Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines, one of the leading technology firms in the country.
Landing one job is hard. Having worked at four different companies is something I’m proud of, but at the same time, I'm appreciative for both the privilege and the luck I’ve had as a job-seeker. Had I stayed working for just one of these companies instead of bouncing around over the last seven years, there’s no way I would be able to draw these conclusions about work.
The gift of having a job, especially one that fills your days with purpose while keeping you financially afloat, is something I continue to be thankful for. Many times, I have been ungrateful (even to the point where I turn in my resignation) despite having a fun job that pays decently. Early on in my career, I was the type to really go after it—to give my work 200 percent, miss family events to be in the office, and go above and beyond what my job description demands.
Lately, though, I’ve become more of a skeptic. I’ve probably reached the point in my career where I realize my job’s own mortality—that is, just like people, jobs come and go, and they don’t exist forever. That’s not to say that being an employee can’t be enjoyable anymore; work still provides me with a sense of fulfillment and validation that my years of studying and gaining work experience were not for naught. With that, I’d like to share four lessons I've learned by working four different jobs so far in my career.
1. Your Job Is Not Your Identity
When you’re working, sometimes it is difficult to dissociate yourself from what you’re paid to do. I wish I had learned early on how important it was to separate myself from the worker who bore my name and ID. This is very crucial, especially when you get criticized about a project that you led or something that you’re accountable for.
I remember back at my first job as a maintenance engineer, there were three of us responsible for setting up the sound system for the mandatory flag ceremony on Mondays. Of the three of us, there was only one who was assigned to be the "operator" during the program. The operator was responsible for making sure the volume was good, the sequences in the program were in order, and that nothing in the sound system disrupted the program. One Monday, during the playing of the company’s theme song, the music was cutting on and off in the middle. It was not that awful, but it wasn’t that great, either.
After the flag ceremony, the general manager approached the operator (which, thank goodness, wasn’t me at the time) and berated him in front of the whole company. My teammate who was being screamed at tried to provide reasons for the mishap—that the amplifier was old and buggy, etc.—but the big boss wasn’t having it and just talked over him the whole time. It was just awful. I felt almost everything my teammate felt at that moment; it was torture.
Looking back on that moment now, I realize how important it is to detach ourselves from our jobs. While the general manager was personally attacking my teammate, what he was really upset about was the sounds system—not the person. The person could have been anyone; it was just a botched job. I was sensitive to the beratement because I pictured myself in my teammate’s shoes, taking all the blame and experiencing all that embarrassment in front of everybody. But that moment shouldn’t define my teammate as a person. Sure, he was subjected to unfair bias from some people after that incident, but I would assume these are the people who equate their worth with their own jobs. And we are more than just our jobs. Moments of incompetence or bad luck shouldn’t define us.
2. Your Job Title Is Just a Name
This works both ways. Just the other day, I saw a local job ad for a "graphic artist," and in the job description, in addition to creating designs and layouts, duties like "manage Facebook and Instagram stories," "create daily content," and "generate sales reports" were included. You might think that it’s only in the tech startup arena where you’ll see job postings for unicorns, but these things are everywhere.
That brings me to the other side to this; your job title doesn’t have to be limited to what it’s called or what it normally does, but you can mold your job into something bigger and better that helps you gain new skills to apply for a future role you might be interested in.
You might call something like this being proactive and having initiative, but really, it is all about being creative with what your company will pay you to do. If your company can just offload different types of work on your plate, work that you never have imagined doing before you signed your employment agreement, then you might as well get creative with the things you do at work.
I understand that this isn’t possible with every type of role—some jobs are truly rigid and squeeze out every minute of your working day—but this is one principle that continues to get reinforced with each job I have.
3. Flexibility Is a Double-Edged Sword
Pre-pandemic, we all dreamed of the day when we could just take our jobs anywhere and work whatever schedule suited our wants and needs, but the new work-life during the pandemic has made many people realize how flexible working arrangements can actually be a pain.
I do admire companies who offer as much flexibility as they can to their workers—companies and bosses who accommodate employees who want some time off or have personal appointments to attend to on a recurring basis—basically, those employers who are pretty "chill." At the same time, I’ve learned that these highly flexible companies are sometimes the same companies that do not define your work hours.
Let me say that again. They do not define your work hours. And that is because they want you to be flexible enough to take on a task when it suits them. They’ll message you repeatedly at 10 p.m. and then schedule a meeting at 8 a.m. the following morning.
Flexibility works both ways. We've always assumed we’d be better off if our hours were more flexible. Unfortunately, I have learned this the hard way, and I wish companies in the "new normal" defined work hours better to reduce employee burnout.
4. Mentorship Is Highly Underrated
Last but not least important of the four lessons I’ve learned is that mentorship is highly underrated. The supervisors and managers I’ve had were, informally, my mentors, and they gave me nuggets and gems that made me better as a person. This is one of the reasons work experience is so important. There are so many informal things that you just can’t learn in a school setting.
These mentors often did not teach me things directly. By getting to know their backgrounds more and more as I worked with them, I was able to get a sense of how they navigated their own jobs. I was able to learn more about my own job by learning about theirs.
We often think about our jobs as separate from others. I understand that organizations are built as teams, and professional individuals work within those teams, but there’s a tendency to think of our jobs as being isolated from others, especially when you’re a specialist within your team. However, mentors make sense of your role as part of the bigger whole. Your leader thinks about how you factor in and the value you add to your organization.
Learning this lesson has made me appreciate mentorship. Mentors want you to thrive because your success will benefit the rest of the team.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.