By Devin Stuart, Roseburg Forest Products
Careers in the lumber industry may be forged from family connections and birthrights, serendipitous circumstances, or carefully planned academic study, among other pathways. Whatever road gets you here, you will undoubtedly encounter plenty of well-intentioned counsel along the way – whether you ask for it or not. That advice will take many shapes—the good, the bad, and even the funny – but there is something to be learned from just about all of it.
While a lot of the do’s and don’ts lobbied in your direction will be unsolicited, some of the best guidance I received as a newcomer to the industry was to seek out help proactively. Specifically, I was told to find a mentor – and not to limit myself to just one. What a gem that piece of advice turned out to be! This is my fourth year in the business, and I credit the three or four workplace mentors I still have for helping me to get where I am so far. As someone who was hired right out of college, I didn’t really know what I was stepping into, the ins and outs of the industry, and how to navigate the professional landscape. But being able to turn to multiple people who are strong or knowledge in different areas has been an eye-opening experience and professional benefit to me over these past few years. Depending on what the topic is, or who is available at the time, I’m able to bounce ideas off of these individuals who have the background to give solid feedback. Nothing is off-limits, whether I want to know “how do you approach a conversation about A, B, C, or D with your boss?” or “what would you do if this was your situation?”
Here’s my disclaimer: not all advice is necessarily good advice. I remember some discouraging input I received when my company, Roseburg Forest Products, launched our social media presence in 2016. “We’re old-fashioned,” piped in one commentator. “Nobody in the industry wants to use social media; we call people on the phone, and we’ll never change.” “Don’t bother,” injected another. Had we taken that advice to heart and let it hold us back, where would we be today? Well, we’d be without nearly 1,300 users who follow us on Twitter and not engaged with the 2 million folks we reach through Pinterest! That’s the thing about advice: people may offer it with all the best intentions, but sometimes it’s just plain wrong. Having mentors who can provide different perspectives will help filter out the good from the bad. So, too, will listening. The more advice you receive, the better you get at filtering and knowing if it is applicable to you and your situation. Even if you know you’re on the receiving end of some flawed logic, it doesn’t hurt to hear the speaker through to the end. I believe you can learn something from everyone, even if it is simply learning about who that person is and how he or she thinks. I’m inclined to invest just as much time talking with someone whose advice is off as I would with someone who is on the same page, because I want to understand how that individual reached that particular perspective—even if I don’t agree with it—because it might just be appropriate at another time, under a different scenario.
“Kid, you’ve got to work as long as possible to make sure my retirement stays funded!”
While my feelings about being called “kid” in a professional setting could result in its own article altogether, I do appreciate a good laugh. Moreover, I also know what this person was getting at: loyalty to the industry will reap rewards for many of us. I’ll grow my career and my leadership skills. I’ll have the opportunity to see monumental accomplishments during my tenure. And yes, I’ll be carrying on a legacy of those who are retiring—something I do find empowering and important even as someone not born into the forest products industry.
All in all, conversations with people allow you to understand their perspectives and know their intent behind their words. I have found that conversations with people about the industry, my career, life itself lets me know people on a deeper level and connect better.
All that to say, as someone who entered this industry not even five years ago, I’ve received my fair share of advice on everything under the sun. Some of it has been good, some of it has been not so good, and some of it has been conflicting. “Make mistakes—it’s how you learn,” it was suggested to me early on, at the same time that I was warned that messing up in such a small industry would be the death of my career. The bottom line is that you have to really consider who is delivering advice and whether you value that person’s perspective or opinion over someone else’s. I have a new appreciation for that today as I find myself in a position where a new hire fresh out of school is seeking out my counsel.
Corralling everything that I’ve learned so far myself, what I would tell her – and any other newcomer – is, first, understand your own strengths. Not only will this identify where the best opportunities are for you, but it also will expose the areas where you are weaker and could stand to improve. Based on the personality assessment that Roseburg administers to its employees, for example, the test indicated that I needed to further develop my management skills but that I have a knack for seeing the big picture. Based on that feedback, and to make me better in that area and shape myself into a more well-rounded employee, I’m now enrolled in a masters program for project management.
Second, I would urge rookies to get as much clarity as possible on the industry as a whole—including how things fit together, what is expected of you, and how you’ll be evaluated on your performance. In that vein, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and what you want. Third, and maybe most importantly...PARTICIPATE. I spent a lot of time at the beginning of my career sitting quietly in meetings because I was nervous that I didn’t have anything valuable to say. But just because you don’t have all the experience or background knowledge doesn’t mean that you don’t have the latest education in the room or the most creative idea out there. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas, because even as a newbie, you have something to contribute!