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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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Write what you don’t know

Freshman year of college, I signed up for a creative writing class because I had room in my schedule and it sounded like fun. I ended up taking two more, and the professor who taught all of them was one of my favorite professors in college. One of the assignments he gave us was based on the idea “write what you don’t know.” This is, of course, pushing back against the age-old advice to write what you know, and we were tasked with creating a story that centered on a task we had no idea how to do — in my case, replacing the spark plugs on a car.

Little did I know that assignment would sum up one of the most important skills I’ve learned so far: doing what you don’t know. As emerging adults, there’s a lot we don’t know. That’s not a bad thing at all; we’re still learning and aren’t usually given much in the way of a roadmap. But it is challenging.

I’ve been given some really exciting tasks recently at work, but some of them are way out of my area of expertise. But instead of just being intimidated, I’m trying to go through the same process I used for that creative writing assignment in figuring out how to not just muddle through, but actually talk about and contribute towards areas I don’t know. Ultimately, it comes down to about four steps:

Research. Watch videos, look up examples, read articles about the thing. Whatever materials you can get your hands on will be helpful context and jumping off points for the topic.

Consult others. Even if you find phenomenal resources, humans are important. Talk to someone who’s done the thing before, or who knows about similar stuff. Ask them for advice or their perspective. Pro tip: If you can, buy them a cup of coffee (or something similar) for their time, and if you can’t make sure to write a thank-you note or email.

Find a way to process it. For me, this usually means writing things down. I’m a super visual person, and need to see things to understand them. Draw a diagram, make a spreadsheet, do a physical run-through if you’re a kinesthetic learner.

Trust yourself. This means leaning into both what you’ve learned and your own capabilities. Your first try might need revisions, and that’s okay. But chances are it will be better than you think, and you’ll become increasingly confident in an area that’s not necessarily your field.

I’ll be putting all of this into practice even more in the coming weeks, and as much as it is a bit nerve-racking it’s also a welcome challenge because it’s an opportunity to grow.

What tips have you found most helpful for doing what you don’t know? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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How to be a good employee

I promise this post won’t be quite as rudimentary as its title, but the more that I think about it, the more I realize how many of us are winging it in a lot of ways with regards to what makes a good employee. You can get advice from older folks, read listicles and books, but you every job is different and you won’t fully get it until you’ve been in it for a while. So to all of us who are still finding our place in the working world, here’s a start:

Take only the best (and sustainable) parts of your student self

Remember putting off big assignments until the last minute because 1) you had a ton of other classes to handle, and 2) you could? Those days end now. Start early. Do a little at a time. Plan for your procrastination. But when rubber meets road, it can be let that student-on-deadline mode kick in to make it happen. Use those research skills. Remember that technology is your friend until it isn’t — utilize it, but don’t trust it. If you’ve got a little time, it’s okay to slow down so you don’t burn out. Because summer break isn’t coming.

Take initiative

This is a huge one. Ask if there is anything extra you can do to help if you finish something early, ask about what people are working on (so long as they aren’t clearly in the middle of something). Start a project early, go above and beyond if you’ve got the time. Read up and learn as much as you can. A lot of the working world is too used to people doing the bare minimum — by taking initiative, you’ll stand out of the crowd.

Be social

Not, you know, too social. Nobody wants to be the one that keeps work from getting done. But go grab coffee, chat over lunch, ask about their family or weekend plans. Bring in treats just because. Having good relationships with your coworkers will make your life so much better. Plus you could actually make friends!

Be cautious of what standards you set

This is one I’m having to be a little more careful with. It’s okay to be clear about your expectations, and important that you don’t create false ones either. For example, doing a project on a crazy deadline in record time does not mean that should be the new standard. But taking your sweet time when you have nothing else to do also doesn’t mark you as an effective part of the team.

Speak up, speak kindly, and say what you mean

This means not being quiet when you have something to contribute — your idea might be just the thing that’s needed. It means not saying sorry all the time. It means treating coworkers and customers with patience and kindness, because that can make a way bigger difference in career success than people often admit. And for heaven’s sake, say what you mean. Yesterday I had to tell a coworker that I wasn’t sure if what the client was asking for was possible based on the resources they had given us, and I didn’t like saying it. But it’s a heck of a lot better than saying I can get something done only to find out that I couldn’t.

Listen

I can’t emphasize this one enough. I’ve screwed up assignments because I didn’t read an email thoroughly enough, and it’s a really crappy feeling. Make sure you understand what’s being asked of you before you jump in, and that you really process feedback or constructive criticism so you can be constantly improving.

