Now that I’m just under six months in to my first, real Big Girl Job after graduating from college, I thought I’d take a moment to really, cohesively reflect on all I have come to learn in these first few dozen weeks of what will essentially be the rest of my life. Let me just say that what I’ve discovered isn’t necessarily all golden nuggets of wisdom, nor is it a set of dark, cruel truths; in fact, what I have to share may not be even groundbreaking, to many. But as someone who walked off the graduation stage with stars in her eyes, an eager-to-please disposition, and a mission to do right by the world, I believe there is some value to take from what I am about to share. Even if it’s simply to warn you, my Dear Readers, to brace yourselves. To warn you that the world is not always your post-collegiate Dream Come True–at least not in the way you may expect. So, sit back, and take what little life experience I have to offer with a grain of salt.
Don’t Stress About Your Degree. Now, remember what you read two seconds ago about taking my little life lessons with a grain of salt? Yeah, now would be a good time to start putting that into practice. