A year at work

This week (yesterday, to be more precise) was my 1-year anniversary at my job. This isn’t my first legit job, or the first one to take up full-time hours, but it is my first legit and full-time job.

I consider myself pretty fortunate. I didn’t have to work in high school other than odd jobs like tutoring and babysitting. I worked in college, but usually only part-time with hours that worked around my classes — and I was compensated in scholarship funds, which made school a lot more affordable (because scholarships aren’t taxed, every penny you earn actually goes toward tuition). After college, I nannied for a wonderful family part-time while I saved up and then hunted for a full-time gig. My first real adulting job is actually in my field. A lot of other folks can only say a couple of those things, if any.

No matter where you’re at on the job/career spectrum, you’ve probably got quite a bit left to learn (I definitely do). And you’ve probably learned quite a bit already (I definitely have).

So in honor of a year at my job, here are some of the things I’ve learned that I’d like to bring with me in my future career path and share with anyone else who might find it helpful:

  • Don’t sell yourself short. Is this my first proper, adult job? Yup. Was I underqualified when I was hired? Absolutely not. I actually exceeded all the requirements (i.e. 7 years of experience instead of the 2 years asked for). A lot of the experience was in an academic setting or not for pay, but it meant I could do the job. I had never officially worked in marketing before, but had still done the tasks in a variety of other contexts. Own your skills, experience, and qualities, and ask for what you deserve.
  • “I don’t know” is a legitimate answer. You want to stand out from the crowd? Admit when you don’t know something, and follow it up with steps you could take to learn whatever it is you don’t know. I spent too much time believing people when they told me “I don’t know” isn’t a real answer, and it messed me up. Be humble, and then grow knowledge where you can.
  • Tact is good. Hedging is not. This is especially prominent among women in the workforce, but happens with men as well. Please, please be thoughtful and intentional about how you interact with coworkers or clients — whether that’s  raising an idea, disagreeing, etc. But don’t undercut your input by over-cushioning anything you say. I talk more about it in this post, and this article has some more advice on that front.
  • Make friends. I have a whole separate post on this, but the gist is that — especially if you moved to a new area for work — your coworkers are going to be your de facto social nexus purely based on the hours you spend working. If you’re willing, strike up conversations at appropriate times or join in on activities outside the workplace. For example, I regularly ask coworkers about things they’ve mentioned in their personal lives, and joined the office softball team for a social opportunity even though it is not my sport.
  • Ask for feedback. In the past year, there have been times I felt like I was totally underperforming, but my colleagues actually thought I was doing great. There have also been times when I thought I had an assignment handled and made big mistakes. The best way to gauge how you’re doing is to literally ask. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your manager/boss right now, ask a coworker who sees the actual work you do.
  • Identify where you want to grow. You don’t have to know where you’ll be in 5 years or 10 years or what your dream job is. But you should know how you want to improve, what you want to learn, and what loose trajectory you want to aim toward. Achievable goals should be able to be measured in some form, and have a method of accountability (that could be a timeline, someone to check up on you, or something else entirely).
  • Remember the basics. Be nice, work hard, listen well, pay attention. General good employee stuff.
  • Your job is not your life. If you live in the U.S. (or another high-productivity focused nation like Japan or the U.K.), we tend to lose sight of this one. If your job is also your passion, that’s awesome. It still shouldn’t be your whole life. I limit this by not having my work email on my phone (I do have Slack), and trying really hard to set clear boundaries between my work life and the rest of my life. Unplug when you get home if you can. Take a vacation when you can. Set time limits for doing or talking about work if you need to. This doesn’t mean not to work hard, but simply a reminder to live outside of work.

I really enjoy my job, but know I likely won’t be doing it forever (as of 2016, Millennials were reported to change career-type jobs an average of 4 times in their first decade after college). But it’s a good fit for now, and I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn in my second year.

What has your first big job taught you? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because the camera angles at my desk are not prime.)

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