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Lessons from Work
5 lessons from working that have shaped my mindset
A huge chunk of your growth as a human being will take place at work.
The thing is, most of us don’t get to choose the people we work with, nor the situations we will face. Yet we learn from each.
I've worked in a dozen different positions over the past decade—from stop-motion animator to start-up Product Manager. While each role expanded my skill set, the lessons I most treasure have nothing to do with the specifics of each job.
There are bigger lessons I have learned that I want to share with you.
Lesson 1: Take on opportunities (to see where they might lead)
Behind every opportunity lies a journey that is unknowable to you in that moment.
Taking on any new opportunity will, through cause and effect, open up new paths of possibility. This is what happened to me back in 2011 when I saw an ad for a short film competition. I convinced my partner to make a 2-minute film together over the space of a weekend. It was a low-odds bet but it paid off.
Not only did we win, but the exposure we got encouraged us to start our own animation production company, which we profitably ran for four years. Taking that first step towards something unlocks a second step, which then unlocks a third and so on. And there is no way of knowing at the outset what those latter stages will look like or where you will be.
To find out where any opportunity could lead, you first need to push open that initial door.
Lesson 2: An idea is nothing without hard work
Coming up with an idea is the easy part; bringing it out into the world is what is hard.
Imagining a new idea is a wonderful skill but at some point, it will have to come face-to-face with the difficulties of reality. For example, our biggest challenge in producing animated films was always to translate imagined sequences into what the viewer would end up seeing.
Because our medium was stop-motion, that meant countless hours bent over a set and under hot lights, painstakingly moving element after element. It meant working a whole day or night to make a few seconds of animation. Yet all that work was invisible to the viewer because it was done in service of the idea.
It’s too easy to underestimate the amount of work things of value take to make.
Lesson 3: Learn how you can learn better
The ability to learn is itself a skill that you can learn to get better at.
Learning is nothing more than the process of connecting new concepts. In my experience, the efficiency with which you do that in a professional environment determines how successful you will be. For example, during my stint in the Gaming industry, I worked three distinct roles in four years. And each new position demanded that I apply new skills as I was learning them.
Each new problem demands new ways of seeing, new technologies to understand and new people to work with. In a world of increasing specialisation, I don’t see that changing.
The capacity to learn is the meta-skill needed to keep moving forward.
Lesson 4: Growth without fear doesn’t exist
Doing new things will always bring fear along for the ride.
Things we haven’t done before tend to be daunting because we don’t know what to expect. After COVID put a lot of us remote, I started a new job as a Product Manager in the startup space. One of my tasks was to facilitate online workshops and, given I had never done that before, I remember feeling nervous.
As I was getting ready to join one of those calls though, it dawned on me: fear and excitement are incredibly similar, like two sides of the same coin. It just depends from where you look at it.
Try to reframe fear as feeling excitement at doing something new.
Lesson 5: Inspiration is a precious gift
There is something almost spiritually powerful about getting inspired.
It is an energy that moves us to set out on our journeys, the maps of which only exist in our minds. I doubt that much of our best achievements as humans would exist without it.
I’ve been writing this newsletter for several weeks and, now that the initial excitement is wearing off, it would be easy for me to quit. But I won’t because I’m inspired by the people who are ahead of me on my current journey. They show me what is possible and the most inspiring even light the way.
May you too be inspired to do what is calling you.