Note to a decade
This week marks ten years since I started working. In equal measure, for someone else and myself. I’ve moved two cities and done things I couldn’t have even imagined. So, here’s my two cents on what I’ve learnt in the past ten years.
I majored in literature somewhere in the summer of 2009 and after many failed attempts at a masters degree and dabbling in a host of career options, I decided I wanted to be a wedding planner ( the word designer was only reserved for fashion and interiors back then!). I publicly claim it was my disadvantage of not being able to draw that led me to weddings (an industry that really required no prior skill set), but the truth is, I have always loved weddings. And designing temporary spaces in and for a short span of time began to give me a rush that I doubt other forms of spacial design would offer me.
Ten years seems so little when I see a life ahead filled with ideas of the things I want to do, but to the thirteen-year-old me it feels like such a huge accomplishment.
The past ten years have been nothing short of an adventure. I joined my dream company in fall 2009 and got to work with the masters of wedding design. In the summer of 2014, I decided to do the oddest thing, quit my dream job and start something of my own. It is the scariest thing I have ever done (and I have jumped into the ocean without any lifesaving mechanisms thirty kilometers from the beach and danced on swings two thousand meters above the ground despite my vertigo). Building something from scratch and creating my own dream company has been a true test and labor of love.
THE FIRST FIVE
I spent almost the first five years of my career working for someone else. Truth be told, back then, I couldn’t imagine another life for myself. The goal was to work hard and forever till I became someone important in my dream company and that alone was what I relentlessly pursued. I have been very fortunate to have found people in my life who wanted to teach.
These five years were spent in learning how things in the real world worked, growing up, taking responsibility and turning up day in and out- even on days I couldn’t stand to be there.
Here are five things I learnt, working for someone else:
Find yourself a career, not a job.
While I love the idea of experimenting and dabbling with things, its important to find a destination and start walking towards it. Yes, the destination will change, and you will find new routes, but its important to look for meaning in the journey and find the end goal. As someone wise once told me, your average career is easily thirty years or more (assuming you work from 25-60), that’s more than your entire existence when you start working, think of how you are going to spend those years and what you’d actually want to do.
Contribute to where you are.
One day I was standing on a site, those were the early days where I was still trying to find a method to the madness and was honestly just standing, doing nothing, hopelessly and lost when my then boss called out to me and said- “ Stop whining and start doing, anything!”- a call out that has stuck with me forever. It doesn’t matter where you are or what’s your “job”, if you aren’t contributing, you might as well go home. Even today, I hate finding people sitting around on my sites, you’d rather spend that time reading or sleeping at home than standing around.
It doesn’t matter where you work, even if you work at a dump, be the best person working at that dump and I promise, time and life will reward you.
I have found that there is no substitute for initiative and no work is big or small. One of the earliest tasks I was assigned in my role was to sort out all the fabrics in office (back then I couldn’t tell georgette for silk and when I say sort out, I mean a cupboard that spanned one wall of the entire 1000sq ft office filled with bags of little pieces of fabric that I had to organise by type and color- a task that took me almost a month)- what seemed like a ridiculous task transformed itself into a learning experience. By the end of that first year, not only did I know everything about Indian textiles and what kind to find where in the office, but also had read and sorted all the books in office and all the folders on the server which made me the go to person for anything anyone ever needed at work.
Log the hours.
We look at our lives as timelines and expect returns in the proportion of the time we give. When it comes to work, I’ve discovered that sometimes its best to simply put your head down and work- not for one year, but for two or three or more. As a new kid in office, I would constantly look at my seniors and measure myself against them and wanted to achieve their achievements in a shorter time span. I learnt the hard way that there is no alternative to time, there was no way I could have had three years of experience in one and no matter how skilled or efficient you are, experience comes only with time. This brings me to my next related learning.
Don’t quit when you’re ahead.
To me there are only two reasons to quit a company. One, if you don’t have anything left to learn from a company or two, if you don’t have anything left to give to a company. I’ve seen far too many people quit at learning curves to stress on the importance of quitting at the right time. A senior at work once told me, the first few years you spend at a job are spent learning- simply put, how things work and how you can contribute to them. The next few are a true test of you, cos those are your giving years- a test of what you have learnt and that together makes you experienced.
I’ve made a simple rule for quitting- quit six months after the thought first comes to your head. Give those six months your best and you’ll see how things around you change.
Keep a log of your accomplishments.
