Don’t Make It Up! And other things I’ve learnt at work.

The end of the year is a time when I find myself, somewhat
against my will, reflecting on the past year and where I now find myself in
life. There’s been lots of shifts and changes in my work and that’s made me
take a moment to reflect on the mentors who’ve helped to shape who I am in my
work life, the ways I engage, collaborate, lead, and learn.

As for many people, my first job was when I was in high
school and first started to earn a little money for myself. It was at a fabric
store and I made the rookie mistake of providing a customer with a made-up
answer to a question they asked me! Oh dear! To admit not knowing or to make
something up? Luckily for me, my slip up wasn’t catastrophic, and a colleague
overheard me giving my fake knowledge. I was quickly corrected and learnt a
valuable lesson: if you don’t know, don’t pretend you do know! Now if I don’t
know something at work, or in any situation, I see it as an opportunity to
learn more.

The next mentor I had was when I was going door to door with
Greenpeace – a tough job but a meaningful one! Not everyone was thrilled to
have a stranger knock on their door, and some were less than thrilled to have
Greenpeace knock on their door, so how we managed this was important. My boss
taught us: respond, don’t react. In some cases that meant saying very little at
all and leaving the property quickly, in others it meant providing information
and correcting misconceptions. I think we’ve all had times in our lives when
we’ve reacted to a situation or a person and it has no doubt gone less well
than it could have! In terms of transferable skills, it doesn’t get much better
than knowing how to respond rather than react.

I feel very grateful to have had a great mentor at a community
service I worked with. She was quick, caring, witty, funny, and wise. It was
Kerri who taught me to ‘CYA’: Cover Your Arse. In this age of emails, we have
to be careful what we put in writing and ensure it wouldn’t embarrass us if it
ended up in the inboxes of recipients we never intended. But equally it pays to
confirm verbal conversations by email so we can be sure we really are on same
page as others, and have a trail of reasoning and evidence behind us in case
something goes wrong. Always CYA.

In another role, I learnt that if something you’re saying or
writing will be read in the public realm – or has potential to make its way into
the public realm – make sure it passes the front-page-of-the-Advertiser test!
If you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of your state paper, don’t say
it, don’t write it! Simple. This I learnt, of course, in my job with in
politics. An addendum to that is, if you’re talking to a journalist, remember,
they are never off duty; the
microphone is always live!

Finally, I’ve learnt that while meaningful work is one of
the most valuable assets you can have in life, I’ve also realised that you need
more than that to be happy. I bought a placard to remind me: Don’t get so busy
making a living that you forget to make a life. If you work too hard or too
long, or work yourself too thin, or to chronic night-time wakefulness, you’ll
resent your work. And that’s not good for anyone. So, take a break this
Christmas. Finish early if you can, or at least finish on time. Leave work
behind you and eat, drink, and be merry with friends and family. It will be
good for you and good for your workplace too. You’ll come back to it refreshed
and renewed and ready to make your life count. What else is a life for?

Merry Christmas.

With enduring thanks to
Annette, Leah, Kerri, and Mark for inspiring leadership and mentorship.

© Palitja Moore, text and image, Sunset Seaford/Moana, 2017

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