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What Travelling Has Taught Me About My IT Career

What Travelling Has Taught Me About My IT Career

I like to travel. Who doesn’t? I also like my career. I feel it has improved since I’ve travelled, and when I think about it, there are a few ways it has improved. For those of you who have travelled, you may feel the same way.

Sometimes the Little Things Don’t Matter

After leaving the country and going somewhere foreign, regardless of where it is, I have realised a few things: I realised that the world really is quite big, and there’s more to it than just the city I live in. Even though I live in a large Australian city and see the other cities in movies and on the news, that concept is easy to forget.

There are all different kinds of people, all different kinds of places and sights to see in the world. When I travelled to a few places (I haven’t been to many), I realised that some of the things in my career or in my workplace don’t really matter that much. It made me realise that I don’t need to push so hard on some things or that some things don’t matter.

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This doesn’t mean that I should lose all care for my work. Not at all. What I mean, is that there are many small things that happen in our daily lives that don’t really matter when we think about it. Is your next door neighbour’s desk messy? It doesn’t really matterit’s a small concern. Is your team not filling out the comments or details on a bug tracking system in the way you’d like? Perhaps their method is still effective, and maybe it doesn’t really matter. Focus on the bigger things and do them well, and if smaller things bother you, try not to worry too much about them.

There’s Always a Different Way to Do Something

The cities we live in often solve problems in the same way, and tend to do things the same in each instance. When you’ve travelled to other countries, you’ll find other people and other cities have different ways of solving the same problem.

For example: public transportation in the big city. New York has an underground rail system called the subway and London has something similar. If you go to Melbourne, however, we have overground rail and light rail (called trams), and Sydney has both an overground rail and an above ground monorail. Each of them have their pros and cons, but the point is that there is a single problem and multiple ways to solve it. Other cities may have completely different ways of solving problems.

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When I came back to my job, I realised that there is a need to think about different solutions to problems. This could be a large problem, such as how to architect the system to meet the requirements, or other problems such as how to transmit data from one place to another in the most efficient method possible. Sometimes the first solution that comes to mind isn’t always the best one, and it’s worth taking the time to think of alternatives.

It’s Important to Be Motivated

I’ve seen some pretty great things while I’ve been travelling. I haven’t been to many different countries (only seven, I think), but the desire to travel to more places gives me the motivation to work. It’s not really a direct result, where working better = more travelling. Instead, the better I work, the happier that clients and employers will be, the more money I’ll get paid, which gives me the freedom to go travelling.

Travelling is one of the motivations that I have to work, but it’s not the only one. Doing a great job for the client is right up there. However, I can imagine that many of you like to travel as well, so you should try to channel that as motivation for your work.

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When Things Go Wrong, It’s Important to Stay Calm

Before we travel, some of us plan where we are going and what we’re going to do, to some extent. Sometimes it’s planned down to the day; others plan generally where we want to go. Some of us just take off somewhere and see what happens.

Regardless of your approach to travel, things will inevitably go wrong. I’ve never met anyone who has been travelling and not had some kind of unfortunate event or something go wrong with their trip. Luggage being lost, flights being cancelled, hotel bookings not being made, cars breaking down, the list goes on.

One thing I’ve learnt from travelling is how to stay calm when things go wrong. This, actually, is probably the most important thing that travelling has taught me. Whether it’s being stuck in a convoy of buses for three hours because there’s been a once-in-a-decade flood in the middle of Egypt, or being caught in the Malaysian airport unable to fly home because of a problem with your visa, any problem you have in your travels can be a learning experience.

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Take a deep breath, think about the solutions, talk to people if you can, and try to work out what needs to be done to get something made right. It’s taught me how to remain calm in non-travelling situations like traffic on the way to work, or dealing with difficult people at work.

Well, there’s a few of the lessons that I’ve learnt while travelling which have helped my career. Hopefully they’ve been helpful for you too!

More by this author

Ben Brumm

Ben is a business analyst and software developer. He shares career advice on Lifehack.

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

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