A few months ago, I had just wistfully left my first "real world" job to go to graduate school. Though I was thrilled to finally be embarking on a journey toward the career I truly feel called to, I was sad to leave the camaraderie of my office and the routine I had grown to love—even though my job was no longer relevant to my career of choice. Had you told me I would have felt this way eighteen months earlier, I would not have believed you. Only a few weeks after starting my job, I was exhausted, lonely, unmotivated, didn't feel valued, and missed the flexibility of a school schedule. Yet, just a year and a half later, I left that same job with a much different outlook. Here are some points I learned that can empower you to enjoy the real world and your work environment—whether you're working your dream job, a college internship, or a job that feels far from your passion.
The first week (or month) on the job, you will feel exhausted. You will adapt.
Entering the working world is intimidating, but more importantly, exhausting. Despite the fact that I had been a student-athlete who often burned the candle at both ends, somehow just sitting and standing for nine hours straight at work left me feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I would come home from work feeling unable to do anything other than eat, wedding plan, and watch TV in a stupor, before hitting the sack by 9pm. It was the crazy life of a millennial living in the city! I felt in awe of working parents who came home to take care of their children, let alone take care of themselves. How to accomplish anything other than cooking dinner and eating was beyond me. By the time I left my job, however, I had created a routine that rivaled my productivity as an undergrad. Yet I was getting more sleep, eating better, and overall living a more balanced life than I had in college. Friends of mine nod knowingly when discussing this strangely exhausting transition to the nine-to-five life; in fact, the overwhelming feeling it provokes is a rite of passage. Though it seems impossible at first, your body and mind will adapt to the new way of life that seems to sap your energy initially.
Just because you don't love your job at first, doesn't mean you never will
Being the new kid on the block (or at the office) is hard. You’re not “in” with the office crowd, you have to prove yourself professionally (and socially), there is so much about the office culture you don’t know, you have a thousand questions about your daily tasks, you feel as though you can’t relax… the list goes on. On top of all that, you might not be in love with your job. Maybe that was the best you could do, or in my case, the only job I could get at the time. While I never ended up loving my office duties, I looked forward to work and being in the office for the social benefits. The team I was a part of began to remind me of my collegiate field hockey team in how we functioned (at a high level) and the fun we had together (lots of joking around, eating out, and knowing the ins and outs of their everyday lives). Seemingly overnight, a job that seemed blasé turned not just decent, but actually enjoyable. How did this transformation happen? Read on...
Act like you’re going to be there forever
This piece of advice was given to me by my dear friend Erin. Since millennials tend to job hop much more than previous generations, working a job you're not crazy about can naturally lead to thoughts about potential jobs where the grass is greener. Maybe such a job is one you have to take in order to get to the next level (i.e. residency) and you are already looking past it, counting it out. While it’s not bad at all to plan for the future, this non-committal mindset can prevent you from being your best self. To do this, you have to commit 100%, acting as if you will be at this job forever even if you know you won’t. By jumping in with both feet, you will add value to the company sooner, allowing you to grow roots, make friends, see how you can improve the company, and perform at a high level—all things that contribute to job satisfaction and overall happiness. By doing this, your co-workers and boss gain respect and appreciation for you (and you for them). Additionally, you will get more out of your job (however unfulfilling it is) and it may even open up more exciting opportunities both inside and outside of your current job.
Don't be afraid to make friends
While this sounds obvious, I actually entered my job assuming I wouldn't form real friendships. I knew I would not be there more than two years, and so I assumed I would have professional relationships that didn't extend beyond the office. Relating to my previous point, my short-term mindset limited me. I realized that I could make my tolerable experience actually enjoyable if I engaged more intentionally in work relationships. This doesn’t just mean being cordial or polite to your co-workers. Really take the time to get to know them, to learn about what they do and who they are outside the office. To solidify friendships, it helps to do an activity outside of the office together. Grab drinks after work, go to a concert, go shopping, or even take a workout class together (I’m looking at you, Kylie!). And don’t just stick to things that the boss or company requires. The real growth in friendships comes from choosing to spend time with your co-workers in a new context.
That being said, avoid cliques and don't whisper
Is this starting to sound like a middle school survival guide? Well, the same dynamics that plague middle schoolers, often follow us throughout our lives, we just get better at hiding it. While having a “work wife” is fun, change up who you sit with at lunch, who you carpool to the office party with, etc. Even without malicious intentions, unnecessary drama can stir up from two people being overly-exclusive. On that note, restrain from whispering with other co-workers at the office. It doesn't matter if it’s about your favorite TV show or your personal business at home, when two or more people stand in a cubicle and talk at a level inaudible to anyone else, ears perk up. People often speculate—even irrationally—they might be the topic of conversation, which only perpetuates more unnecessary drama. Talk openly or take your small talk somewhere else.
Be understanding of yourself and others
In an environment where we are all trying to climb the corporate ladder or get a promotion, it can be easy to defend your mistakes or point out a co-worker’s misstep. Obviously, certain actions need to be reported and deserve consequences, but there is certainly a line in the sand there. Accept the fact that everyone will make mistakes, including you. Everyone will look at her phone from time to time, go on a non-work-related website (sorry, Jcrew was having 50% off), or simply make a well-meaning error on the job. Be patient with your own mistakes as you learn your new roles, but own up to those moments that you messed up so that you don't let someone else take the fall. If there is one thing every co-worker can appreciate it’s a person who can own up to their faults and take responsibility for their actions. Not only will your co-workers respect you more for your honesty, but you will learn from your mistake. That being said, realize that the same goes for your co-workers' mistakes. Refrain from quickly pointing out others' errors, but rather, use such moments as an opportunity to work collaboratively to learn from mistakes.
Remember, be patient with yourself as you adjust to this life, career, and schedule change. Gradually, you will become more competent and confident in your new role and daily life. No matter how menial the job, there are always opportunities to learn lessons you will carry with you moving forward. No matter how glorious the job, there are always opportunities to be humble. And no matter how mechanical the job, there are always opportunities to let your authentic self shine through.