Pay attention

This is in the same zone as listening, but goes beyond just you. Pay attention to what successful people at your work are doing, pay attention in big company meetings that feel like they don’t apply to you, pay attention for ways you could offer to help out and get noticed. Cliché or not, paying attention pays off.

What are the most helpful bits of advice you’ve heard for being a good employee? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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Choose who you sit next to

My office has a fairly open floorplan, and though our (large) desks have short walls, none of the space feels as closed in as a traditional cubicle. This makes it easy to chat with coworkers and figure out if the person I need to talk to is actually at their desk before I walk over there. But of course, the easiest people to talk to are the ones you sit right next to.

Despite being one of the newest employees to the company (I’ve been here just over 3 months), my desk happens to be right next to one of the most senior people at the company. Sometimes, that doesn’t mean much. We’re both often busy and may not get a chance to say more than cheerful greetings throughout a work day. However, when there are brief stretches of more flexible time, we’ll often talk.

Sometimes it’s about personal lives, but more often it’s about work. I’ve been able to help out with big-name clients and learn way more about the business and the company than I would have picked up otherwise. It’s opened my eyes to how things work, and made me feel more valued and empowered in my position.

The best ways I’ve found to capitalize on that opportunity are to:

  • Listen well. People are funny in that a lot of them will tell you more simply for the fact that you’re listening. Listening thoughtfully and carefully (and knowing when not to eavesdrop!) is a really underrated skill.
  • Ask good questions. This will not only show that you’ve been listening, but show that you care about the work and/or the company, and that you’re invested in both its growth and your own.
  • Offer any value you can. This might be offering to run a quick errand for them on your way somewhere, but it’s better if it has to do with what your job is. My work involves editing and writing, so I ensure that I can make a little time to help out my desk buddy or anyone else who needs it with small favors like fine-tuning an email.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. One day you’ll hopefully have the opportunity to be on the other end of this opportunity. Here are the things you can do from a more senior position, to assist and mentor a younger colleague:

  • Learn names, learn people. Treat colleagues like they are not just valuable, but valued. Speaking to people by name and with respect builds credibility and likability faster than just about anything else.
  • Bring them in where you can. Ask their thoughts on something you’re working on, or for their help if it would be useful. This allows them an opportunity to succeed on a small scale, which builds their confidence and experience, while also fostering investment in their career at your company.
  • Level with them. Everyone loves to be in the loop, and the more open communication can be across an organization, the better it is for everyone. Of course, this should still be kind and professional, but it will also help the newer person feel like a respected and valued member of the team.

We don’t always get to choose where we sit, of course. My desk was assigned to me and I happened to get lucky. But if you aren’t sitting in an advantageous spot, there are other ways to forge positive connections. You can do things like ask a more experienced colleague to grab coffee, sit with coworkers you don’t know as well for lunch, or ask thoughtful questions when you’re already talking to your boss.

What are the best ways you’ve found to learn from more experienced coworkers? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because apparently I need to take more cityscapes.)

The balancing act

First off, happy Easter if you celebrate it! If not, I hope you’re having a peaceful and pleasant weekend. Because it’s Easter, I’m out of town and away from the computer, which also means I’m away from anything work-related.

Of course, achieving a good work-life balance is something that a lot of people talk about without being straight about how elusive it can be. I’m really lucky. My hours are (more or less) 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. I’m usually at work early and stay late whenever needed, but my company is flexible about sometimes leaving work early when there isn’t anything to do, or taking days off now and then. I know it isn’t that simple for a lot of people.

But on occasion (like lately), work gets hectic and I end up putting in extra hours or working on weekends. I also freelance, which means nights and weekends have previously been spent working when I would have preferred to be reading or watching tv. During a major transition at an old job I spent — out of my 3-day weekend — 24 total hours working. (After that, we made some adjustments.) During times like that, which is a lot of people’s consistent reality, finding a healthy work-life balance can be really tricky.

For emerging adults in particular, we’re often so new that we either feel obligated to or are required to put in extra time and effort to make a good impression. Not to mention that a fair number of us grew up with such a pile of academic, extracurricular, and/or family responsibilities that we’re used to being overloaded. And the goal of that is good; none of us should ever shy away from hard work. But if your work is consuming you, then an adjustment may be in order.

