As a new member of that beautiful world called “Being a Grown Up,” the interns at my new job have asked me a lot of really tough questions, like how I chose this job and how I decided to move so far away from home. Having been in the working world all of 2.5 months now, I can guarantee that I still don’t know a thing about being a grown up (I still eat cereal or mac & cheese for half of my meals). However, I have come across things here and there that I really wish someone would have told me (and some did tell me) before I ventured out into the great, scary, ridiculous world of having a real job. Feel free to comment with your own or tell me that I’m wrong- after all, I’m just getting started.
The Things I Wish I Knew Before I Was Forced Against My Will To Grow Up: Insight From a Newbie
1. First of all, I think it is absolutely VITAL that you never actually grow up. While being in the real world with real responsibilities is daunting, losing the humor that comes from being a kid (yes college kid counts) would make all of that real world stuff suck more than it already does. Should you be irresponsible and try to get away with things you could 6 months ago in college? No. Should you not take yourself too seriously and remember that at the end of a day it is just a job and life will go on? Yes.
2. Some things you learned in school will actually be helpful Examples: how to google, how to research, how to do basic math and use a calculator for the hard stuff, and how to use proper English, grammar and punctuation.
3. Some things you learned in school will never appear in life ever again and if they do you can hire someone to do it for you or google it. Examples: calculus. You will never use calculus. Ever. (At least in a communications career)
4. Your parents are always right. Period. The end. If you want the answer to a life/moral/ethical question- call them.
5. All-nighters become impossible when you walk across that stage. Mainly because you learn time management. And also because they actually suck and you should never do it ever again. Sleep is glorious and wonderful and you should treat it with the respect it deserves.
6. Time management is important. Coming from the person who is Queen of the Procrastinators and on more than one occasion waited to do big projects until the last minute mainly because I wanted to see if I could make it or not, learn time management. If you can learn it in college, even better. My job entails documenting 48 hours of work each week, and if you jack around you learn pretty quick you will be working some late nights.
7. It is okay to walk away and start again tomorrow. After some of those said late nights, you just get burnt out and aren’t thinking clearly. Times like those are good for going to get a nice bowl of mac & cheese and a good night’s rest. It usually can wait til the next day and it will seem so much clearer after you’ve taken a break.
8. I cannot stress the importance of a snack drawer. Sometimes those 3 o’clock cravings are just hard to ignore. If you’ve got some M&M’s (or a granola bar for you healthy types) it makes working through the rest of the day so much easier instead of listening to your stomach growl.
9. When I started this job, my wonderful bosses stressed the importance of asking questions. Great thing of being the newbie on the team- you aren’t expected to know everything. Or anything. So ask as many questions as you can, because then you’ll know all the important stuff when you’ve been around a while and don’t get the newbie pass anymore.
10. Join a gym. Walk around during the day. Take the stairs to your office. When you’re a college kid, you’re usually active, even if it’s nothing more than walking across campus a few times a day. Unless you are in a physically demanding job, usually you will go from campus life to sitting behind a desk for 8+ hours a day. If you don’t do something to work off all those M&M’s, you will get the Real World 20, which is much worse than the Freshman15. It’s also time for you to start caring what you eat, so occasionally eat a salad. Try to lay off the McDonald’s. Learn how to cook some homemade meals. Better to do it now than wake up in 20 years wishing you would have instead of having to work off all that extra weight. (Also have I mentioned that my dad is 55, has lost 80+ pounds and ran his first half-marathon all from eating better and working out? If he can do it so can you!)
11. Take a lunch once in a while, hang out in the break room, or go talk to someone you don’t normally see. If you work in a big city especially, most people either bring lunches or run grab something across the street and come back and eat in their office. That means you will sit at your desk for hours upon hours with no break. And that can be truly unbearable and exhausting. Sometimes even just running across the street or taking a lap around the office to say hi to people can be a needed mental break.
12. Value your differences. Being a little different and having a different background can be a really good thing. People will search you out to get a fresh perspective or you could be called on because your background is an expertise someone needs. Make sure people know that you are different.
13. Let people know what you are passionate about or want to learn more about. This is highly valued in my office, and its one of the best things about working in this office. They made it a priority over the first few weeks to learn what I enjoyed working on and what I wanted to learn about and now those are the types of jobs I get pulled in on. And what is better than working on what you love? Nothing. Nothing at all.
14. If you have a moment where you are truly excited to go to work or even to work late– value it. As with any new job, I had doubts at first but after working late on a Friday simply because I wanted to because my projects were so interesting, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. And even when I have a rough day doing stuff I really don’t enjoy as much, I remember that feeling. Not everyone will get to see that moment.
15. That being said, never settle. If you aren’t passionate about a job, keep searching. I can understand needing to pay the bills but you don’t have to stick around that job forever. Use a job you aren’t as passionate about as an opportunity to learn skills that can launch you into a job you do love.
16. It is a job. Stress happens. People pop off. You get criticized. It happens. And it happens to everyone. At least in PR, its usually not the end of the world. As a coworker once told me- it’s PR not ER. Sometimes you are going to mess up, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Fix it and move on. You’re going to get back a project that is bleeding more red than you ever thought was possible. Use it as a chance to learn and keep on going.
