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25 years of working and learning

June 07, 2021
Women in front of a glass
Written by
Gillian Smith

Gillian Smith

Exactly 25 years ago, my dad and I packed a small van and my even-smaller Honda Civic and made the drive from Ottawa to Toronto so that I could start my new, working life.

After getting a speeding ticket and getting stuck in streetcar tracks, we arrived at my tiny, shared apartment. We unpacked in a flash and Dad was ready to leave. I promptly burst into tears, wondering what on earth I was doing in a strange city, all alone.

Fast forward and, by now, anyone who’s been at work for 25 adult years will know things we couldn’t know on day one. Like your body is not merely a vehicle for your head (this took me a while). Or that luck plays a big role in everything. But I’ve learned some other things along the way and so, for what it's worth, here are a few.

Find an un-mentor and act accordingly

I’ve been subjected to some horrible behaviour over the years. In each instance, I’ve made note of these terrible, no-good, awful things—and the people who did them—and vowed to do exactly the opposite.

Know your numbers, especially if you’re a word person

If you don’t understand the numbers, you’re at the mercy of those who do. Don’t let this happen. Find someone who can explain everything in plain language. It’s not easy, but it’s not hard.

Let conscientiousness be your conscience

Conscientious student was a seemingly back-handed comment made on my report cards but, in working life, I’ve realized how important it is to say what you’re going to do, and then do what you’ve said. Show up. People are counting on you. Don’t be a flake.

Just get on with it

This is the overlooked corollary to "just do it". I’ve found that the bigger a deal someone makes of doing something, the less likely they are to get it done. Let your actions speak for themselves.

Curiosity killed the cat. Get dead, already

You will be learning for the rest of your days on earth. Stay curious and remember that you have twice as many eyes and twice as many ears as you do a mouth. Act in proportion.

What’s more, get out there

Invited to an event you know nothing about? Go. You just never know who’ll you meet or what you’ll learn. I joke about going to the opening of an envelope but, in truth, some of the most interesting experiences are often also the most random. Again, luck.

Stop being a work martyr before you die of boredom

I let work dominate and take up too much of my life. So, little work injuries were magnified beyond their actual importance. It wasn’t until someone I admired told me he lived his life in thirds—family/friends, work and service—that I changed my ways. These thirds are always slightly out of whack but, over the course of a lifetime, I’ll try to keep the three buckets equally filled. Perspective always helps.

Spring clean your relationships

Take stock of those you love. Are you paying enough attention to those who need you? Are there others who are sapping your strength and offering nothing in return? All we have is time. Make sure you invest yours wisely.

Kindness is the counterintuitive win

Being a jerk withers you from the inside out. It’s truly easier to be kind. And healthier. And more profitable. Even science says this is true.

With that, let’s see what I can figure out in the next 25 years ...

——— Gillian is a former Managing Partner at NATIONAL Public Relations