You really work to live rather than live to work.
(pages 41 - 42 of printed journal)
Today I enter my thirtieth year in the workforce since graduating from this Faculty. I will devote most of my comments to the late phase of my university life and the early period of my career, when I was making all the work and life choices that lay ahead of me. Most of these decisions I am glad to have made, but I also learnt a lot entering into business in the early days and made mistakes that I am happy to share with you today.
Like many of you, I was not certain that the choice I made to join chartered accounting firm KPMG following my degree was the right one. I really did not know what to expect. Yet, in the four years I was there, I learnt a lot. Hopefully, as I rumble through my six key ‘learnings’, something may resonate with you.
First, over-communicate with your colleagues, to ensure ‘no-surprises’ outcomes. Often this correlates with having a keen self-awareness of the issues around you, rather than it all being about you. As good and great as we all think we are, and the more focused on self we become, the more blind spots we have. This lack of self-awareness is a real inhibitor to working collaboratively and progressing our careers. So communicate often, escalate often, and be humble!
Second, while work ethic is crucial, be smart. If everyone does the same thing at the same hour of the day, it can waste crucial time. Being prepared to do work in ‘off peak’ times can work well when you are busy. Why not allocate an ‘off peak’ time, such as early on a Sunday, to complete the work that needs to be done, instead of constantly missing mid-week family dinners? There is no substitute for hard work and innovation, but be smart, use the time effectively and be prepared to question your superiors if your efforts can be better directed.
Third, being consistent in your behaviour is a differentiator for young people. You are always ‘on stage’ at work – playing the ‘nice guy’ to your boss and then berating a subordinate in front of others shows you are insincere and not to be trusted. Always make your colleagues look good in front of their peers, even if in private you sometimes need to be more frank. Consistency of character and behaviour will build collaboration and success throughout your career.
Fourth, you will constantly be asked to make key decisions that affect others. Never make a crucial decision by yourself; consult someone you trust and do not be afraid to approach a mentor. Furthermore, for controversial decisions, be thoughtful but put an expiration date on them otherwise things will not get done. Decision-making and the exercise of judgment are qualities that differentiate people, so consult, consult, consult and then act in an informed manner.
Fifth, putting family as a distant priority is not an option. By all means, start your workday early so you can finish at a reasonable hour, hopefully to facilitate family life, recreation and exercise. And be productive. Over the years, I have witnessed considerable unproductive time in the office as people ‘hang around’ wasting their own and colleagues’ time. While my career is everything to me, my family is more important and they know it. You really do work to live, rather than live to work.
Finally, commit to further education. Seek to understand what you are passionate about over the next two years and then undertake alternative post-graduate study. A few years of contemplation after entering the workforce rather than jumping at the first post-graduate opportunity is advisable. The number of postgraduate courses I have seen young work colleagues (and myself) abandon is frightening. Genuine points of difference today amongst your cohort are difficult to identify, but having employed several thousand people over the past 20 years, I believe that one thing that will single you out is insufficient relevant study. Completing some relevant post-graduate study in your youthful years is strongly advised, as career and family will take more of your time as life progresses.
To the students, you probably do not fully appreciate today how fortunate you are to have had family, friends and this institution to support you in your successful pursuit of a Bachelor of Commerce. I certainly had no idea at the time, but now look back with great appreciation. Our bank employs many graduates, but this University is one of only a handful that we recruit from. Your Faculty is a priority target and if you are thoughtful, humble and work hard to identify your personal points of difference, you cannot lose.
An edited version of his Occasional Address delivered at Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne, on 20 December 2010.