Saturday, August 18, 2018

The career advice I wish I had at 25

I was just cleaning up my computer and came across this.
I thought you might like it. It's some pretty good stuff!

The career advice I wish I had at 25
By Shane Rodgers

In the future, when we turn 50, we will each be given a ticket to a time machine and, just once, we will be able to go back in time and talk to our 25-year-old selves.

Even then, time travel will be expensive and wreak havoc with frequent flyer programs. So there will only be one trip. So what if we could? What would we say? What advice would we give?

I often wish I could do this. Just once. So, just in case the time machine ever comes along, this is the career advice I would give my 25-year-old self.

1. A career is a marathon, not a sprint
Chill. When we are younger we tend to be impatient. As you get older you realize there is no real rush. Life, and the careers we pursue to fill it and pay the bills, needs to be approached on a long-term basis. If you sprint you will wear out or start to resent work that you previously enjoyed. Allow yourself time to breathe and grow. Things will come if you work hard and allow yourself time to get good at things. Always rushing only leaves you empty, and tired. It is fine to give yourself permission to take some time in the slow lane with the hat people. You will find yourself seeing things on the journey that you didn’t realize were there.

2. Most success comes from repetition, not new things
I remember hairdressing legend Stefan Ackerie telling me this in 2003. I had never really thought about it before. A few years later Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant book Outliers was published, promoting the idea that you needed to spend 10,000 hours on something to become truly expert at it. This applied to the Beatles and their Hamburg gigs and Bill Gates who, through a series of fortuitous accidents, ended up spending more time than almost anyone else on a computer.

The lesson here is get good at things before you try to move to the next thing. Genuine expertise belongs to an elite few. They seldom have superpowers. They usually have endurance, patience and take a long-term view. They also love what they do. If your find that, don’t let it go.

3. If work was really so great all the rich people would have the jobs
It is well established that almost nobody laments on their deathbed that they didn’t spend enough time at the office. This seems obvious. Yet still we let contrived circumstances and fairly trivial issues keep us from important events like school sport days and kids getting badges for picking up rubbish. I wish somebody had schooled me about these priorities at 25. I can remember every sport day and certificate presentation I missed. I can’t remember any of the reasons I missed them.

4. Deprioritize your career when your kids are young
If you have skills, commitment and passion, careers tend to take care of themselves. Over the long haul, it really doesn’t matter if you have a few years when your career is in canter mode while you priorities young children. This should apply to men and women. I was watching some video of my kids when they were little last week and I realized, again, that the little people in that video don’t exist in that form anymore. They have grown into pride-worthy adults but the tiny people with wonder in their eyes were just passing through. If you miss that time meeting deadlines and finishing reports, you never get it back. Childhood is fleeting. When it is in its formative stages, you get one chance.

You can also miss the chance to learn. Children teach you a lot more than you teach them. They give you a second chance to see the world for the first time through their eyes. And you will be astounded what you miss in the clutter of life. Hold onto those times while you can. As the nun sang in The Sound of Music, you can’t keep a wave upon the sand. And you look kinda ridiculous trying.

5. In the workforce, always act like you are 35
A recruiter gave me this advice some years ago. It is quite inspired. What she meant was, when you are young in the workplace, don’t act as a novice. If you are smart and competent, step up and do whatever you are capable of doing in a mature way. Similarly, when you are an older worker, don’t act like it. Approach your day with youthful energy. To quote a famous Frank Sinatra song: “You’re 35 and it’s a very good year”.

6. Management is about people, not things
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that all people are equal, behave the same every day and have a generic capacity to perform. Humans are simply not made like that. Business guru Jack Welch says the workforce consists of 20 per cent of people who are high performers, 10 per cent that you should get rid of and 70 per cent who do okay. The problem is the 70 per cent. Most managers want everyone in the 20 per cent. We need to be careful not to believe that the 70 per cent are underperformers. Sometimes we need to celebrate the competence of the masses not the superpowers of the elite. As managers, we are not managing things, we are empowering people and making the best use of whatever it is they bring to the table.

7. Genuinely listen to others
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have all the answers as individuals. We don’t. As a group we are far more powerful. We need to learn to genuinely collaborate and really listen to the opinions of others. And we need to ask our own people first. So many managers and firms fall into the trap of asking external consultants for answers and then trying to implement the recommendations over the top of tried-and-true employees. In almost every case, our own people already know the answers. We need to avoid letting familiarity blind us to the talent sitting around us.

8. Never work for horrible bastards
Life is way too short to tolerate really bad bosses. If you find yourself working for one, unless you are desperate or starving, start looking for a new job. Immediately. Then sack the bad boss. By leaving.

