Krawczak: This is nothing like playing office

The other day I casually updated my Facebook status to, “I used to play office a lot when I was younger. It was nothing like this.” Like many of my obscure Facebook updates, there wasn’t really anything that led to the statement other than a simple observation. But since then, I’ve spent some time thinking about the differences between my expectations for and reality of my current career. Through exploration of these differences I’ve learned quite a few valuable lessons in the past seven years that I’ll share. These are in no particular order. Some are positive. Some are negative. But none came without a lesson.

I went into this job thinking things would move more quickly than they do but sometimes projects can move pretty slowly. I had no idea that projects could take years to see completion. That’s years. Not weeks. Not months. Although this clashes with my personality, it sure has taught me to practice patience. Which, as it turns out, is actually a helpful skill to have.

I expected there to be conflict and controversy with this job and I was fine with that. What surprises me, however, are the ways in which people choose to handle it. I was shocked the first time someone wrote me a nasty anonymous note. I didn’t think adults would do that. I was surprised again the first time someone spoke about a topic they knew little about and were seemingly ok with speaking untruths. What was most surprising to me though is how long it took me to get to a place where these things didn’t bother me. That’s unfortunate though because there are a lot more positive and supportive people and so it should have been easier to get to a place where I can let go of negativity and hold on to the positive. That’s a much better place to operate from and I’m glad I’m there.

The reality of the 80/20 rule is also a difference in experience from reality. Experience in college showed me that there will always be the frustrating experience of people who take without giving back. I had heard the statistic that you can expect 80% of the work to be done by 20% of the people. I guess I just didn’t think that was accurate. It couldn’t be, right? Everyone wants to give and do the work. But now I know that the 80/20 rule can’t be too far off and it’s led me to seek out the right people for each project. The passionate 20%.

And speaking of the right people, it really is about getting the right people for the team. I used to think anyone could be made into the right person. That’s not true. No matter what the goal is, there is an all-star team out there and you just have to find it. The people you recruit can make or break the success. And further, when I’m not the right person for something I’ve learned to step back and let the right person take my place.

The value of effective communication cannot be understated. I’m a communication major so I knew communication would be important. But just how important is now clear to me. Having effective communication skills and being honest and open with our members and the community has never failed us.

I think the first surprise I had on this job was actually before I even started. I was surprised that I was given a chance at the position. Giving people a chance is important. Sometimes all we need is for someone to believe in us just once. I am incredibly grateful to the original Board of Directors that hired me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in others or take risks before this job, it has just surprised me how valuable risk taking is to forward movement. I am much more willing to accept greater risk because someone once took a risk by hiring me.

I used to play office as a child. Reality is nothing like it. I’m ok with knowing that my expectations haven’t always matched reality and I’m ok with the surprises. It has provided an amazing opportunity for self-improvement. And although the surprises keep coming, I am happy I can find the lesson in them all.

Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.