routines in your life. Over time, I recognised I might not have hated my corporate life that much if I worked part time. I craved for a sweet spot between routine and flexibility.
Without routines, we get lost in life easily. We don’t have the anchors and set paths in our everyday lives. In times of chaos (e.g. pandemic), routines are proven to be essential since they are something that we CAN control. You would have noticed the difference in your energy level and mood when you started working from home instead of commuting to office like before. At first, you thought it was liberating to get out of a boring routine. Soon you started feeling confused and frustrated without the daily 10am coffee break and pantry gossip. Similarly, you would feel like you are missing something when you couldn’t go to your usual 8am group fitness class at the gym during lockdown. Everything’s about routines and human connection. I never liked small talks, but I found myself missing that during lockdown.
Hence, my corporate job really taught me the importance of routines. I learnt about when I was the most productive. I learnt about eating the frog. I learnt about prioritising tasks. More importantly, I learnt about how being in a few sets of routines made me a more disciplined person. When you had a corporate job, your boundary was clear: you never bring work home. You had enough self control to not slack off too much during office hour so you would be able to finish your tasks in office and enjoy your evening. This is discipline. When you didn’t have that routine and self control, life fell apart a bit. Working from home blurred that boundary. And it is your responsibility to maintain discipline and get things done.
2/ The importance of a support environment
Many people choose to stay in their roles because of their teammates. No matter how annoying the job nature, the clients or the bosses are, they somehow choose to endure all that because of supportive colleagues. I personally don’t think this is sustainable, but undeniably it works for some people. A supportive environment fosters growth and happiness. A toxic one ignites gossips, unhealthy competition and negative vibes. It’s not just about the job nature, the office environment and team structure, but also the network. Yes, people form part of the environment.
Environment not only affects one’s mood, but also productivity and behaviours. If you set your environment right, you set yourself up for success. Most people learn the hard way during pandemic. Just like having a set routine, when you are forced to leave the supportive environment, how do you maintain the quality of your work?
3/ A 9-5 work life means getting a FIXED salary, not a stable one
People feel so insecure to quit their job. We are wired to think that starting a business or freelancing is riskier than being employed. Don’t confuse a fixed pay check with stability. The pandemic has certainly taught us that. Being employed is as risky, if not, more risky, than choosing the alternatives. Things aren’t under your control. However, I am not going to discount the fact that being employed does come with perks like company benefits, health insurance, 401(k) and paid leaves. It is just not a lifestyle I would like to subscribe to. What I learnt from my corporate life is that I don’t want a fixed pay check. Life is too short to trade time for money.
4/ Never stop learning
First few years out of Uni you are still learning heaps. You might be studying towards a qualification, like what I did with my CPA, or you are just learning on the job. Whatever you are doing, never stop learning and never stop being curious. You might have seen people who are more senior than you, in their managerial roles and you sometimes wonder how people like them get to that level. They slack off all the time, and they obviously lose touch of what’s going on in the company. It is easy to get caught in that path – when you get older, when you are more experienced, when you know enough to get the job done, you stop learning new skills. I think that is a shame. Company hierarchy might protect your job, but deep down you know you are only operating at minimum level. One of the lessons I picked up from my corporate job is that I will always be learning and upgrading my skillsets. Keep my mind sharp at all times.
5/ Make a change, not a complaint
This goes 3 ways.
1 Leverage your voice and power
Firstly, I always appreciate honesty and open policy. In workplaces, everyone should be able to express their views freely. If someone doesn’t like something about the current situation, he or she should communicate with others and find a common ground. Well, that sounds too ideal I know. I believe everyone can contribute certain changes, depending on how much power they have within the structure. It is all about a change in perspective – instead of complaining the whole world is against them, think about what is WITHIN your control. Provide solutions, not negative vibes.
If there’s really nothing you can do about it, remember there is something still within your control.
2 Change your mindset, perspective and attitude
You can change how you think and feel about the situation. Complaint is very much a type of reaction. But you want to pause, think and respond instead.
The situation might not seem favourable. Try seeing it from a different angle. What positive events could you make out of it? How could you benefit from it still?
Everyone has their own threshold of tolerance. When things get out of hand – for example, when the pressure starts to affect your physical and mental health, you know it’s sign that you should leave.
3 Quitting is sometimes for the winners
I quit 3 different jobs in the past 5 years. I vividly remember that feeling when I finally could ignore the 100 unread emails, 20 flagged tasks and messy cabinet. If any of my ex-colleagues are reading this, I hope I didn’t make your job difficult. It was indeed liberating to say “I’m outta here”. The decision is not an easy one, but when you had a clear goal and you knew your current environment and situation were not serving you that purpose, it was time to change. We hear a lot about “ hang in there, don’t give up” mantra. Sometimes, quitting is for the winners. Quit things that don’t serve your future goals. Quit the bad habits, toxic environments and negative energy. Ignore what everyone else is doing. It is your future, your life.
It is all about perspectives. You can hate your life, complain about your current situation, or you can look at it from different lenses and make the most of it. I learnt a lot from my corporate jobs and I was grateful for the experience.
Lessons are repeated until learnt. Take a good look at your current situation – are you denying, resisting, pushing through, or learning and enjoying? What can you leverage in this circumstance? How do you apply this piece of knowledge in achieving your goals?