17. Make the IT guy your best friend. They can help you out of the worst (or dumbest) problems.
18. My dad always says “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” It can be tough to find affordable nice dress clothes, so shop sales and second hand stores (Plato’s Closet, you and I are meant to be). Also, places like the Gap have cardigans and basic pieces that are affordable that can be dressed up easily. For you ladies: cardigan, cami, slacks/skirt, repeat. Solids are the best because you can mix and match and make your wardrobe go so much farther.
19. Find a hobby outside of work. Going out can be fun, but sometimes you just need something relaxing to do on a Saturday afternoon that won’t cause you to regret all of your decisions the next morning. (You can never have a photography hangover.)
20. Thesauruses can be very helpful. And AP Style is not as mandatory as Ag Comm professors make it out to be.
21. If you have the opportunity to have your own office/cubicle, decorate it. It doesn’t have to be a prison cell. But it also should not look like your college dorm room.
22. Don’t badmouth your job, your coworkers, clients or anyone else on social media. The stories I could tell you…just trust me and don’t do it okay? Also, at the age of having a real job, there’s no need for pictures on social media that you can’t even remember taking. That’s what snapchat is for.
23. Suddenly, things like business card holders and personalized stationary and really good pens are the things you really want. And that is perfectly okay.
24. To do lists are your best friend. They can and will save your life. (See #6)
25. Be friendly with your coworkers and discuss your personal lives but there is such a thing as TMI. Until you have built solid outside-the-office friendships with the people you work with, they don’t need to know about the 8th person you are dating this week. Sometimes not even then.
26. Caffeine is your best friend and also your worst enemy.
27. It’s ok to take work home with you, especially in jobs like mine where you have many many hours to do and you don’t want to be at the office late. (mac & cheese and sweatpants make any kind of work better!) It’s also ok to draw a line and not take work home with you. It is absolutely necessary that you do not take work on vacation. Get all your ongoing projects covered by a coworker (you can always pay them back later during their vaca) and turn that email off. It’s not a vacation if you are still answering emails.
28. File folders-digital or paper, white boards, sticky notes, bulletin boards. Anything that helps you organize-use it. Organization is absolutely necessary (and in my case- fun)!
29. Spotify. Get it. Use it. Love it.
30. Keep a resume updated and a draft of a copy letter ready at all times. You never know when you might need it.
31. Head shots. Find a friend and a camera and take a nice one. It’s good to have for any number of reasons that pop up out of nowhere.
32. Now is the time to get at least one piece of good luggage (especially if you are in a heavy-traveling job or live far away from family). You don’t want to go on a business trip with your polka dot suitcase that is beaten up from that one spring break trip. Also, dress nicely when you travel. Airport staff will treat you better- and you never know who you will sit next to in the airport or on the plane.
33. Pay is important. After all, you do have to have somewhere to live. But it shouldn’t be the deciding factor (unless its not possible to live on). Don’t take a job you hate just because it pays the best. What’s all the money in the world if you are miserable all the time? But know its also ok to negotiate on your salary. If you have a rockin’ resume and know you would be awesome at the job you’re shooting for, negotiate for just a bit more if that could be the deciding factor if you take it. Companies know that you have to be able to afford to live, and want you to live comfortably. But they’re not going to throw extra money at you just because. So ask for it.
34. My dad’s favorite piece of advice: ask for the sale. Whether it’s a raise or promotion or selling that new client, they aren’t just going to give it to you. You have to ask for it. You better have good reasons backing you up, but asking for it is the quickest way to get that sale.
35. Take risks. Especially when you are young. I just moved 10 hours away from my home (twice the distance I have ever previously lived outside of a summer internship once in New Mexico, but that was only 8.5 hours), and believe me, I was scared to death. Moving somewhere new, jumping to a new job, trying something completely new- it is terrifying. I can’t sugar coat that. But if it’s something you want, do it. Lots of people have told me since deciding to move “best to do it while you’re young before you settle down!” and its true. The first week (and maybe month) I was here, I was terrified I had made the wrong choice. The what ifs would not leave me alone and I spent many hours on the phone with my parents asking them if I should come home. But after settling in and getting to know the tremendous people here, I know I absolutely made the right choice and wouldn’t change a thing. Am I going to stay in KC forever? Probably not. But who knows? I might, or I may move to New York or Montana or California or back to Stamford, Texas, because the great thing about it is I can. Nothing says you have to stay where you are, young or not. Life is fun, so go out and do what you want and live it!
36. Be a go getter. Come in early, stay late, volunteer for projects. It will get you noticed, quick. But just as importantly, know when to say no, know when it’s okay to not come in early because you needed the sleep and when its ok to leave an hour early for your friend’s birthday party or to catch a plane to see your family. Work can be awesome. And it takes a lot of work to be successful. But it should not be your life. Make it a priority to see your friends or just zone out watching tv for an evening because if all you do is work, all you will have is work.
And last but not least:
37. Follow your heart. Trust your gut. Pray a lot. Taking a job can be stressful, especially if you have any hesitations, like pay or distance from home. But if its something that you think you could really enjoy, or could help get you to that job you really want, go for it. Worst case, you quit and find something else. Best case, you stumble into something awesome. As Jim Carrey said “So many of us choose our path our of fear disguised as practicality…But you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at what you love.”