3 Things to Never Forget From Your First Real Job

Started from the bottom and now we are still here. If your job title is prefixed with “Junior” or “Associate”, suffixed with “Assistant” or “I”, or any other word to indicate that you are at or near the bottom of the organizational hierarchy, then there is a high probability that you are also a Millennial and a recent graduate from university. At least that is how I would classify my current status. I am nine months into the labors of being a young professional and the birth of my first experience in the “real world” has taught me three things to carry forward throughout my career path.

The first kiss, the first time voting (miss you Obama), the first college acceptance letter (ugh, Betsy DeVos) – regardless of the milestones you choose to look back upon the first time brings a singular, distinct experience that is more notable than the rest and our first full-time job is no different. Finally apart of the working class I not only see but also now feel the tribulations of those that have walked this line before us. In a group of people, you can usually point out those with more years of experience under their belts not by the amount of grey hairs on their heads or the out-dated references they repeat over and over again, but rather by the perceptions and outlook which drastically contrast those who are just getting their feet wet into the field. There are things that I have realized, three to be precise, that I want to remember when I reach the point where my references are outdated.

1. Adaptability is Key

At any company changes happen and they happen often. They can be large or small such as a complete restructuring of the organization or a transition to a different phone system. For myself, adapting to the constant organizational changes were difficult to consume and accept. I’m actually surprised it took me six whole months to reach my first meltdown. It was this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and shock that I didn’t understand until I read a book my boss gave me. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson is a short story which places change and the search for success and happiness into a unique perspective.

What I gained from the story was that change is inevitable and unpredictable, however, a person can always prepare for it by anticipating change and never reaching a point of complete comfort. It is easy to fall into a cadence of day-to-day work when you have an established schedule and plan for when things get done and how they are executed. When your tasks become familiar naturally things get easier to do. With ease comes comfort and losing the awareness that change is always upon us. Therefore when change does occur and we least expect it, we become less receptive to the idea of adapting to something new which ultimately causes us to react more than we should.

Ultimately, you need to define what adaptability truly means to you. It can mean having the capability to accept multiple perspectives aside from your own because it can help explain why certain events happen or don’t happen. Adaptability can also call for awareness of your environment and surroundings because being neglectful of things around you can lead to confusion and frustration. To be adaptable means there is no single source of truth. Each scenario calls for a different subset of skills; each question calls for a different answer. Being mindful of yourself and your surroundings will be the best medicine to help fight the feeling that the rug is being pulled from right under you.

2. Credibility Can Be Gained and Lost, but First it Must Be Earned

Similar to how we gain and lose credit on our credit score, credibility at work follows the same set of standards using a different form of currency and a separate set of metrics to determine how much work credibility you have. When beginning a job, particularly as a person new to the workforce, we are lucky if we have any credibility in our bank account. Typically, we start at ground zero because there is no history of our work that supports our case. We cannot come in with the mentality that we know it all because everyone has been there longer and history says a lot about you whether you like it or not. With no former experience (with the company) to go off of, people don’t know what they can expect from your work. It might seem like a bad thing but this is best opportunity to establish your own set of expectations (instead of having someone do it for you) and fast track yourself to gaining good credit.

A common mistake that I see many of my peers doing is not taking credit for the work that they do. Do not be hesitant to own your work or someone will take the credit for you. I never realized how important it was to put your name on things until I started working full-time. The effort you put in translates into how coworkers or customers perceive you, how capable your manager thinks you are, and sometimes even how much you get in a bonus or raise. You must be diligent in establishing your place in the company and in order to do so, you must call attention to what you have contributed. If you shy away, don’t be surprised if someone writes their name on an empty name tag.

The idea is to always gain more credit but there are instances that can force you to lose credit as well. Don’t go too far to try and gain credit that you go the opposite direction and lose it. Be fair, follow the established process and procedures, and try not to step on too many toes.

3. The Spark

The “spark” as I like to call it, is that prove-yourself mentality. It is that feeling of, I just started a new job and no one knows (including myself) what I am capable of until I demonstrate exactly what I can or cannot do. It is that sense of urgency that we must tackle things we are not necessarily comfortable doing because we want to be an effective and impactful member of the team (or sometimes just too intimated to say no and admit that we are not as prepared as we thought we were). The spark provides a little extra gas in our tank when others are running on empty. When you are the freshman, the luxury of being comfortable does not exist because you are already starting the marathon a mile behind and all you want to do is keep pushing forward because there is a fear of turning your head around and realizing you are dead last.

The spark in a way is also the sense of naivety that allows us to be a little more positive and passionate than the person twenty years our senior. It is that pep in your step when you are walking into a meeting ready to focus on the presentation and not your emails like the guy next to you or when you instinctively give your most passionate “Hey, how’s it going?” to every passerby crossing your cubicle. This is not to say our co-workers who have been in the industry for a long time are not positive or passionate people. However, it is to say that these are the same people who have told me it is only a matter of time before I wake up to the horrible realities of work life and the spark I once had will simply become a distant memory of the past. I have observed as a result of their realities they have become more stern, frustrated, or dispirited members of the working community. I want to emphasize no hard statistical findings back up my next statement, but the slightly disheartened do not outperform those who have been able to maintain that spark. I have only been witness to instances where they are less patient to interact with others in a consistently respective manner under difficult or heated circumstances or when submitting a minimal viable product (a.k.a. “good enough”) becomes their own quality standard.

Let this be that reminder we need every so often to consistently strive to become more valuable and more competent in our respective roles.  The mentality to maintain is to never settle for good enough. Never let yourself get comfortable with the content that you are producing and always know that there are areas that can be improved upon. Find your reason for wanting to chase greatness and just keep running. Soon enough once we turn our heads back around and look forward again, there will be no one ahead of us.

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