Lessons from a corporate life

PUBLISHED ON RAPPLER PHILIPPINES

I am the last person anyone would expect to enter the corporate world.

In college, I was more interested in pursuing creativity and forms of expression – from acting on stage to writing and chasing stories with social impact. As a communication major, I rejoiced in the fact that we never had to take accounting or deal with numbers ever again. Systems? We created our own rules. No conformity allowed.

Then one year after I graduated from college I joined one of the biggest multinational companies – a wild card decision that jolted my career down a very different path and put me outside of my comfort zone. There were days or weeks that I wanted to quit, mulled over when to leave, and questioned whether it was what I really wanted to do with my time.

This “corporate question mark” is a common story in any industry. It lingers whether you’re a millennial with baby boomer parents, a 30-something tired of the rat race, or a creative who needs a day job to pay the bills.

I know a lot of people who joined and left the corporate world. Most of them attribute their creative success to the discipline, drive and doggedness it instilled to make things happen.

But even though everyone has their own tips and tricks to climb the corporate ladder, for the free spirits who manage to slip in and out of the bureaucracy, survival requires a change in mindset.

I surprised myself when I joined the corporate world but I’m grateful for the journey. Regardless of personality type or life stage, these are the lessons I think are worth remembering from my one year in the corporate life.

1. ‘Corporate’ is not the problem. It’s the culture.

“Corporate life” is an all encompassing term that is often met with a negative stigma. A corporate culture automatically assumes that creativity and freedom is not allowed. There are rules and systems, from the way you dress to what you’re allowed to think about.

At first I thought “corporate” is the bucket only for banks or multinationals and not for creative industries where a suit and tie is not required. But even Google and Facebook — two top innovative and creative companies — are corporations. Even in advertising, suits are required to dress and act a certain way in front of clients. So, the enemy is not the corporation. It’s a question of the culture that you want to buy into.

2. ‘I did not sell out.’

It’s the guilt or judgement that every non-corporate person gets from their peers for taking a more lucrative or stable path. But “life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” so the path to your dreams can often be non-linear. It’s what Steve Jobs meant when he said you can only connect your dots looking backwards. You’re only selling out if you’re not being faithful to your intentions or achieving your dreams in the long run. The moment you forget that is the moment that you should consider leaving.

3. Work smart and work hard

They say that pressure makes diamonds. In the corporate world that translates to mastering the art of time management, when you have an immense work load, you learn how to prioritize simply to make time for what’s important in both your professional and personal life.

4. Jobs are replaceable. Relationships aren’t.

Perhaps it’s because Singapore is a global career hub in Southeast Asia, but I’ve never experienced such a high turn-over rate. With the knowledge that someone else will eventually replace you upon resignation or retrenchment we risk self-deprecation. No job is certain nowadays. So don’t wait for your farewell or last weeks at the office to ask a colleague out for coffee or lunch. Don’t let the job get in the way of relationships that will last any recession or transition.

Have you recently joined or left the corporate world? Share your lessons in the comment section below. 

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