9. Recognize that staff are people with finite emotional capacity
This is one I really wish I had known earlier. It is clear to me now that humans have a finite emotional capacity. If there is something challenging happening in their personal lives, they have limited capacity left to deal with issues at work. In nearly 100 per cent of cases I have dealt with of people suddenly under-performing at work, it has nothing to do with work. When good people have problems, managers and companies need to carry them. This should be a personal mission. If we learn to carry people when they most need it, we become a stronger community and we empower people in ways that we probably can’t imagine when we are young. A re-invigorated broken employee is a corporation’s most powerful force. They become a slightly better version of themselves without the need for a V energy drink.

10. Don’t just network with people your own age
Beware the whiz kid syndrome. Smart, young people have a habit of forming communities of other smart young people and feeding off each other’s energy. In the older world they are seen as “bright young things” that give confidence that the future is in good hands. Argghhhh. How many times have you heard that? Youth enclaves can actually be restrictive. Smart 20-somethings should make sure they network with older people too. In fact their networking should be about meeting useful mentors and career champions who can open doors and fast track careers. Similarly, older, successful people shouldn’t just sit in musty clubs talking about the 1970s. They should be proactively seeking out smart, young people who can shake them out of their comfort zone and open their eyes to new ideas.

11. Celebrate cultural differences in the workplace
One of the big mistakes we make in Australia is failing to adequately recognize the value of overseas experience and people from a variety of cultures. Diversity brings a richness to our workplaces that benefits all of us. Overseas experience is real experience. We should take every opportunity to inject new thinking into our workplaces. It is where the magic begins.

12. Take the time to understand what your business does
I love the story of President J F Kennedy’s visit to NASA during which he asked a cleaner what his job was. The cleaner replied that he sent rockets to the moon. All of us should feel part of what our organizations actually do. We should take the time to be part of the big picture and always feel connected with the true objectives of our workplace. Don’t wait for someone to tell you or lament that internal communication is crap. Find out for yourself.

13. Don’t put off working overseas
Geography is becoming less relevant. We are all citizens of the world. President Obama made the point during his University of Queensland speech that the world was becoming smaller and even the Pacific Ocean was now just a lake. If you get the chance to work overseas, and you aspire to do that, take it. There is never a right time. And we always regret the things we don’t do far more than the things we do.

14. Work in an office where you have friends
You will spend a lot of time at work. You should work with people you like. I used to be a bit skeptical about a question in employment engagement surveys asking people if they had a “best friend” at work. I realize now that work is much better if you are among friends. The happiest people are those who do things they are passionate about with people they really like. Further to that, if you find you have taken on a job you hate, ditch it quickly. Your career can survive a few well-intentioned detours and mistaken pathways.

15. Never sacrifice personal ethics for a work reason
Crucial to workplace happiness is value alignment. If you work somewhere that compromises your personal ethics and values, get out of there as quickly as you can. Good people will be unnerved by things that don’t feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Bad things only manifest when good people don’t take a stand.

16. Recognize that failure is learning
As bizarre as it might sound, failing is not failure. Researchers recognize that failure is just part of a process to eliminate unsuccessful options. To misquote Woody from Toy Story, when we make a few mistakes, we are not failing, just falling - with style. Even fairy-tale princesses recognize that you need to kiss a lot of toads before you find a handsome prince. Thomas Edison articulated this best: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” If we fear failure we tend to take a minimalist approach to our jobs and the opportunities around us. Takes some risks. Sometimes failing spectacularly is the best evidence that we are alive, human and serious about aspiring to the extraordinary. There is no value in being ordinary when you have the capacity to be remarkable.

Now, to get started on that time machine…

Comments in these posts are personal. Shane Rodgers is a business executive, writer and marketer with a keen interest in social change and what makes people tick. He is the author of Tall People Don’t Jump – the curious behavior of human beings.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A friend who has made a difference in the commercial real estate industry: Marjorie Tsang

Marjorie Tsang is a Visiting Scholar with the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on issues relating to financing climate-resilient real assets projects worldwide, an initiative on behalf of the UN Secretary-General.  She is a board member of the USAA Real Estate Company and an active member of WX (New York Women Executives in Real Estate), having served on the WX, Inc., and WX Charitable Fund, Ltd. boards and serving on the Philanthropy Committee currently.  Marjorie is an instructor for the REAP-NY program.

Marjorie served as a senior investment officer at the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the third largest public pension fund in the United States.  From 1999-2011, she was the Assistant Comptroller for Real Estate Investments with investment and asset management responsibilities for the Fund’s $9 billion Real Estate portfolio.  From September 2011 through August 2012, she served as the Interim Chief Investment Officer. Until her retirement from the Fund in 2014, she covered strategic initiatives including the Real Assets portfolio, asset allocation and the Environmental Social Governance program.  Marjorie joined the Office of the New York State Comptroller in October 1993 as Assistant Counsel for Real Estate Investments and later assumed legal responsibility for the Fund in all asset classes.  She received her BA from Yale University and her JD from Columbia Law School. 

