On Christmas afternoon, I turned on Pandora and tuned into the Christmas station. As I started preparing the batter for my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, I realized it was the first time I had turned on holiday music in 2014. Throughout December, I was either listening to T. Swift’s 1989 (almost on constant replay on my phone and computers since the album came out) or the Serial podcasts. How did December fly by so fast? How did 2014 fly by so fast?
I went down the list of all the activities that took up a notable amount of time in the past 12 months: work, job search, wedding planning, informational interviews (giving and receiving), job interviews, attending weddings, YPFP… Much like the Christmas letter Kyle and I sent out with our cards, the dominating themes of 2014 were: career, professional development, professional transitions, and leadership development. The transitions were namely my switching jobs after an arduous year-long job search and my stepping down from the volunteer staff of YPFP.
To briefly summarize my time with YPFP, I got involved in 2010 as a member of the New York branch and then joined the DC staff in 2011. For almost 5 years of my life, I was committed to YPFP in some way–whether it was helping out with resume and interview workshops or running a program or leading a department. This ranged from 15 to 35 hours each week; it was essentially a second job. Since 2011, checking my YPFP email was as habitual as checking my personal email. In fact, when I realized my YPFP email account was finally turned off last night, a wave of sadness swept over me.
My time on YPFP staff coincided with my career switch from marketing and sales to international affairs. Thanks to YPFP, I was able to build up a network of like-minded peers in a short amount of time (some of which led to strong friendships). In 2012-2014, as I took on more time-demanding leadership roles with larger responsibilities on staff, the opportunities allowed me to exercise and hone managerial and leadership skills I didn’t get the chance to do at my day job. Speaking of which, my boss at the job was such a poor example of leadership, I learned exactly what not to do. Between my day job and the leadership laboratory that YPFP offered, I decided to compile a list of lessons I’ve learned as my last blog post of 2014.
I’m not going into the differences between “boss” and “leader.” The advice below are things I’ve learned in my specific experiences at work and at YPFP that may or may not apply to everyone else. (Or even outside of the DC circle.)
1. Don’t hold people back. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some wonderfully brilliant and creative people on YPFP staff. They were great reminders that I can’t do everything on my own and thus I learned to relinquish a lot of control, especially things beyond my control and outside of my expertise.
2. Prioritize. Know how to make the most of the 24 hours you have each day before you help others prioritize their tasks. Likewise, respect your staff members’ time. If you know someone is already overloaded, sit down with them to help them prioritize their list. Preface new requests with, “I know you’re already overwhelmed, but this emergency just came up.” And end with, “I’m here to help. What can I do?” At my day job, my boss pushed all of his responsibilities to me and my teammates with very little regard to our workloads. The worst requests were administrative tasks that he was fully capable of handling on his own, but he felt was too superior for them. Hence, #3…
3. You are not above menial tasks. As a volunteer, there were many times when I had to wear more than one or two hats. The same applied to the president (who’s also a volunteer). This stood in sharp contrast to my day-job boss who was actually paid for his job and treated his staff like glorified interns.
4. Be transparent. Don’t hold information back from your staff, especially if the information is crucial for them to get their work done. At my day job, junior and mid-level staff were constantly kept in the dark on matters that impacted our work. This hindered trust between the different levels of hierarchy.
5. Know when to protect your staff. In tandem with the previous point, there may be times when you shouldn’t share information with a staff member. In my experience, it was to prevent and mitigate conflict.
6. Learn what motivates your team members. This was extremely important on YPFP staff but also equally important at my day job even though the latter was a paid position. What makes someone get out of bed in the morning? What makes them respond to work-related emails at 9:30pm on a Saturday? What makes them care?
7. Don’t just hire the most qualified person for the job, hire the best person. This may seem like common sense, but have you ever applied for a job you didn’t think feel 100% qualified for? Giving someone an opportunity to learn on the job as long as they have the right attitude will pay dividends.
8. Don’t sugarcoat things–it only wastes people’s time. There will be situations (and people) that require directness and firmness. However, also know when to…
9. Show appreciation. Sometimes all it takes is a simple “thank you” to recognize the hard work and countless hours that someone dedicated to a task.
10. Know when to call it quits. Thankfully, as I had mentioned earlier, I was able to transition out of the toxic environment that was my day job to a more collaborative and empowering environment. Unfortunately, with the increase in responsibility, I had to step down from my role on YPFP staff. After three years, I also felt I had gotten everything I could out of the experience and I recognized the fresh energy in the newer staff members that I used to have. I’ve seen people in both YPFP and at my former day job who refused to recognize when it was time to go. By staying and not contributing in a productive and meaningful way, they were holding back progress for everyone else. I didn’t want to become that person.
As 2015 is fast approaching, I’m seeing my calendar already filling up with dance classes, wedding-related appointments, and professional development trainings. Although I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I’m going to take #2 to heart, to prioritize, to try my best to be cognizant of the present. I don’t want another year to fly by and then have to ask myself, “How did that happen again?!”