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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.)

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Tied to your desk

Hi all! This week has been very busy for a number of good reasons, which I’m hoping to make a post on very soon. But in the meantime, I’ve got some helpful advice. Whether you’re a student or full-time employee, classroom and office settings have one thing in common: sitting for a long time and staring at screens.

It can be fatiguing, boring, and even unhealthy to sit at a desk for 8 hours constantly looking at bright screens. So what to do about it?

In school I didn’t have it too bad in this regard. Classes changed every few hours and my campus was one big hillside, so I had a fair amount of walking in-between. I also didn’t bring my computer to class often, and when doing homework would take breaks whenever I needed. But I did intern in a couple of office, and found my eyes in particular getting incredibly fatigued. At my current job, I have a nice desk with a big computer monitor plus a laptop, and usually only have to get up to run to the printer or ask someone a question. In other words, I have a lot of sedentary time in front of screens.

It’s not good for us. Humans need natural light and reasonable amounts of movement throughout the day not just to be healthy, but to be focused and productive. So over time, I’ve found a few things that help:

  • Take 5. Go outside or even somewhere else in the office for a few minutes to resent your concentration, get a change of scenery, use your muscles, and give your eyes a break
  • Look further. When my eyes started getting computer-tired for the first time in college, I learned that you follow this 20-20-20 rule to help. Basically, every 20ish minutes, look at something 20 or more feet away for about 20 seconds. If your eyes are still getting fatigued, you can also look into getting glasses that minimize digital eye strain by blocking glare and combatting blue light (I got some almost a year ago and they make a huge difference).
  • Check your settings. Turn down your brightness, and make sure you’re sitting with your computer screen situated so you’re 20-24 inches from you and not having to crane up or down to see it. You can also adjust the color temperature on your monitor’s display to increase yellow light and decrease blue light. My laptop has an app called Flux that puts a yellowing filter on my display in the evening and keeps it until morning to make night work easier on my eyes and not fend off sleep.
  • Move around. It’s simple, we hear it all the time. But even moving around and stretching your legs while sitting — in addition to getting up and walking now and then — help keep your body in a better spot.
  • Sit up straight. Good posture is a learned habit. I’m not the best at it. But having a chair that ergonomically supports your back can minimize fatigue and aid focus when you’re stuck at your desk. Or sit on a medicine ball if it wouldn’t be too distracting (the reason why I don’t).
  • Let the light in. Make sure that you’re getting natural light if possible, but also that your lights aren’t too dim causing your eyes to strain. Adding pops of color into your desk space — especially with items like plants — can also make things easier on the eyes.

Do you have any helpful tips for sitting in front of the computer all day? 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 my office isn’t the most photogrenic.)

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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!