Top 5 Things I Learned From My Last Job

I was chatting last week with one of my colleagues about my impending last day of work with the company when she said, “I knew right away you wouldn’t last.”

She wasn’t saying it to be mean. She just realized something that I didn’t when I first accepted the job: a daily two-and-a-half hour commute is effing insane.

I may be a slow learner, but I did learn, eventually. After two years of driving that long stretch of road between Red Deer and Leduc, I said goodbye to a really cool job where I got to learn some really cool things.

And I don’t just mean I got to work on some awesome projects (well, I did – a rebranding, a website redevelopment, a magazine revitalization, an e-newsletter launch, and a wiki.) I mean the life lessons you gain from being in way over your head.

So here they are, the morning after my last day at work: the top 5 things I learned from my last job.

1. Figure out what you love to do and do more of that. A large part of my job involved writing, editing, and publishing the company’s quarterly magazine. Cool. I’ve always wanted to be an editor. Well, the editing parts were fine, but I figured out very quickly that the thing I liked most about putting out the magazine was interviewing passionate agriculture industry professionals – especially researchers – and sharing their stories through my writing. So I found a job that will allow me to do that, and only that, every single day. (That I get to do it from home for a publication I respect is an added bonus.)

2. Adversity is the best teacher. Let’s face it: you don’t learn shit when things are going smoothly. Last winter, in the span of three months, I had to finalize the company’s rebranding, write the new website, write and design our first ever annual report, publish an issue of the magazine (including just so much writing), attend two four-day tradeshows, move offices, and travel across the province for five meetings – on top of all the day-to-day things that come up in a communications job. I was at my limit.

But I broke it down into manageable tasks, prioritized, and did a lot of yoga in my off time. And I got through it – without missing a deadline or slacking off on the quality of my output. It was awfully stressful when it was happening, but nothing lasts forever, and if I know that, if I’m ever in that position again, I have the experience to get me through it. If I had given up then like I sometimes wanted to, I wouldn’t know now just what I’m capable of.

3. If you leave when things are bad, they don’t have a chance to get better. My job was tough last winter (see previous point.) It may not be my most admirable trait, but when things are tough, I often cut and run. (I like to think it’s an instinctual fight-or-flight response to stress. Or not. Whatever. I’m working on it.) For various reasons – mainly, I didn’t want to be the jerk that left the organization in the lurch – I didn’t just call it quits last winter, and I’m glad I toughed it out.

After the website and rebranding launch, things returned to normal levels of busy, and once I had a chance to breathe, I was so proud of the work we had accomplished in such a short span. By staying, I not only had a chance to be part of the team who elevated the organization to new levels; I also had the opportunity to work on new projects, like the new e-newsletter and the wiki, and to gain experience that will help me in my new job. Had I left last winter instead of when my contract ended in August, I wouldn’t be where I am today, doing what I’m doing now.

4. Being assertive doesn’t make you a jerk (unless you’re already a jerk.) Throughout the early parts of my career as a communications professional, I laboured under the assumption that the client is always right. But as I’ve gained experience, I’ve come to value my hard-earned lessons from past projects about what works and what doesn’t. Even so, I often find it hard to stand up for myself and my expertise.

But when you’re essentially managing communications for an organization that you want to succeed, sometimes you have no choice but to trust in your experience and defend it. And that doesn’t automatically make you a jerk – unless you do it in a jerky way. I’ve learned it’s perfectly possible to be assertive and stand firm in a polite, professional, even friendly way.

5. No matter how much you love to drive, no matter how much you love your job, a two-and-a-half hour daily commute is, in fact, insane. ‘Nuff said.

I’ll always be grateful to the organization and the fantastic people involved in it for the opportunities and support I was given during my two years there. Leaving has been bittersweet, but if there’s something I’ve learned from my time with the company, it’s that the ag industry is a small one, and our paths will cross again.

I’m looking forward to it.

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