When I had started working, I used to live with my maternal grandparents and uncle. At the end of each day, he’d ask me what I learnt that day. I began writing it down- both the tiny and big stuff- I’ve never felt a greater sense of accomplishment. In the initial days, on my way I truly had to put thought to what I learnt that day ( on some days, it was as simple as- “Today I learnt how to refill ink in a printer”) , till I reached a point where I was consciously asking questions so I could learn something that day. We constantly measure our lives by the larger milestones, but its these daily ones that make us better people. So, give it a shot and learn something every day.
THE LAST FIVE
I have spent the larger part of the past few years trying to run a business, build a team and make a name for myself. I don’t think anyone prepares you for how lonely entrepreneurship is, especially for those of us who became creative businesses by fluke. You make something beautiful; you have to find a way to sell it and before you know things are going completely out of hand and you’re suddenly spending more time problem solving and on excel sheets than making things. My journey with my company and my team is a continuous one, I am nowhere close to where I want to be, but I have learnt a few things along the way (most of them by making some horrid mistakes).
You’re only as strong as your team.
I started out as a one man show with a supporting cast, I found a way to do things and figured I did an okay job at it all myself till I began drawings plans for growth. I soon realized that it takes a village and from there started my very personal journey of attempting to work with people. Take it from the other side, life is a lot better when you get others to run it. I used to be completely obsessed with every single detail, if there was a cockroach in the office I had to kill it, I opened and shut the office and read every single email that went out and basically between all of that completely lost my mind as well as the people who tried to work with me. I don’t claim to be better at human relations today, but I know that there are things I am not in control of and am certain that my business will run even if I take a day off and I know this all ‘cos I am surrounded by a bunch of humans who make me believe this every day. So, find a team, it’ll take time, but you will find them. And once you do, invest in them and let them know that you love them (If mine is reading this, I love you guys!). Teach them all you know, because they are your biggest asset. Some will move on and some will stay on- and those guys will be your heroes. And before you know it, they’ll be making better decisions on your behalf, and creating better designs than you and will offer you something you never had before- peace of mind and time to write lengthy blog posts.
Live for the highs.
But don’t let the lows weigh you down. Despite all my enthusiasm, there are days where I can’t go on, I challenge everything I do and have done and refuse to see a silver lining- if you run your own show, I’m certain you’ve seen a fair share of these days. Don’t let them get to you.
Bad days are a sign that good days are to come.
So wear your brightest lipstick that day, put on some good music and get on with it.
Make a list of goals.
This sounds like one of those things you hear from MBAs and on YouTube videos and I felt like it was a lot of gob-smack till I actually did it myself. Take out some time, sit and write down where you want to be and what you want to do. They could be small goals like wanting to be featured somewhere in six months or large ones or even personal ones like buying a car or hair dryer. But write them down, and every once in a while revisit them. It’s the one thing that will not only steer you in the right direction but will also give you a huge sense of accomplishment. I constantly stumble upon things I had wished for and that list continues to be my yard stick for my success.
I first read about this on Pooja Dhingra’s blog a few months ago and nothing has resonated with me more. We put way too much pressure on ourselves and constantly judge our own selves. Its okay to make mistakes, to take bad decisions and most importantly, its essential to not be too harsh on yourself. Give yourself a break every now and then, put your feet up and know that everything will work itself out in the end.
Sounds bizarre, but truly, turn up. Be there, for yourself, your clients, your team, your family, your friends. Pick your priorities and be there for those things, or before you know it, you would have lost out on your best years.
BONUS POINT. Take out time for yourself.
As young creatives, we’re obsessed with the idea of being busy. To me, busy is simply uncool. Plan your day, make time for things and people that matter and most importantly, make time for yourself. Do nothing or do what you love best, but give yourself a chance to unwind.
BONUS POINT. Excel is your God.
I have yet to meet someone on their way to success who doesn’t believe in the magical powers of excel sheets. I cannot over emphasize the need to make lists, detailed ones to run everything from your daily tasks to goals to accounts. Head over to Google, learn it, if you can, master it. For trust me, it’ll be your best friend on tough days.
I can’t tell you how old I feel writing this. From being the youngest on a team to now being the oldest- it’s been a heck of a journey! I don’t think I will ever find the words to thank those that have been a part of this past decade believing in me, trusting me, holding my hand and having my back, so I’ll say it simply- THANK YOU.