So here are a few thoughts and reminders when it comes to achieving that balance:

Work should be a top priority. Your safety and well-being, the urgent needs of loved ones, and major life milestones get to trump work. But shirking responsibility or avoiding effort isn’t cool — especially when it pays your bills. Fulfilling your commitments and putting in full effort will not only be good for your career, but your character.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day off just because you could use one. A couple of weeks ago I took a day off for no other reason than I wanted to. I’d been at my job almost 3 months, hadn’t taken any formal time off, and knew I wouldn’t be taking more days for a while. So I put in for the day off, my boss approved it, and it turned out to be much needed because the previous work days that week had been insane.

When you work you get paid, but you’re also losing valuable time that could be used in other ways. It isn’t just a work = money, fun = no money thing here. Spending time with friends, volunteering, or maintaining a hobby can all actually add value to your life. It’s important not to discount that.

Work-life balance doesn’t just mean your job. It also means balancing chores and other adult responsibilities with doing fun stuff and, you know, having a life. I am in general a very responsible person, so unfortunately I actually lean toward having too little of a life, and I’m working on it. I’ll limit chores for the day or say that at whatever time, I’ll put any work away and just relax for the rest of the evening. Now and then I try to take a full day off and not handle any responsibilities that aren’t crucial (dishes are usually the exception).

It’s a process. Don’t expect balance to happen overnight, or for it to be balanced forever once you feel like you’ve got a good thing going. As circumstances fluctuate, so will the balance. Go with its flow, and adjust as needed.

What are some of the best tips you’ve learned for moving toward a better work-life balance? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

So you’re burnt out. Now what?

It is only Wednesday and I feel like I have already had a full week. I had a fantastic weekend visiting some of my grandparents, but was still a bit travel-tired going into the work week. And then the work week exploded. Or imploded. Whichever you prefer.

I’ve been nonstop busy at my job, putting in extra hours on tight deadlines and praying I haven’t made a mistake somewhere. A freelance project that’s been slow-moving completely ramped up in its final stages, and long story short it was 1 a.m. yesterday (technically today) by the time I felt like I could really take a breath.

The feeling sucks. And I want to clarify that this is brought on mostly by good things, that other people of course handle more, and that I know I’ve handled more. That perspective helps some. But it doesn’t extend my deadlines or get my projects done, nor does it make my stress dissipate like a summer haze. The fact is — even if you love what you do and life is generally good — some days are going to get to you. Things are going to go wrong, your to-do list will pile up, and there will be some final straw that makes it feel like Murphy’s law is out to get you. You’re going to feel burnt out.

Unfortunately, it seems like many of us emerging adults are crap at handling burnout. Some of that is having not developed skills; but it isn’t helped when the expectation for success is to have a 4.3 high school GPA with sports and volunteering to get into a good (expensive) college and have the time of your life while also studying and doing multiple internships to have a job right when you graduate so you can put in 50-hour weeks and support yourself and make new friends and work and start saving for retirement.* But it doesn’t have to be that intense — even small seasons of stress can lead to brief burnouts. The good news is that it isn’t permanent.

If you can, take a day off. If you can’t, or are realizing that your burnout has settled in more deeply than what one day off can fix, there are still things you can do. The important thing is to remain conscious of how you’re holding up without hyperfixating on it to the point of making it worse (which I have a tendency to do if I’m not careful).

Life doesn’t slow down, so the first step is to simply keep going. Draw temporary motivation from commitment or spite or stubbornness if the goodness of your heart isn’t getting the job done. (Of course, make sure that your actions toward others are kind no matter where you’re pulling motivation from.) If you just needed a little dogged effort to push through, great.

If you’re still feeling burnt out, try to incorporate things that make you feel more you where you can. Maybe that’s going for a walk or listening to music or carving out time for a hobby. I try to make sure that I spend a little time outside every day and that I take a break for my meals instead of working through them. If things are particularly rough, I might step outside or default to a playlist that gets me through.

If it persists, know that it’s okay to consider taking something off your plate. Your friends and family are there to support you, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Figure out a way to shift your routine once the grueling season is over. After my worst semester of college I spent more than a month almost entirely alone, and while I no longer have any desire to be a hermit, it was the reset I needed to get out of the funk I’d been in for months.

And, as always, it’s also physical. Pay attention to how your body responds when you get stressed or overwhelmed. My boyfriend recently pointed out the extent to which I force tension I’m feeling mentally or emotionally into my shoulders, so now when I’m stressed one of the first things I do is relax them. Sleep is good for you. I promise. Drink water and take deep breaths. Just get up and stretch for a minute if your work is mostly sedentary. Way too often we ignore the physical consequences of stress, and being nice to your body can take some of the sting out of stress, which helps fight burnout.