Marjorie and I met like a lot of us in the institutional real estate world via attending conferences such as PREA (Pension Real Estate Association).  We’d cross paths periodically and catch up on things.  As I got to know Marjorie better I learned what a great advocate she has been, throughout her entire career, for women and younger people in the real estate industry - such an admirable trait to be so giving of your time to others.

Q.  How did you get your start in the commercial real estate industry?

A.  My first employer encouraged rotating through different departments. That was an important criteria for me when evaluating law firms.  I thought I was headed to a banking law career but the work didn’t excite me. Tax, trusts & estates and corporate law didn’t fit well either. I found that I could learn and apply the law but the passion was missing.  In contrast, by the time I got through a month of my real estate rotation, everything clicked.  I loved my colleagues, the clients, the work, the responsibility that was given to me as a young professional and the sense of accomplishment after a workout or closing.  And as all real estate practitioners know, real estate provides something wonderfully tangible, as well as its connection to people. 

Q.  What advice would you give to someone who’s been in the industry for a short time or a student looking to get her or his start?

A.  We all have to take a certain amount of risk in our lives. That may involve taking on a project that you don’t want, working with someone who terrifies you or going back to school when there are so many demands on your life. In the end, it will enhance your options -- opening up different paths that you could never have imagined.  

My life example of this risk-taking issue comes from my first career transition. After practicing law in firms for several years, I answered a New York Times ad for a real estate lawyer and joined the New York Common Retirement Fund.   I spent a few years leading the real estate legal department, and then was promoted, against my will, to be Investments Counsel for all of the pension fund's asset classes. I didn't believe that I could learn beyond real estate, and I didn't want to; but the general counsel said I had no choice.  I surprised myself by absorbing new fields of business, different terminology, conflicting policies and meeting people from vastly different backgrounds.  It was great. Having been inspired by this shake-up, I felt a need to do something new but to return to real estate. I saw that an asset management position would be opening up. I wondered, “Can I do that job?  I have a JD, not an MBA.” After endless self-doubts and debates with myself, I thought, "OK, let's give it a shot." I threw my hat in the ring.  I had to persuade key decision-makers, including the Trustee, Carl McCall, that I could serve the pension fund, the retirees and beneficiaries -- as a business person, not a lawyer -- managing the real estate portfolio for, what was then, the second largest public pension fund in the country.  That career risk paid off in multiples.  Never in a million years -- when I was in junior high school, when I aspired to be a lawyer -- did I ever imagine that I would be the CIO of a huge pension fund. 

As I encourage everyone -- including myself -- you have no idea what 10 years may bring.  Take the meeting, read the article, accept the nightmare project, invite someone to join you for lunch, take on a pro bono assignment, speak up even if you are the contrarian (but be well-reasoned).  Try on something new for size before telling yourself it can't work for you.  

Q.  As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently?  If so, what?

A.  For the most part I would do it all over again because I wouldn’t want to miss the people I met along the way.   I do wish I had taken my own advice -- to take more risk early in my career, visit different cities, volunteer for projects out of my comfort zone -- because every single task/assignment/trip reveals something new. This is my lesson even today: to do as much as I can, but not make myself crazy either.  

Q.  Who have been the major influences on your career?  How? Why?

A.  I’m sure everyone tells you that’s a very hard question and I put a lot of thought into this.  There are just so many. Here are three people who stand out and I realize I'm clearly missing some very important folks.

My father Robert Tsang, who is a first generation Chinese–American, didn’t have a chance to go to college. He was an entrepreneur and got involved in different business ventures and community activities.  He dragged me and my siblings along everywhere.  From the earliest memories he said to me, "You are going to be working and you can do whatever you want. You better work hard and you just have to do the best you can.” He was the kind of parent who left a list of potential colleges on the kitchen table to review over breakfast. Or, he would hear me talking on the phone setting up an interview and after I’d hung up he’d bark, “Call them back and do that call over.”  He demanded high standards through tackling new challenges and never settling.

Another big influencer is a law firm partner, Steve Buchman, because he told me the truth. He told me when I messed up, missed an opportunity or dropped the ball. As hard as that was to hear, it was couched in how I could reach the next rung if I were more aware of my impact.  I needed to hear the critiques because it forced me to step up my game since I wanted to do a good job on behalf of our clients.  He supported me when I was treated unfairly by coaching me to stand up for myself.  I’m still grateful to him and try to celebrate his birthday with him every year. Steve was also a big booster and fan of our clients.  I got to watch - through him - how to be not only a lawyer, but a solid corporate citizen and worthy friend.

And, then there was the irrepressible Alice Connell - whom we all miss tremendously (Alice died of a brain tumor in early 2017 at age 70). Alice and her gritty/gracious attitude, her can-do spirit. She taught me by example and often invited me to programs to open my eyes to new business challenges.  There wasn't anything that Alice wouldn't tackle and persuade others to follow if it were a noble endeavor.  Alice-isms -- and the way she enunciated them - encourage me still, when things appear dire and I hope they will improve. "Dear, hope is not a strategy!"

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