I moved to Australia after having only been in my first real post-graduation job for a few years (the one-and-a-half-year American training stint before that didn't count). This means that much of my work skills, both hard and soft, were learnt in Australia. Perhaps the biggest thing I've "mastered" after these 11 years is the knowledge that hard work doesn't translate to success in the workplace and sometimes it's not even required. What you need to do is to work smart and not hard.
Work is a never-ending process and so there's always more work to be done but a smart worker knows the exact things to tick off in the work list to get ahead and wastes no time by doing the bare minimum in each area in order to rise up. These people tend to be climbing the so-called "management ladder" and leaves the people on the "technical ladder" to do the real work. They then use the output of the workers below them to make all the major decisions. In return, they get paid more and are in a position to access even higher positions, all while standing on a not-so-strong base.
A clever worker also knows that it's who you know rather than what you know that matters. Once these "geniuses" identify their targets, they hone in and walk in their circles, both in and out of the office. Opportunities get given over lunch room conversations and social gatherings and a lot of times, these people move into roles that you don't even know existed. It's especially helpful knowing the right people in the management ranks so that you can help them progress their initiatives and in the process allow them to know your abilities and become "indebted" to you. In that way, they're more likely to offer you the next juicy promotion because you've robbed everyone else of valuable face time with the managers.
You might be wondering since I know all this, why am I still stuck as a worker bee in the lower rungs of the company? This is all because I'm an introvert and society unfairly favours extroverts and conveniently ignores qualities introverts bring to the table. In an ideal world, both personalities should be treated equally but the real world is far from ideal. This results in the two "management/extrovert" and "technical/introvert" silos we see in almost all workplaces. This is made worse when extrovert bosses selectively groom their fellow kind as they're deemed better management material and it becomes a vicious cycle. It's impossible for an introvert to fake being the opposite just to compete because it's extremely taxing to keep up a false persona, believe me I've tried. There's only one thing you can do and that's to accept that life is unfair and resign to the fact that you're destined to be a drone ripe for exploitation by other people eager to climb above you. I have to emphasise though that I don't think I'm any less capable or valuable as an introvert which is another thing these 11 years have taught me.
11 years working in a hydrocarbon projects-based consultancy firm has planted me in permanent crisis mode as work is always stuck in an unstable situation, sensitively subjected to oil prices and world events. My recent attempts at trying to entrench myself deeper into where I'm currently working at by doing my job really well haven't been successful. This is especially demoralising when I've been told I'm doing a good job by the person whose role I'm trying to get which he's more than glad to offload as he's having too much on his plate. I still have some time under my existing contract to continue pursuing this endeavour but I'm beginning to chase diminishing returns so my internal "give-up" mechanism is slowly kicking in.
If I knew 11 years ago how unstable it would be to stay in a consultancy firm post-Australian mining boom, I'd have chosen the other more stable job I was given at an operator company then (i.e. not a consultancy-type organisation), a job that I rejected as it didn't pay as well. Silly stupid me! I absolutely hate regrets and sadly I'd have to live with that big one. Fortunately I have plans in place to get out of this depressing rat race before I lose all energy required to do the things I like (refer to the first post in this series under "House-hunting"). I'll not be in the same situation at the end of the next 11 years, that much I know for sure.
My last full-body health check was done before I moved to Australia which means I'm in the dark with regards to my health condition for at least 11 years now! It was a blood test at that time which picked up the issue of high cholesterol which was later reversed with a drastic change in diet over half a year. That was also the time when I had my last and only colonoscopy which turned up zilch. I really need to get my next one done especially when the cancer gene is in my family (my father died of bowel cancer). I should also start getting annual health checks. When you feel healthy and nothing's wrong on the surface, you get lulled into a sense of security which might even equip you with a sense of invulnerability. That is till you get a health scare which is exactly what happened recently.
As you know I'm on PrEP and one of the possible side effects is a loss in kidney function. In my last three-monthly checkup as part of my PrEP prescription requirement, my kidney function eGFR test came back with a result of 53mL/min/1.73m² which was below the minimum of 60 for the doctor to be able to continue prescribing PrEP to me. Although I was told this was only an approximation calculated based on some formula and not a definitive indication of kidney health plus the fact that I was likely dehydrated on that day, I was still on edge over the period of time waiting for the results of a retest. For this second test, I made sure I wasn't dehydrated and sure enough it went back above that minimum number, to 63.
Like what many would do in my situation, I went online and Doctor Google revealed that "53" fell within "stage 3a" which is mild to moderate kidney failure! That gave me quite a scare initially but since my index was 69 when I started taking PrEP and it has fluctuated in the 60 to 70 range since April 2017, I really shouldn't be that worried and this was what my doctor (the real one) said too. Moreover eGFR is based on how much creatinine is in your system with creatinine being mainly produced by muscles and I have a much higher muscular mass than average people. My doctor told me that eGFR tests for people with little muscles sometimes can give a false indication that their kidneys are healthy. Still, years of snacking on high-sodium tidbits, lazing out on processed food and not drinking enough water must have had some adverse effects on my kidneys. I know I should cut down on snacking but bad habits die really hard and it should be fine if I do everything in moderation right?
The Australian diet consists of more meat so that mustn't be helping either ever since I've moved here. That being said, I eat mainly chicken (white meat) instead of beef or lamb (red meat) although pork is my favourite which I believe is red. Luckily I don't smoke and don't indulge in alcohol like many Aussies and I also cut down on carbs and sugar (thank goodness I don't have a sweet tooth). As a Chinese person, it's excruciating to remove white rice from your daily diet but I've learnt to live without it over the past many years. I'm currently trying to reduce my intake of artificial sweeteners too as a safeguard even though the jury is theoretically still out on the harmful effects of aspartame. Finally, I not only disallow work stress to get to me as I'm not those ambitious kind wanting to rise up fast (as I've painfully written above), I do keep to a strict exercise regimen which is maintained even when I'm not feeling well. All this combined must at least count towards something right?
Even if these 11 years of hard labour in the gym don't amount to a clean bill of health, at least I feel happy when I look at myself in the mirror (which partly explains the countless naked selfies). At the end of the day, I think it's this positive state of mind that's crucial for one to stay healthy. Tell me honestly, won't you feel good too if you see this in the mirror? 😉
And this concludes the third installment of this series. I'll see you soon for the last one.