I entered the full time, salaried, snack-roomed workforce almost five years ago. My first day at a job that offered me health insurance was July 19, 2011. And since then, I’ve crossed the valley of What-The-Hell-Am-I-Doing, traversed the forest of Why-Am-I-Sitting-At-A-Desk-So-Much and journeyed across the How-Do-People-Spend-Their-Whole-Lives-Working mountains.
I’ve cried over critical feedback. I’ve quit. I’ve been fired!!! I’ve been hired. I’ve been promoted. I’ve been criticized. I’ve been praised. I’ve been advised and then advised others. I’ve been trained and then trained others. I’ve felt depleted and then fulfilled and then depressed and then excited.
Work is a batshit crazy world of its own and it sometimes has different rules than the one outside its walls. Here are six things I wish I’d known when I started.
1. To-do list items should always be bite-sized.
If an item on your to-do list takes more than an hour, it’s not broken down enough.
A more detailed list that tracks steps and progress will help you stay focused and feeling productive. For example, putting “Write research report” on your to-do list might make you feel daunted (also, what are you, a scientist?). Instead, try: “Spend 30 minutes brainstorming the structure of research report.”
2. Fast learners ask lots of questions.
The more questions you ask during the learning process, the better. The “I’ll figure it out later” mindset often slows you down later. Get your questions out early. Even the dumb ones. No one will remember you asked.
3. Taking notes never hurt anybody.
Take notes especially when you think you don’t need to. Everyone forgets everything always. WRITE IT DOWN. You’ll feel super competent later when you have notes to refer to. Keep your notes organized and type them up so you can command-F that shit.
4. Feedback is not yours to disagree with.
Do not defend yourself when someone provides you with feedback. Everyone has a reason for why they acted a certain way, which is precisely the reason it does not matter. Perception is reality. Take in the feedback. Ask them for it! Thank them for it! Sit with it. Consider how it might be true. Take the parts of it that feel helpful, leave or further examine the ones that don’t. Then keep moving.
5. Asking for help is a sign of maturity.
You know when shit is hitting the fan and you feel super panicky and you think that overcoming the panic and coming out on top is going to make you look super good? Asking for help actually might make you look better. It depends on your work environment, but laying out your stress points in a thoughtful way and asking for insight on how to manage them will help you evolve faster than trudging through will.
6. No one is thinking about you as much as you are.
This is the most important one. Everyone is thinking about themselves and how things are making them look. Repeat repeat repeat!
Illustrations by Emily Zirimis.