To have and to hold from this day forward

… an extra qualification.

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It is difficult to work, but it’s even harder to work and study at the same time.

Some of you may wonder why I stopped blogging so regularly. Yes, there were the usual episodes of laziness and a lack of inspiration, however I did have a legitimate reason – I was studying for my CIMA qualification. And it took forever for me to take my first exam because it was just so hard. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that the content was particularly challenging (though it wasn’t that easy either), it was hard because I had to work at the same time.

I should have made better use of my free time in University by doing the qualification instead. In fact, I had an acquaintance who did the CIMA foundation and level 1 during university, because he needed a diploma or a degree certificate in order to take his CFA. He then went on to finish his CFA before we even started working. We all thought he was crazy and intense. On hindsight, given how slack it sometimes was in year 1 and 2 of University, I regret not doing the same. At present, he has an awesome job, which most people can’t have given our limited level of experience and lack of qualification. His LinkedIn profile is always ranked one of the most viewed. Of course, there are also some of us who have landed great jobs and would never need those qualifications.

But sometimes I wonder if I did the same, would I be as successful as him? That’s a rhetorical question – probably not even close but I would think I would be better positioned during the job hunting season. I guess I just have to settle with the fact that I now have to work and study at the same time.

Having been through a little of what it’s like, I thought to give those of you who are thinking of doing a qualifications some tips on what to look out.

1. Find something relevant to what you do or what you might be interested to do

This might seem straightforward, but sometimes people take qualifications for the sake of taking them or because people around them are doing so. Personally, I was dissuaded from taking CIMA by some people. They advised me that I should have taken CFA instead because it was more recognised. However, the definition of “more recognised” depends on what industry you work in. If I were in banking – yes absolutely, but I found that CIMA was more relevant to my work.

Pursuing a qualification is also a great move to switch out of a job / industry. A good example is how some people have decided to take do Masters with the hope that that’ll open another window of opportunity to them. That works too, but there’s always a level of uncertainty with that, which leads to me to my next point.

2. Speak to as many people as possible

If you’re really serious about taking a qualification, speak to a good mix of people, specifically:

  • those who are senior and qualified to understand how the qualification has or hasn’t benefitted them
  • those who are in the industry / job that you hope your qualification will open doors to, in order to understand whether the qualification is actually relevant and necessary for their job
  • those who are taking the qualification to learn about their experience and assess if you can really take the extra challenge and stress. They may also give you a tip or two about financing options

3. Start small – if you can, take one exam and see whether you find it relevant

It doesn’t have to be like a 12 month gym membership, you can actually take 1 exam first, then schedule the other exams after that. Don’t overcommit and buy all the books at one, only to find that you hate it and find it extremely boring. You could even buy the book first and see whether you find the exam worth taking. There’s definitely a high cost to pursuing qualifications. Sometimes you might have to self fund your studies, so you need to be wise about how you spend your money. Even if your company sponsors you, you need to make sure that failing the exam will not affect your promotion and bonus opportunities, or even worst whether you keep your job.

And this reminds me – I really need to cancel my monthly gym membership.

4. Once you commit, you will experience pain and constant FOMO, but don’t give up.

FOMO 
ˈfəʊməʊ/
noun informal
  1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
    “I realized I was a lifelong sufferer of FOMO”
early 21st century: abbreviation of fear of missing out.

 

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Know that you will definitely lose some weekends and weekday nights. It’s very common in the UK that people will ask you “how was your weekend”. My response for my Easter holiday weekend was particularly depressing because I was studying throughout. When asked this question, we figured that it is usually polite to ask the person back. Cue a slight cringe inside when they tell me about their fabulous weekend, riding horses and chasing unicorns. I guess at least they didn’t mock me for having a lack of life.

Or maybe you could rethink FOMO, when everyone has qualification and you have none. #FOMO

Concluding Thoughts

As one of my friends pointed out to me, those who are the most successful are often those who are always working and studying at the same time. They are constantly improving their personal and professional self. It doesn’t have to be by pursuing professional qualification – there’s only so many you can do that is relevant but self-improvement is always great.

At least you won’t feel that your “study” brain is degenerating. Looking back, i can confidently say that my math has definitely improved. The qualification has also helped me understand a lot more things in work. There was an initial inertia to study after work, but it really helps once I get into a rhythm of work-study-life. I still feel that I miss out sometimes, especially on sunny weekends and I’m stuck indoors. But even if I’m not studying, the truth is that I would probably be stuck indoors watching drama anyway.

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An accurate portrayal by theAwkwardYeti

On the bright side, for the rest of us who are single and have few commitments, we just need to worry about working and studying. I have no idea how those who are married with kids, work and study survive.

Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!

If you would like to stay tune to the next post, please click the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the page and just provide your email. You don’t need to have a registered wordpress account. 

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Stay fabulous & ambitious everyone! 

