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Five Life Lessons from 40 Years at Work

Author: Karen Thompson
Published: 26 May 2020

By Karen Thompson

BCom, FAMI, CPM, AFAIM | Helping You Communicate You! | Connector, Marketer, Writer, Business and Career Strategist


This year marks 40 years since I entered the workforce. It’s scary seeing that number in print. I think back to my first job ..… I had graduated from business college and was offered a Girl Friday role with a manufacturing engineering company. There was a manual typewriter on my desk, a PABX switchboard, a shorthand notebook and a pencil. Nearby there was a telex machine (anyone remember the tapes we had to make to send messages?). And, I shouldn’t forget about the adding machine with a handle on the side and the carbonised Kalamazoo accounting system that we used for payroll. So much has changed since that time.

Over the years I have worked in a variety of roles and organisations. I have seen the best and worst of life in the workplace. It was a privilege to be asked recently by Simone Roche MBE, Founder of Northern Power Women in the UK, to share with their podcast listeners some of the lessons I had learned throughout my career (Series 2, Episode 8). This is what I said:

What’s one piece of advice that has really stuck with you?

Be brave for five minutes longer. The actions you take in those next few minutes when you feel like quitting may take you somewhere amazing. Feel the fear and do it anyway. [Thank you Todd Sampson – I heard your ‘Be Brave for Five Minutes Longer’ lecture many years ago, and the message certainly stuck with me].

What advice would you pass on to someone starting their career today?

Never compromise your integrity. Be true to yourself and if you ever find yourself in an ethical dilemma, you will make the right choice.

When have you faced imposter syndrome and what did you do about it?

I was asked by my university alumni office to be part of a panel discussion on corporate social responsibility which was being filmed for television. I said yes but when I saw my fellow panellists the imposter in me wanted to crawl into a hole – two were members of parliament and one was a local mayor. I felt the fear and did it anyway but to this day I haven’t watched the finished product. [Thank you Murdoch University].

Tell us about a time you have had to be resilient…

As we keep hearing today, health is the most important thing in the world. Two years ago, I ended up in a coronary care unit with an arrhythmia and needed to have my heart shocked back into rhythm. A few weeks later I was back in hospital and ended up having a year off work. My doctors said I needed to reduce the stress in my life. I stood down from my senior role and went back to work in a newly created part-time position. My confidence took a battering during this period, but I was determined to get my life and career back, albeit at a slower pace.

Give us an example of when a strong business network came into its own.

Many years ago, I wrote a magazine article about networking and said the best time to build your network is before you need it. I recently started my own business and I am blessed to be surrounded by a network of amazing professionals who have helped me crowdsource ideas, shared their experiences and insights and given me so much advice that if I had to pay for would send me broke. I’d like to say thank you all those amazing people.

For many years we’ve spoken about the future of work and that future is well and truly here. We have amazing technology, robots, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, big data and supercomputers and most importantly we have incredible, agile people. Regardless of where you are on your career journey, I hope these lessons resonate and can help you navigate your life.

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