Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My first job

I have just come out of an interesting presentation about professionalism by an inspiring young woman Mrs. Tracey Rowe Human Resources Director at Investec Asset Management www.investecfunds.co.za. When I was giving her a vote of thanks I said that everyone in our group would remember her for having asked us what our first job was. It was really good hearing everyone’s experiences. We had a set of questions we had to answer like:

A short life story.
Your first job.
Your dream job (from 6 years old).
Moving from academia to business- the challenges.
A piece of advice.

What struck me was how we all managed for the whole time we have been together (almost a month now) and still manage not to know personal life stories about one another. It is really telling about the kind of individualistic society we now live in. A society where it is “me, myself and I” and one does not really care about finding out about the next person.

Anyway this is a characteristic of so many organisations that people work for. I am told it is possible to work in an organisation without actually asking someone how they are except when you want something from them. I find this appalling and smacking of disrespect of the humanness that is in each and every one of us.

Anyway let me go back to the basics about why I chose to blog today. It concerns my first job.

Well, my first job was with an NGO called the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA- Zimbabwe) in 2002. I have said something about it in another blog so I am not going to repeat what it does. But I am going to tell you about my first working experience in a work environment.

I arrived the first day looking very smart in a blue suit and high heels (very professional). Every one was expecting me which was a relief and I met with someone whom I had always held in high esteem. The director of the organisation, who even today I think is an extraordinary person. Most of us who were doing the Media Studies programme in my university had been quoting and using her academic articles for our assignments or projects. We were reading about her in the media and seeing her on TV sometimes commenting about the legal environment in Zimbabwe. Her name is Sarah Chiumbu and everyone at university was in awe about her. How she was highly educated, a director of an impressive organisation, a woman and a mother. But like I said she had it all in her stride, she worked hard.

So when I met her I felt so proud to be the first one in our class to actually shake her hand. My immediate boss who was the Research and Information Officer (Rashweat Mukundu) gave me an orientation about the organisation and how I was to do my work. So I was given my first assignment.

I had to identify a media violation which I quickly managed. I showed it to him and he okayed it and said I should now go and write it so he could approve it. I sat in my designated area and wrote out what was expected of me in the neatest handwriting possible and then went and presented it to him. He looked at me and told me that I had to send it to him via email and I told him that but that wasn’t necessary as I had brought it to him. He explained to me that this is not the way we do things (important aspect of organisational culture). He told me I had to type it out on a COMPUTER.

I was terrified. I had never used a computer before in my life. (The computer project in our university had failed before it started because students had vandalised computers out of curiosity of how they worked, so I had never really learned). I told him that I had never used a computer before. I will forever be grateful to Rashweat, he did not laugh or scorn at me for my inadequacies.

He was very patient and taught me how to use a computer. I had this little notebook which I kept and I wrote down everything that was happening on the computer as it was being switched on. I remember writing down click the switch on buttons on both the hard drive and monitor (thank God I had done a course about the components of a computer but unfortunately had not done it in practice). Wait for a few minutes to get the blue screen. Go to start choose programmes, then Microsoft word document, click, then it opens a document, type a few words then click file, then save as etc. I wrote everything down in case I forgot.

I didn’t want to embarrass myself by forgetting then going to ask about the same thing. After that I took whatever chance I had to practice and type on the computer because I did not have a computer of my own. Whenever I was to do some work he would have to leave his computer to allow space for me. I ended up not having to go for lunch because this was the only time I could get the computer. I would just type, type, type from books newspapers anything.

Today I am proud to say I can type around 66 words in a minute. I soon became comfortable in the organisation because I chose to make myself humble and available to learn. We became a like a small family in the organisation with everyone just watching out for each other. I was willing to learn from everyone such that when it was time for me to move on to have print media experience I was quiet ready for it.

I learned that for one to be successful in the workplace one has to be their own person. One has to be open and willing to learn from everyone in the organisation no matter what job description they have. They have something to tell about the kind of work ethic, culture or how technology is used in the company. I also learned that one should never be scared to admit that they don’t know something. That’s how we learn. Also never to be afraid of failure, if one fails to be able to live up to that failure. Failure is about learning it is about searching the mind for new ways and new ideas of how to get the work done differently.

But we have to be careful that our failures are not repeated as they can end up costing the organisation.