Last night while in bed, I was reflecting on my work life. I entered the workforce while I was in my 3rd year university holidays as an Undergraduate Entry Naval Officer.
At the time, I was studying Chemistry at Monash University with the aim of doing an Honours year in it but during Orientation Week, I saw a sailor at our Open Day who said to me, “the Royal Australian Navy can pay for your university studies!” It sounded too good to be true because before then, I was on government assistance or surviving on my savings from odd jobs I did after school. The money would help me out a lot. Of course, it came with a price – and that was a return of service obligation to the Navy.
At the time, I didn’t think that far ahead. I saw the assistance as something that would help me set up my life. It would mean leaving home, leaving friends and family but at the time, this was what I needed. It seemed to be the perfect solution. I could figure out the rest as they happened.
Well, it turned out the I loved the Navy that I stayed on for 11 years in the permanent force and 10 years in the Reserves.
Despite the initial difficulties with Officer training and at times the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, over time, I got used to it. I realised that although I struggled physically, there was always a team behind me to support me – and I them. Being in the Navy taught me so many things about working in a team under strenuous conditions and environments but it also taught me about myself. If you’re someone who is egotistical, individualistic and competitive believe it or not, this environment is not for you.
What I enjoyed about my time in the Navy is the people I worked with and the variety of the work.
Most if not all of our work was team based, had some sort of challenge to it and had a vision or goal in mind.
Being on Exercises and Operations reinforced why we did the things the way we did. All the questions you had about “why are we doing this in this way?” revealed itself in the midst of certain scenarios played out that impacted someone or some people down the line. Your decisions had an impact. Usually they were life death situations.
That was a lot of responsibility when you’re young.
You were also exposed to situations that you may not otherwise have to do too. For example, having to tell parents of young sailors that their son had died in a car crash; have to counsel sailors and assist them on any family issues; or be on the receiving call of the police when any of your sailors were in the lock up because they got into brawls in town.
Another time, my division of cadets were caught up in one of the biggest scandals in cadet history. I used to visit the cadet accomodation at different times of the day and night for an element of surprise to check what they were doing; and caught some of my third year cadets hazing the first years and I had never shouted or yelled as much as I had in my life as I did then. I’ll never forget that night when my instincts just kicked in and I got them to immediately stop what they were doing and return to their cabins while I dealt with traumatised first years.
Even now as I write this paragraph, my heart is racing. Regardless, I immediately sounded the alarm, got the right people there to deal with the situation that had far reaching impacts and ensure counselling was provided for a long time after that. The incident started the biggest review of how cadets were trained (by other cadets) and changed things for the better. Thankfully, all my first years continued their studies without incident. That was many years ago now, and I’m sure things are different but it was an example of the responsibility that is placed on you to look after the health and well being of others in your charge.
Despite all that, I loved the job because it challenged me and I grew from these situations.
After leaving the Navy, I joined the corporate world and I found it far more challenging than the military because the big difference was that it was never about the team or the long term goal. There wasn’t a vision to work to except maybe to make more money for the company or increase shareholder value. I never saw that as a goal to be proud to achieve. Also, cliques, individuality, competition was needed to be promoted and I simply couldn’t align myself to these values – or the individuals who demonstrated these values at work.
However, the working life in corporate gave me something else.
The opportunity to work more closely with a tight knit team and also have a laugh. Some of my best friends were my old colleagues across a variety of jobs because we got on well, worked and laughed together. What I loved about corporate life were the opportunities to work on some interesting projects with some wonderful characters.
So when I think back to my favourite times in my working life, I think back to the times when I was learning at work with a team of people around me. We could have had our ups and downs but we also had lots of socialising and laughter. We had breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We went to events such as training workshops and conferences together. We had shared experiences in person together. Even though at the time they could have been a pain, what made them worthwhile was that after the experience, we looked back and realised, “hey, that was great!”
So I started to think about my later years of work and what made it worthwhile as well and realised that I was missing on the “shared experiences” aspect.
Much of my work in later years was me working on my own or with clients doing the work. It was simply a transaction. I’m finding it difficult to also instil some form of shared experience in an online format too because you may not have met your colleagues or clients in person ever. Although communication through the online medium has meant that we can communicate in so many different ways now, I do wonder if we’re just missing out on these human shared experiences that we can look back in the future and smile about.
In five years from now, I plan to be retired from work but if someone asks me, “what do you remember about your last job?” Believe it or not, it will be the following:
- Our social team in-person get-togethers in Brisbane and the drinks plus the online team dinners
- Meeting colleagues in person
- My time at Microsoft Ignite as a Community Reporter
That’s it. I don’t think I’ll recall anything about any projects I worked on because there’s no in-person team experience or bonding opportunity around them because how I value work is through the shared team experience. Or alternatively, you’re having a part shared experience with someone who happens to live locally with you – but they may not be working on the same project or team with you so that there’s still a level of “disconnection”.
I’m not saying this as a way of needing some change. It is what it is.
Work has changed over the years for me partly because it has evolved in some way to be more about the output (easy, cheap) – and less about the human connection and shared experiences (complicated, expensive).
In some way, I am thankful that I had an opportunity to have these human shared experiences at work in the formative time of my adult working life because they taught me about myself, how I work and interact in a group of others around me and where we can brief and debrief the situation as we’re going through it and then reminisce of that experience some time down the track. That is, have a story to tell.
I believe that people living and working their life entirely online will miss these experiences unless they are baked into the design of how they’re going to work and learn together.
So over to you. What would you remember from your work life?