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What Was It Like Back Then?

One of my daughters recently asked me what work was like "back then" (meaning when I started my career).

Enter: one of those dreamy flashback expressions.

Thursday, June 1st... of 1989.

That was the day I started my post-undergraduate career at a "big box" financial services company here in Des Moines. Fresh out of college with a degree in Business Management and minors in Math/Computer Science and in Accounting, I was optimistic and idealistic as I entered the corporate world. I had been hired as a COBOL programmer in their IT department. I was going to change the world in the land of beige fabric cubicles.

(Changing the world may have taken a few years after that... still working on that one... but I know I've made a positive dent here and there.)

I quickly learned that the kind, nurturing bosses we learned about in my management classes were spotty (my first so-called leadership would have made Satan blush). I learned how to pick my friends and alliances. I learned how much voices carry in the land of cubicles. I learned how to play a variety of office politics. I learned how to adapt... quickly. I learned how to spot opportunities (e.g., if your company is paying for 75% of your tuition, you take advantage of it and get your MBA). I learned how to manage personal setbacks (cancer still sucks). I learned that corporate Karma comes back to bite those who deserve it. I learned how to advocate for myself and what hills are (and aren't) worth dying on.

But mostly I learned how to learn. I learned how to listen. I learned how to read people and situations. I learned how to take points A and B and extrapolate to Z. I learned to hone my BS-o-meter. I learned how to say no. I learned to brand and diversify my career. I learned the world is A LOT larger than that young college grad could have ever imagined. I learned that things come full circle (like having many of my first coworkers at my current client, or having my daughter dating the son of another coworker).

The work environment has changed tremendously in the past three decades. Have all the lessons I've learned been easy? Heavens, no. Have they been worth it? Yes, and then some.

To all of you fresh college grads entering the workforce, I hope you have a great time adjusting your world view. I hope you learn some of these same lessons. I hope some of the lessons come easily, and I hope you have to learn some of them the hard way. I hope you remember what it was like at the beginning of your journey. It's fun to look back. 


Eric D Brown



Timothy Johnson

1. I know, right?
2. Somebody I know still reads my blog (WIN!)

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