I really can't believe that today marks ONE YEAR at my job. In a bunch of ways, it seems like it has just flown by. Yet... being a student seems like ages ago. Eons even.
I don't even think you can really compare being a student and working full time. It's such a completely different experience. And one that I've loved (and frankly hated). Long gone are the syllabuses outlining the exact course and there are certainly no more easy As to boost up a GPA. There's always some sort of challenge lurking around the corner, and the only way to truly grow is to constantly push yourself to learn more and do more (and... make mistakes).
This is a super long, very wordy post. I made the post as short as I could– there is just so much that I've learned this year. It's been... quite the year.
Seven of the Biggest Things I've Learned This Year:
1. Meet people outside of work | Because my job was in a new city, I really started making a lot of my friends at work. It was super simple. We spent a bunch of time together, we had a lot in common, and could find things to talk about. BUT... there are some drawbacks to being friends with people you work with. A) It's a job... and B) You need to have time away from work. There are some people who all we could talk about was work stuff. After spending a long day at the office, it's not healthy to leave and... continue to be in "work mode."
I'm so thankful to have people that I really love at work. And I am also really thankful to have tons of friends who don't work with me. I think this is the biggest thing that helps with that work/life balance, especially during Year One.
2. Know the rules of the system | I went on a date with someone and he said something to me that has seriously stuck with me. Basically, you can win absolutely game or master any system as long as you 100% know the rules. The office is no exception. I think office politics has such a negative connotation, and maybe in some senses it's not a good thing (if, for example, it's used to manipulate). However, it can serve you well to learn the system– every office is different. I have found that it's been particularly helpful to know what is important to the key players you work with.
One of the mistakes I made this spring was not realizing that something was personally important to a coworker. I definitely didn't mean to overstep... but I inadvertently had!
3. Manage yourself | Surprise! Even if you're the assistant to an assistant or have a manager (or two)... you have to learn how to manage yourself. I probably had a weirder experience with this since I started a job in a startup where it was kind of every wo(man) for herself. Eventually, as the team has grown, I've gained an amazing manager (who I love). But even still, being my own manager has been extraordinarily helpful. Once I figured out how to advocate for my own time and my own priorities, my experience at work was SO much better.
I had, for a long time, been silently just letting the responsibilities build up and up without ever saying no. (I thought I would either look like I wasn't a team player or that I was personally letting someone down if I ever said no.) What ended up happening though was that I hit a serious breaking point. I had no one else but myself to blame! Now, I carefully keep track of all the tasks/responsibilities I've been asked to do (which in a startup could be absolutely anything). When I have a full list and something has been added, I can say "here are my other priorities, where should this one fall... is there something else I can move off my plate to accomplish this?"
4. Let other people help you grow | While managing yourself is a good skill to have, sometimes you do need to rely on other people to help you realize your true potential. One of my most gratifying projects at work was something that I was CONVINCED I couldn't complete. Seriously. I went home every night to teach myself how to do it. Every morning, I really would go into work dreading having to tell something that I really couldn't. One of my coworkers would give me pep talks and 100% believed in me. Because I knew she thought I could do it, I continued to try. And then it clicked. And I did it!!!
I was also really opposed to managing a team. This was something that I couldn't do and I knew I would just be terrible at it. I was beyond apprehensive, but I had three people rooting for me and totally supporting me. I went from managing one person... to now four-ish (the ish is an intern, but she's really amazing and pretty much the best). I'm still learning a lot about how to be a better manager, but with the help of my manager and a few more people on the team, I'm figuring it out!
5. Find a Mentor | So cliche. Right? Everyone's talking about the importance of finding a mentor. Yet, I was completely not sold on the idea. It seemed too... formal. Not something that I would ever be really all that great out. (I kind of thought a mentor would be like a guidance counselor in high school...)
Now that I have one... I GET IT. Everyone needs one. A mentor at work is totally important, but finding one outside of work is also helpful.
My mentor (it seems so weird to say that still) is literally the best. The best. I'm constantly inspired by her and she motivates me so much. Plus, she has such a great perspective that can help me "get out of the weeds" and see situations for what they really are. We're definitely both in the same industry, so I would like to say that we both help each other out! I want to be her when I grow up.
How to find one? Again, cliche... but networking. I don't think it's as formal as I once thought (although I guess you can go about it in a formal way?). It's kind of like dating, you just meet and talk to a bunch of people and see who "fits." Organically, the relationship grows.
6. Be nice, but don't be a crutch | Again this is another thing I had to learn the hard way. I thought I was being "nice" and helpful (okay, okay and maybe a little bit of a control freak), but I was really picking up a lot of pieces in a bunch of projects. I started to become the person that everyone asked questions to. Frankly, it was the most annoying thing in the world. I swear, I couldn't go twenty minutes without being interrupted by someone needing help with something or a question to be answered. My own productivity was shot... and I wasn't letting other people figure things out (... and make mistakes) on their own.
Being a martyr is not a good thing.
7. Don't be above anything | I know, I know. You had a 4.0. You interned at the best places. You were valedictorian and president of 14 clubs. Well... you still have to roll up your sleeves and get the work done. If that means putting printing labels or running an errand or carrying boxes, then that's what it means. I've done some of the most random things (like transporting forty water bottles across Boston in a cart and cleaning off whiteboards all the time or making sure the bathrooms were stocked with toilet paper). You're on a team. Too many times our generation gets labeled as entitled... and I've seen it happen. In this case... #justdontdoit. Don't be entitled. Respect is earned, not proclaimed.
Bottom Line: Work hard, learn a lot, take care of yourself, be a team player.