What ways do you avoid burnout, or recoup after a stressful season? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

*If you’re an emerging adult, you probably know that person (or are them). If you’re not an emerging adult and that scenario sounds far-fetched, it’s pretty average among my peers.

Income talks

What socioeconomic class would you place yourself in? How much do you make compared to your coworkers or other people with your job? A lot of us are uncomfortable thinking about answers to these questions, and some people refuse to discuss them at all. It’s understandable. Your money is your business, and thinking you have or make significantly more or less than our peers can be awkward.

But I’m going to push the envelope a little here: Avoiding talking about income isn’t helpful.

Reason 1: Not talking about income allows us to lose perspective on the reality of large-scale socioeconomics. Feeling broke is different than truly being broke. Emerging adults are a little notorious for feeling — and sometimes being — broke. Some of us aren’t able to work while in school full-time, and the U.S. national average of student loan debt for the Class of 2016 was $17,126. That is, frankly, a ton of money. A lot of us are dealing with minimum wage or entry-level jobs, which often means a limited income. Sometimes ramen is all you can afford until the next paycheck comes.

But perspective is important. When we lose perspective, we risk becoming blind to the needs and realities of people around us. Think for a minute — what socioeconomic class would you say you (or your family) are in? My guess is a whole lot of people would answer middle to upper-middle class. In the U.S., you’re probably right. (Check here to see.) What about globally? According to Pew Research, here are the per capita socioeconomic breakdowns as of 2011:

  • Poor: less than $2 per day
  • Low Income: $2.01–10 per day
  • Middle Income: $10.01–$20 per day
  • Upper-Middle Income: $20.01–$50 per day
  • High Income: more than $50 per day

The median annual household income in the U.S. is $51,915 as of 2013.* Globally, it’s $9,733.

Of course, purchasing power differs with region, not just time. What I can get for $5 in California is different than what I can get for $5 in Copenhagen, which is different than what I can get for $5 in India. The cost of living is *ahem* not low here (nor is it the highest in the world). To balance the numbers a little more, consider that the global low income threshold is 41% of the U.S. threshold, while the global median income is 19% of U.S. median income.**

Reason 2: Not talking about income holds people back. To collectively move higher, we’ve got to help each other out. One of the most interesting patterns that has surfaced with the rise in folks demanding equal pay for equal work and speaking out against unreasonable income disparities is that oftentimes those disparities persist because people have no idea that their pay is significantly different from a coworker or counterpart.

There have been a number of stories about this issue coming up in Hollywood recently, and while I would never suggest taking life lessons from Hollywood willy nilly, I love that a number folks are being more open about discussing pay so they can try to ensure that those in similar job roles aren’t being paid unfairly compared to their peers.

I’ve seen this happen in my own life too. At an old job, a few of us realized the discrepancy in our compensation seemed like more than the basis of rank or responsibility. It turns out, the ones making more were doing so because they had asked to. Knowing how much work I was doing, I felt a boost in my own pay was appropriate, and asked my bosses what we could work out (they responded well and we worked out a deal everyone was happy with). But following that, I made sure to tell coworkers in similar spots that they could consider asking for more, and shared what I made for reference as appropriate.

Of course, if you’re not able to talk to coworkers or peers about income, you can always start by researching the average pay or pay ranges for the job you have or are aiming for. (Pro tip: This can vary widely by region, so make sure to include that in your search.)

The goal here is not to be a downer, and I realize that everyone’s situation is different. But since I started learning more about these topics in the last few years, I’ve tried to keep a larger picture in perspective and be mindful of where I am within it, make sure I’ve done my research so I’m being paid fairly, and when possible to speak up so that I can help ensure other people I know are also being paid fairly. It’s a big, intimidating, adult-ish kind of responsibility, but it’s one that I’m really proud to be working toward.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about income? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

*The median household income for the U.S. increased to $56,516 as of 2016, but it would have been statistically irresponsible to compare data from different years, and 2013 was the most recent global data I could find.

**The math on that: Less than $10 per person per day is considered low income. Breaking down the worldwide median annual income for a family of 4 and 260 working days (which is the U.S. standard, and not necessarily applicable to poorer regions/occupations), that’s $9.36 per day per person, which makes even the rough median estimate qualify as low income. In comparison, the threshold for low income in the U.S. is about $22.72 per person per day, which means that the global low income threshold is 41% of the U.S. threshold, while the global median income is 19% of U.S. median income (all based on Pew Research data).

(Photo credit goes to the ever-wonderful Megan T.)