Athena

 

The Car Park Problem: Learning to Say No

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I was back in Singapore for Lunar New Year last month and encountered a peculiar problem in the car park. My best friend was driving and we were looking for a parking space in a multi-storey car park. However, when she drove to the third storey, everything came to a standstill. We didn’t move for twenty minutes.

By some miracle, we eventually found a parking lot and got out as quickly as we could. I asked my best friend about this and she said this was a common situation faced in this car park. The car park had a major problem. It had only one lane. Cars that came up to find parking lots were blocked by cars which were trying to get out of the carpark. Then the honking starts. All that was needed to solve the problem was for someone to say no to the situation, get out of the car and direct the traffic, but everyone preferred to sit in their air-conditioned vehicle… and honk. Nobody wanted to get out into the heat and roll up their sleeves to get the traffic moving.

The car park problem reflects a similar problem I face in work: my inability to say no, because it is uncomfortable.

As a junior, it is normal that we would want to please our bosses. It could be ambition that drives us to constantly want to impress our superiors. Sometimes its nervousness that we may be left behind our peers if we don’t make them happy. Sometimes it could be just purely of fear that we will not progress in our careers if we don’t. I have the same fear. During one of my projects, I received the feedback that in my eagerness to please, I didn’t actually know what I signed up for. Given the tight deadline of one month, I didn’t actually have the capacity to perform the task, but I said yes to the partner because I didn’t like the idea of rejecting a partner. I mean, it’s a partner.

Since it’s so uncomfortable to say no, why should I do it then?

It affects your ability to deliver on other tasks.

For every task that you accept, you need to consider the consequences on the other outstanding work that you have. Does it affect the quality and the timeliness of other work? How does it change the order of priority of each piece of work? This will also put your reputation at stake if you fail to deliver.

A good piece of advice I was given by someone was to “under-promise and over-deliver” for every piece of work that you receive. As you’ve managed expectations when the task was initially handed out to you, any extra mile you go will enable you to exceed expectations upon completion of your task. However, I’ll put a twist on this principle – before you can even under-promise anything, how about think of what you can even promise in the first place. Because if you’re overworked, you can under-promise, but you’ll probably under-deliver as well.

It increases chance of burnout from work.

One of the main points that I didn’t mention in my post on the difficulties of transitioning from University to work, which eventually leads graduates to want to quit very quickly, is actually due to our inability to say no. Having more responsibilities and being challenged is a good thing, but when it starts making you sacrifice your weekends and prolong your weekdays, you will burn out soon.

As some of us aren’t willing to have this conversation about being overworked with our boss, we choose to quit instead because we can’t actually live like that. We live with the stigma that saying no and refusing a task means that we are lazy and not willing to be challenged, but there is a line. Sometimes people give you so much because they have become accustomed to you taking on so much that they don’t even realise. However, nobody is going to tell them except for you. The onus is on you.

In fact, I would think that employers would prefer you to work hard, be consistent about the quality of work, rather than work extremely hard all the time and quit after less than 2 years of working for them. As quoted by a friend who has his own company, “we prefer a consistent employee than a one who slacks one day, hotshot the next. When you’re running a company, you want reduce all the unknowns as much as possible. There’s enough of them as it is.”

An obvious question now comes to mind, how do you say no exactly?

An effective method that I’ve tried so far was to ask questions to clarify and increase my understanding of the task. Sometimes people aren’t really sure what task they are handing out to you to do, sometimes they don’t even know the purpose of the task. Hence, by asking questions and challenging them slightly, the task may actually have been redundant. You could try listing the competing priorities you have at hand to see whether you can fit the new task in, or if the person will get the message that it’s not possible. In fact, even if you didn’t successfully manage to say no, the person can at least give you a hand at prioritising the different tasks you’re juggling with.

I haven’t been able to investigate the different methods, but one thing not to do is to say no immediately when the request is given. It’s so easy to come off as rude and arrogant when you say no immediately, especially to your superior.

Concluding Thoughts

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There’s always a rainbow if you just step out.

With that said, it’s important to not reject challenges to increase your capacity and ability at work. You need to judge correctly for yourself what is too much for you and what you’re rejecting because you aren’t willing to be challenged.

Nobody knows whether you’re just being lazy or you’re really overloaded with work, except you. We are sometimes so good at putting a professional and calm front that we forget to prioritise our own well-being. We sit there stuck in our cars honking all day, frustrated and angry with the situation. We forget that the quality of our other work decreases when we take on more than we can handle. We forget that we could actually do something about the car park problem.

If you face the carpark problem in your workplace, why don’t you stop honking and do something about it today?

Hope you enjoyed the post! I would also like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment. You’ll never know who else is reading your comments and might benefit from them!

If you would like to stay tune to the next post, please click the “Follow” button on the bottom right of the page and just provide your email. You don’t need to have a registered wordpress account. 

You can also connect by following my instagram @twentyandfabulous and liking my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/twentyandfabulous/

Stay fabulous & strong everyone! 

Athena