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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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Stretched too thin

We’re gonna kick this week’s post off with a very exciting announcement: My boyfriend proposed (and I said yes)! He is wonderful and made the whole experience incredibly special, and I’m very excited for the future.

That being said, the present is *ahem* quite busy. I work full time, try to exercise, have some upcoming plans with friends as well as two large upcoming trips, blog, do general adulting like cleaning the apartment, and now am also wedding planning. I am very used to juggling tasks and priorities, but the last couple of months have been less busy than I’m used to. Which for the most part was really nice.

As someone who’s prone to feeling overwhelmed quickly when here’s a lot on my plate, I was pretty proud of myself for not getting particularly stressed with the things starting to pile up. Until this morning. A big project with a tight deadline came in at work and I momentarily lost my cool.

Most of us, as emerging adults and people in general, have phases where we feel like we’re stretched too thin and we don’t know how or if we can get it all done. I know several people who are in the middle of one of those phases now. And while I’ve talked on here several times about what to do when you’re tired, need to take a day, or burnt out, today I wanted to talk about ways to dig in and get it done. Because sometimes that’s all you can do for a while.

Break it up. I don’t know about you but it’s rare that I can sit down and devote more than an hour or two to a single project before I need a break. So set a timer for 45 minutes, an hour, or some decent chunk of time that works for you and don’t touch anything else until that time is up. Alternately, you can break the work up into smaller, more reasonable goals. You’ll feel like you’re making progress even if it’s just checking off one small thing at a time.

Jam out. Depending on the kind of work you’re doing, listening to music can be a really, really good way to pass the time and keep yourself at a good pace. I have an instrumental playlist just for that, or I’ll throw on some music I know well enough that I don’t have to pay it much attention, and dive into my work.

Have snacks and water nearby. This will keep you from getting distracted every time you get up to get a bite to eat or a drink, and make sure you don’t skip too much sustenance or get dehydrated.

Set rewards. Tell yourself that when you accomplish a given task, you can have a treat of some sort, whether that’s food, a break, or something else. For example, my reward for working my butt off at work today will be no expectation of getting anything productive done at home tonight, and I bought myself a present when I finished my last big freelancing project.

Surround yourself well. My coworkers get all the credit for pulling me out of the totally negative spot I was stressed out in this morning. They’re task-oriented, and acknowledge the challenge while remaining functionally positive (in other words, not necessarily chipper, but optimistic that we’ll get the job done well).

What helps you most when you’ve got a lot on your plate? 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 y’all have already seen all my city photos.)

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!