Time for a parlour game!
I’d like everyone to play along with this one. Just answer the questions
What is the best piece of careers advice you’ve ever been given?
And of course tell us why!
I can imagine that for some people this might be a sensitive subject and so I’m happy if people want to email me their answer to firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can anonymise and post up here. Everyone else can just add their answer as a comment.
To get us started I’ll share mine.
… After four hard years slog I went into my PhD viva having given very little thought to the outcome. I certainly hadn’t given any thought to the official regulations that surrounded PhD vivas and consequently didn’t really know what the possible outcomes were. Consequently when I was informed that I had another year’s work to do I assumed that I had failed the thing and that my personal and intellectual inadequacies were now a matter of public record.
One long lost weekend later I crawled back into the office and sat flicking through the fragments of my broken dreams (AKA my thesis). A postdoc in the office above me happened by at the right time and I unburdened my tail of woe to him.
“Yes, that happened to me as well.” He said. “It’s awful isn’t it. First I blamed myself, then I blamed my supervisor, then I blamed my examiner and then I condemned the whole system. But, eventually I realised that I just had some more work to do, and I got on with it.”
This was like a bolt of lightning to me as it jolted me out of my self-pity and communicated two key messages.
There is no point dwelling on the past, particularly if you are searching for reasons why the present shouldn’t be as it is. Life isn’t fair – get used to it. It is only by focusing on the future that life and career can move on.
Purposeful decisions and practical hard work move you from a bad situation to a good one.
This piece of advice was the best piece of advice that I’ve ever had because it was wise, because it came from experience, but probably most of all, because it was timely. I needed to hear it at that point in my life, I needed a ladder out of my crisis and the postdocs comments provided me with that. From then on I got focused, got cracking and got realistic about my thesis. What ended up in the public record was my thesis itself which although of extremely limited interest to the world at large is not actively a record of my intellectual inadequacy.
Would I have done this without this piece of advice? Maybe? Probably? In all likelihood someone else would have provided the advice I needed a few days or weeks later, but it is also possible that without some advice and encouragement I would have thrown in the towel and headed off to do something different. Would that have been a bad thing? Who knows….
So that’s my story. Let’s hear yours.