This essay first appeared in This Singaporean Life (subscribe!), a newsletter I sent out every Sunday (SGT) where I share my weekly musings on work and life in Singapore.
Last Friday marks the last day of my first full-time role in the 27 years of my life.
I worked several part-time jobs for not more than a few months each time between my late teens and early twenties and only started my first permanent job a little lesser than three years ago after graduating from university.
Whenever I left a part-time job, I never thought much other than how much I loved working with my fellow colleagues.
I guess that’s usual for most other Singaporeans or even anyone who worked part-time during their studies. We only think about how much we loved working with the people since we don’t have an emotional attachment to the company.
But for a full-time job, it’s different. We want to get the most out of it. It’s usually about the money, but other times it’s the experience to beautify our resumés that holds higher importance.
After almost three years in my first full-time role, though, my mindset shifted. Now, I think the lessons I can take away are more useful.
I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details and focus on the most important lesson I’d learned during my time at a small-medium enterprise: I realised how insignificant I am in (not to) the company.
Sure, I contributed quite a fair bit to the company, and the responsibilities the management entrusted me with are a solid proof of my efforts.
But everything I did could have been done by anyone else. I was just lucky to have the opportunity and I took the initiative and did more than expected.
If anything, I’d have to admit I was a little disappointed when I learned someone else could easily take over me. It was a humbling experience and one that is necessary, at least for me.
Why? Because all companies – regardless of size – can easily replace anyone, especially the younger employees. I was no exception, and I had to learn that for my own good.
The truth is, there’s virtually nothing any young employee can offer to a company that another young employee can’t.
It doesn’t matter even if I were to work two times or even three times harder than every other young and old employee; come in early and leave late; offer to help whenever and wherever possible… because anyone can do that. It’s just about putting in the effort.
That said, would I work as hard if I knew all of the above beforehand?
Yes, without a doubt.
Because I have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose. In fact, it’s both great for me and the company if I’m easily replaceable.
It means I can leave to move on to do something else when the time comes and the company won’t fall apart if I’m gone. I might sound like I’m trying to stand on a higher moral ground, but I’m not. I just think it’s a win-win for everyone.
Moreover, knowing I’m replaceable will also put my ego in check and keep me motivated to be at the top of my game.
“To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” – Coco Chanel
I haven’t learned how to be different yet, and that’s fine, I suppose. No one has it figured out right from the start. I’m only three years into my career and I have a long way to go.
The only way I can stay in the game is to find the X factor that differentiates me from the rest.
Call to action
Always remind yourself that you’re replaceable in the company even if you’d graduated from an ivy league school. Use that humbling reminder to fuel your charge towards finding what makes you so different that you’re irreplaceable.
Until then, keep pushing on because your career is a marathon, not a race.