Work lessons from a decade at the same job


Today is 10 years since I started at SmartBrief. I like to have a home base, a touch point, even as I challenge myself, and working here has largely given me that balance over the past decade.

Most importantly, I’m incredibly grateful for the hundreds of people I’ve gotten to work with — smart, thoughtful, curious, funny and fun people. And through this work, I’ve met and enjoyed learning from hundreds of clients and readers. Those are the best days, when I’ve helped them in some way and we get to share with each other.

Here are a few other things I hope I’ve learned over this decade. I hope they’ll help a few of you:

1. Curiosity counts. What SmartBrief does is simple enough, but it’s easy to be confused by if all you see is “news digests and advertising.” Building up largely through external talent wasn’t possible — there just aren’t enough B2B media experts, email marketing mavens or people with tons of experience selling B2B ads in email form. But we hire a lot of people are smart, curious, willing to learn and eager to connect the dots of what they know with what they encounter. I am pretty sure that curiosity is a good trait in most workplaces.

2. Know your work culture. Some companies are siloed or extremely roles-oriented. I’ve work organizations of friendly people who are so worried about turf wars that they hesitate to even introduce colleagues in a different function. Breaking the rules or going off-book might be hazardous there.

My experience has been the opposite. I’ve long told new hires: “We will let you experiment, try things, even change jobs, roles and departments if you are curious and bold enough (and get the right backing). But if you want to sit in a corner and wait for someone to pluck you, you’ll be waiting a long time.” Now that SmartBrief’s been acquired, it’s time to learn this again. That’s great – it’s a worthy challenge.

3. Give trust even as you verify it. I’ve struggled with this over the years. I’m an editor, a former copy editor, and someone who, in my little world, can quickly tell whether someone is up to the job and curious enough to improve. But it’s easy for that sensibility to become unfounded suspicion.

Don’t be naïve, don’t think trust means “I’m not paying attention” or “here’s all the work, new person. Good luck!” But assume good intentions whenever you can. That leads into …

4. Forgive even if you can’t forget. I’m lucky in that I’ve been burned or betrayed only on rare occasions. And, you know, even those people are usually not malevolent. You can’t always leave them behind, either. Maybe you still work with them. Maybe the situation is a recurring one. Maybe you need to change some things.

You don’t have to pretend the harmful thing never happened, but you can say, “How can I do my best going forward?” (I’m talking about slights or disappointments more than actual crimes here, to be clear)

5. Help where you can. I don’t like to calculate how much or whether I’ve helped people, whether they be co-workers, clients or others. That’s an easy way to overestimate your impact and importance. So instead I try to remind myself to look for opportunities to try . Can I help someone know they’re appreciated? That their work – and the effort and thought put into it – was stellar? That they have a skill or philosophy that I admire?

All this takes relatively little time or effort and you can build trust and companionship. Hopefully the recipient of your words and actions feels more confident and supported. Certainly, with networking and office politics, you need some recognition. But supporting others isn’t about that. Do the work, the recognition will come. As always, I can do a lot better in this area.

6. The most important people are rarely the top-ranking. This isn’t to knock executives. I’ve worked with many, and I edit a newsletter for leaders, after all. But as we all should know, your subject-matter experts will save you time after time. Your connectors will bring ideas and people together even when it’s not their job to do so. Your “common sense” committee will be full of voices who can propose unsurfaced ideas and calmly and respectfully question the really stupid ideas.

Don’t forget: Your admins, support staff and executive assistants do the hardest work, know everyone and set the tone.

7. People leave. It’s normal. I can’t emphasize this enough. Just because I’ve been at one place for a long time doesn’t mean I mind at all when co-workers leave! (Maybe they think I’m the one staying too long?) People want a new challenge or are bored. Maybe they’re blocked from the promotion, salary or responsibility they want. Maybe they want to travel or move closer to a loved one. And maybe they really did have a terrible experience. All of those reasons are equally valid. People are more than their jobs.

8. Do something outside of work. I know, I know, we all say this and don’t necessarily follow through. The world is nearly endless. Go explore it. And you’re really that worried about work, the experiences, insights, people and learning you gather in “real life” will ultimately help you at your job.

Like when I moved here a decade ago, I don’t know what’s next. But I’m really lucky to be a great city, employed, in good health and with great people around me. As long as I remember everything I preached about above, I’ll find my way forward and hopefully help a lot of people do so, too.