I’ve taken a slight detour from my public health journey and made a pit stop in the energy sector. Remember the unexpected blessing that came my way last June? I think I mentioned that the job was in a field that was completely different from what I had studied for and had experience in. What I didn’t mention was that it was in the energy sector. Yes, you read that right. Who would have thought? I sure didn’t but here we are. I’ve just completed the first year of my contract and I have a little under two years to go. The fact that I’ve been in a position for a year and I’m not in the process of job hunting at the moment is nothing short of a miracle *cue praise dance*. After surviving, dare I say even beginning to thrive a little, on an energy project, I thought I would take some time to share what my experience has been so far and share a few lessons I have learned along the way. I’m hoping that someone who stumbles across this post will feel encouraged, inspired, or entertained.
So, on the 1st day of June in the year 2020, I started working as the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Specialist on a regional power program. What does that even mean? Simply put, my role is three-fold: to track our activities and results, determine whether we’re meeting our objectives and targets, and use the information from these two parts to improve our ability to achieve results and hit our targets. You still with me? Good. And by regional, I mean West Africa. Anyway, this is what I do daily. It’s no different from what I did in my last position except for the newness of the sector. What made it challenging for me was that I walked in in absolutely no idea how the power sector works. The only thing I knew about energy, apart from the fact that it covers power (electricity), oil, and gas and I need it to survive, was what I learned in Physics class ages ago (the capacity to do work). Apart from that, everything was Greek to me. Unlike in my previous positions where my health background allowed me to learn new things relatively quickly by applying what I ready knew, over here I simply couldn’t use that same tactic. Even Google, my trusty pal, more often than not left me more confused after a series of searches than when I started. It also didn’t help that we use a lot of acronyms. Those who work in the development sector know this. During meetings, I couldn’t distinguish between acronyms that represented organizations we worked with from acronyms that represented key terminology I needed to know. Those first few weeks were rough, not gonna lie. The best-worst part was the fact that the technical teams looked to me as the expert to help them interpret definitions of key indicators, provide clarity on how to collect and report results, and give advice on which approach to use. Every now and then, I think back to those early days and marvel at how I survived. I mean I know how – lots of prayer, an amazing supervisor, and a great team that was patient with me to figure things out and teach me what they know.
Anyway, I have stories for days and I’ll probably share some of them in future blog posts but for today, I want to focus on the task at hand – lessons I’ve learned in this past year of work.
Ask for help – I absolutely cannot emphasise this enough. There is no shame in asking for help no matter how society has made us feel about asking for help. You may feel silly, think you should be able to figure it out on your own but not asking for help is a recipe for disaster. In fact, you will be a better person if you ask for help. Why spend hours trying to figure something out when you know someone who would be able to give you the answer or to point you in the right direction in 5 minutes or less? You would be surprised at how willing people are to help you if you would only ask. Obviously, this doesn’t take away your responsibility of learning. Additionally, if a quick Google search or a quick flip through company resources will get you the answers, then by all means start there. Speaking of learning that brings me to my next lesson.
Make time to learn/study – While your colleagues are happy to give you the answers you need or point you in the right direction, you also need to make a concerted effort to learn the things you need to know to do your job better. This could take several forms – read past reports produced by your team members, read articles online, textbooks, anything that will improve your knowledge and help you do your work better and smarter. And if you’re able to, schedule some time with your colleagues to learn what their roles are, what activities they’re currently working on, and ask for further clarification on what you learned on your own.
Don’t be afraid to fail – This is a hard one. No one likes to mess up, fail or however else you may describe it. But the truth is life happens. Things are not always going to go the way you plan even with your best efforts. Should that hold you back? Not at all. Find out what went wrong, discover the lesson in it, and put a plan in place to reduce the likelihood of repetition. And also take accountability for your actions because sometimes the fault is completely ours. However, don’t beat yourself up over it – apologise, fix it, and keep it moving.
Build relationships – I’m sure we all know there are numerous benefits to having good work relationships. You’re more productive, you have support and people who advocate on your behalf, it contributes to your professional and personal growth to name a few. This has been particularly important for me because I have been working from home since I joined this project. I ran into 3 of my colleagues, on separate occasions, at the office and that was only because I happened to see them while stopping by to do something computer related. While working from home has its perks, you definitely miss the natural camaraderie that occurs when you see your colleagues every day in the same space. As a result, I’ve had to be more intentional about getting to know my colleagues on a more personal level. How? By being friendly and making small talk before meetings begin, it could be as simple as asking how they spent their weekend and sharing something you did as well. I can confidently say that I’ve built pretty good relationships with people I am yet to meet in person.
I’m going to wrap up for today, but I promise to continue sharing more of my work experiences, lessons learned, successes, failures etc. Let me know in the comments what you would like to read more about, both work- and non-work-related.
Until next time.