10 Things I've Learned After A Year in the Working World
Everyone has that one aunt or uncle who has to remind you that being an adult sucks. The weeks before graduation day are all smiles, laughs, and happy tears until that one person brings up work. Then all you hear is "Oh, you better enjoy it while you can", "You're going to be working for the next 50 years. Enjoy the time you have now", or the ironic "Welcome to the real world". Suddenly graduating and facing adulthood seems like a punishment, something to dread.
I've been in the "real world" for almost a year and a half now. It's definitely not as fun and carefree as college but it isn't all that horrible. Making my own money is a definite plus which is easily tempered by the presence of bills. I still catch myself feeling the need to ask permission before going out or spending my own money and I'm still not quite on track with being completely financially stable but I've learned A LOT and I will keep learning.
1. Even the best employees crumble under bad management; find yourself a mentor
I switched bosses half way through my first year of employment. My first boss was reassigned to whole other department and the administrative assistant right after me was promoted. One was a mentor and one was a boss. A mentor is like a great coach, he inspires enthusiasm, guides you through tasks, and makes you want to do and be better. As John Crosby put it: "Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and push in the right direction" On the other hand, a boss barks commands, uses authority as leverage, and tends to inspire fear (among other rather negative feelings). Find yourself a mentor who values your skills, motivates, and gives credit where it is due.
2. Being the early bird makes a difference
Work starts at 8:00 a.m. for me. Ever since I started, I have made it a point to be in the office no later than 7:30 a.m. Why? Initially, it was to show dedication and impress my boss but I soon learned that I would get no award or recognition for being early. In fact, my boss arrives a solid hour after me. So I started doing it for myself. Coming in half an hour early gave me time to grab a small breakfast, read the newspaper, go over my to-do list, and simply ease into my work day.
Eventually some people took notice and it helped give me a better reputation around the office as a reliable assistant. One thing I also learned to be wary of was how people tend to take advantage of it. They assumed that since I was in the office half an hour early, I would happily do a half an hour worth of work. One day, my boss came over and asked that I do one of my tasks earlier than usual. I told her that I usually do it at 8:00 a.m. when the day starts and her reply was "Well, you're here earlier than that anyway". That's when I had to draw the line.
3. Know when to draw the line
For the first few weeks after starting at my job, my main goal was to impress. I went out of my way to fulfill all needs, came in earlier, made the fruit bowl, etc. What I learned? People love doormats. I was spreading myself out too thin and making myself overly available so they were more than happy to take advantage. I am incredibly non-confrontational and the queen of passive aggressiveness but even I had to draw the line at some point.
The other day, a coworker called me over to their desk and asked me "Where is my fruit?" in a demanding tone, like I would supposed to hand deliver his beloved fruit everyday. My answer? "I haven't made it yet. It'll be done when I finish it". He also did this hand gesture when trying to get my attention that seemed more appropriate for a dog so I called him out. January 2015 Valerie would have never dared to respond but 2016 Valerie is quite done with being treated like a maid instead of an administrative assistant.
4. Some people are going to make you feel like your struggles aren't valid. Ignore them.
Apparently being young and working (or just young in general) means you're not allowed to complain. Any time I came home and mentioned that I was tired from work, the answer was "you're too young to be tired" or "you've only been working for 6 months, I've been working for 25 years". Not only was this frustrating because I don't get to explain myself further but also a bit offensive by declaring any struggle I may have at work is invalid next to theirs.
I've learned that people like to compare struggles and inflate their own. I also find that these are also the people that ask you how you are so they can talk about themselves, not because they actually care how you are. Try to steer clear of them.
5. Just because you have a job doesn't mean you have to stop looking
With a degree in European studies and international relations, taking an administrative position at an engineering firm didn't make a lot of sense. I wanted something in content writing, media, and event planning but companies want you to have an absurd amount of experience to get experience and entry level jobs ask for 3-5 years of experience. So I took the administrative assistant job and decided that I would keep doing what I had to do until I could finally do what I wanted to do. That doesn't mean I've stopped looking. I make it a point to apply for jobs every other week, check on job postings, and update my LinkedIn profile. Keep looking, keep posting and updating your resume, keep skimming through job posting websites, keep pushing.
6. It's important to find a hobby
It's so easy to get sucked into the cycle of wake up, commute, work, commute, home, sleep, rinse and repeat. I would know since I spent my almost entire first year doing exactly that. I became lethargic, mildly (debatable) antisocial, and unhappy. The solution? Finding a little hobby that helped me de-stress and distract myself. I started watercolor painting, reading graphic novels, and blogging. I also forced myself to get out of the house, talk to people, and eat at new restaurants. Remember, you spend 8 hours every day at work and maybe 2 commuting to and from. How you spend your free time should be fun!
7. Prioritizing yourself and your relationships takes a surprising amount of effort
I moved away from home to work. 13,075 km to be exact. I left everything familiar behind to start something new for myself. It was horrible and for a while, it seemed like the worst decision I had ever made. College group chats eventually quieted down and chats with friends happened less and less. Most of our interaction became liking posts, Instagram photos, and leaving comments. Then I visited home and everything was the same. We laughed, talked, and drank like I had never left. That's how you know you have a solid friend group. You don't have to chat every day but simply being a stable presence in their life even an online presence, makes a big difference.
I was also surprised at how easily I push commitments I made to myself back. I promised myself a new laptop so I could blog properly. It took me almost 8 months to finally prioritize it. I promised myself a proper manicure and that has yet to happen. I promised to finish that book, cook that recipe, attend that zumba class. I pushed all of them to the side in a snap but if someone else wanted to do something or go somewhere, I felt obligated to go. I've learned to prioritize myself and really put effort into it. I wouldn't brush off my best friend's manicure date or dance class so why is it so easy to brush off mine?
8. Making a mistake doesn't make you a failure; don't beat yourself up
At my desk, I have two Post-Its stuck to my computer screens that read: "One mistake does not make you a failure. One million mistakes do not make you a failure" to remind me that even when I screw up a food order or nearly curse over the PA system or forget to follow-up on a certification application, I'm not a failure.
I've had my boss sit me down and issue a warning. I've had a coworker answer an office survey, namedrop me, and call me "nice but mediocre at best". I've had the President/CEO of the company mock me about my letter writing skills, refuse to tell me what I'm getting wrong, and make me print the same letter four different times with minor edits to see if got it right. So I cried a bit then stuck the Post-Its up. You screw up and you learn. That doesn't make you weak, incompetent or less important. That makes you human.
9. Always leave work on time
I think I can count on my hands the numbers of times I have stayed later than 5:00 p.m. at work. During my annual review, my boss commented on how I don't seem dedicated because I'm not often willing to stay longer than my usual time. That didn't make sense to me. Staying later than I have to says nothing about my dedication. It means my time management is bad, I am overworked, and I cannot handle my current workload. Leaving on time keeps me disciplined and focused on completing my work within a reasonable time period. The reality is: the longer you stay past office hours, the more is going to be demanded of you. Don't let them take advantage of you.
10. Don't waste your time
As Jupiter Ascending so eloquently (and weirdly) put it: Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe. Don't waste it on people who don't care about you. Don't waste it on activities that bring you absolutely no joy. Don't waste it on badly written books or horrible movies or disappointing food. Don't settle.