I had just one dream to accompany my suitcase as I left my hometown, Sydney, for London in August 2010. As a 21 year-old aspiring songwriter and producer fresh out of university, I intended to make London my new home and writing hits for Beyoncé and Beyoncé-tier artists my new career. Standing by for Beyoncé’s team to pick up one of my demo songs, I took up a part-time sales job at a West London Apple Store that October, covering my costs in the world’s most expensive city. Three years later after graduating from the Apple Store Leader Program in Sydney in late 2013, I left Apple to begin a new entrepreneurial adventure that would take me to Sri Lanka, Singapore, India, Philippines, Malaysia, and Europe.
Looking back and connecting the dots, I realise that the education I received at Apple was priceless compared to a business degree or to anything that Beyonce could have ever given me. My classroom – the shop floors of some of the busiest Apple Stores in the world – allowed me to learn important life skills and even more about my values, strengths, and opportunities. My brief career at Apple, along with the Apple-alumni friends and mentors I met from all over the world, enabled me to become a better person, ignited my passion for learning, and expanded my songwriting dreams into entrepreneurial dreams.
I’d like to share a few of the most important lessons I picked up during my chapter at Apple.
1. Be Yourself. Being Someone Else Sucks.
At Apple, I didn’t have to play a role. I could be myself! I learned that though there are different ways of presenting myself depending on the situation or audience, the core of who I am shines through every meaningful interaction I have with others. On the other hand, whenever I lack authenticity, conversations become littered with awkward moments, tension, and fizzle out into nothingness.
How did I become more of myself? I channeled my authenticity by:
- Reflecting on my core values, past, and life dreams
- Being fully present within myself and noticing when moods or behaviours change
- Recognising strengths and weaknesses
- Asking for feedback on an ultra-regular basis to build into self-development
As a side effect of being myself, I became more open-minded, compassionate, and able to put myself in others’ shoes. This became especially important in an environment as diverse as an Apple Store filled with people from many different walks of life.
2. Know Your Why, Then Start With Why.
Shortly after joining Apple, the now-famous TED Talk by Simon Sinek was the first recommendation a manager gave me after seeking his opinion about applying for the Apple Store Leader Program. Watching it changed my life, because for ten years I thought the only way I would find fulfilment in life is by writing Grammy-award winning music. I was starting with what when I should have been starting with why.
Intrigued by the idea that why is more important than what, I took the time to dissect my pop dreams. What was deeper than the outcome I was seeking? I reflected on my childhood, and a flood of memories washed over me. As a 10-year-old growing up in Saudi Arabia, I published a tabloid newspaper using my pet cats, dogs, and ducks as the stars of its gossip columns. For years my little sister was my muse and singer for entire albums I would write and produce on my computer. I would direct album cover photoshoots using our floppy disk digital camera, edit the liner notes on Microsoft Publisher ’98, and manufacture the album using our cool new HP Inkjet Printer and CD-RW burner. I also loved to paint, cook, write short stories, and build model airplanes. Suddenly it hit me – I didn’t want to be a songwriter or producer. I wanted to be a creator.
I could now articulate my passions clearly – I love creating something out of nothing. I love bringing ideas to life. I love inspiring a team of people to help make it happen. After this realisation, my job at Apple became so much more meaningful and fulfilling. I wasn’t just selling great products. I was the creative director of amazing customer experiences on the shop floor for eight hours a day. At home, cooking a delicious sake infused salmon dish for my friends became as fulfilling as writing a song! And today, the excitement of traveling to a new city where I can take Instagram photos that elicit emotion and inspire wanderlust is more exciting than the prospect of winning a Grammy.
Having discovered my why, I now enjoy and revel in each non-songwriting, non-Beyoncé project and experience, and I communicate my ideas with more passion, energy, and excitement than ever before.
3. Think Macro and Micro.
Observing my environment with macroscopic vision and microscopic detail was a crucial part of my training at Apple. On one of my shifts in Sydney, after getting my team energised for the eight hours ahead, reviewing our store goals for the day, and ensuring the look and feel of the store met our high visual standards, our most senior store leader walked into the building. She noticed only one thing – my outdated lanyard, which was due for replacement that morning because of a subtle design update. It didn’t matter that the rest of the entire store was ready for a great day ahead of us.
Tiny details like this that others might have seen as minor really mattered to us. A demo iPhone that hasn’t been reset to give that new-phone feel, customers waiting too long at a neglected part of the shop floor, an employee who has lost his motivation to create great customer interactions over several weeks – these are details that could easily be overlooked for the bigger picture. But at Apple, these details are what make up the big picture.
4. Become Comfortable with Uncomfortable
In order to thrive at Apple and beyond, I had to become very comfortable with being uncomfortable. The kind of discomfort that precedes virtually all life lessons and opportunities for growth can as subtle as butterflies in the stomach or as incapacitating as gut-wrenching nausea. I became familiar with a broad spectrum of uncomfortable situations – looking for specific constructive feedback from coworkers on a weekly basis, having difficult conversations with difficult customers, completing challenging projects and milestones every few weeks as part of the leadership program, and eventually choosing to leave Apple at the peak of my performance there. What I learned is that, if a goal or dream feels uncomfortable, it’s all the more important to pursue it.
Checking my ego at the door was crucial to finding comfort in discomfort. With my ego looming over me, each failure, rejection, or overwhelming frustration in the learning process would have chipped away at my spirit. An important part of growth is the willingness to look like a total idiot for the sake of learning and trying. With an ego, it becomes impossible to lean into the discomfort.
5. Find Courage
The last and most valuable lesson I learnt from Apple was a culmination of the previous four lessons. I received no no formal training in “courage”, but my learning came from the daily experiences, conversations, and mentors that pushed me to dream big, reflect on my self-development, and follow my gut on major life decisions.
The practice of making daily courageous decisions for three years eventually instilled in me enough courage to leave Apple. The company I was so in love with for its culture, values, and purpose, would be my last major employer (for now at least). With my newfound courage, I started my first company in Sri Lanka with no capital, business experience, or connections. My decision opened the door to new experiences, an abundance of new life lessons, and inspiring people to enrich my life. But had it not been for my journey at Apple, none of this would have been possible.
I could easily give dozens more lessons I learnt from Apple, but these five made the most profound impact on my professional and personal life.
Are you a former Apple employee? Share in the comments section below the biggest lessons you learned working at the company.