When I first entered the workforce, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. That bumbling buffoon who screws up and deletes documents she shouldn't have? The newbie who chatters away like a monkey because she's nervous? The stressed-out, tired girl crying in the toilet stall because her boss just spent 20 minutes yelling at her on the phone? Yep, been there, done all that.
My working life might have had a more auspicious start had I paid more attention to career tips gleaned from books. If I could somehow time-travel back 10 years or so to fresh-faced young me, this is the kind of stuff I'd tell her.
All together now: "we hold these truths to be self-evident"...
"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" A Room of One's Own
Dear Young Karen, you may have big aspirations of "making it" as a novelist some day, but the truth is - most authors, musicians, artists and other "creatives" have day jobs for a reason. It is incredibly tough, nearly impossible, to make a living out of your art alone. To have money of your own, you must work jobs you are not passionate about, sometimes don't even particularly like, then somehow find the fortitude at the end of the day to be creative. To have writing space of your own, you must have either a very understanding partner, flatmates who travel a lot, or a wealthy benefactor with a penthouse apartment you can live in for free. These two needs will never change. Not as long as you choose the creative life.
"The free exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world" East of Eden
This is what has got me through hours of sometimes seemingly endless drudgery: the secret knowledge that even if I'm doing a job - and I am the sort of person who will give something my all once I've made a commitment to it - my mind is still my own. This is where having a numbingly boring, repetitive job is an advantage - you have time to let your mind wander and play. And for some lucky workers, you may find an employer who values that free, exploring, individual mind enough to give you a job doing what you love.
"You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple of years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you." Fight Club
I can't think of better advice than this about the wisdom (or lack of) letting yourself be caught up in wanton consumerism. The thing is, it's a vicious cycle. When I think back now, the more stressed I was at work, the more things I wanted to buy. As if I was convincing myself that all this unhappiness was worthwhile, so I could afford the kind of life I wanted. Some people are lucky, in that what they love doing naturally earns them megabucks (Mark Zuckerberg, here's looking at you, kid) - but if you are wrestling between money and love of job, go for doing what you love (unless it's a criminal act) every single time. It's a cliche, but I truly believe that if you do what you love, everything else will fall into place. Eventually.
"When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too - leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back." The Blind Assassin
Otherwise known as "don't burn your bridges", this is actually great career advice. An acquaintance once told the story of a former work colleague (in the UK), who not only dated her married boss, but when the relationship inevitably fell apart, wrote anonymous emails bad-mouthing him, keyed his car and did all sorts of random crazy things that, surprise, surprise, got traced back to her. She ended up losing her job, her professional reputation and, by the sound of it, her mind. The thing is, everything comes back. So don't spread rumours about colleagues, never, ever say anything bad about your superiors in public and don't lie, cheat, or steal from your work. In other words, treat your career as you would any other part of life, and begin as you mean to go.
What are some great pieces of advice about the working life you've received from books?
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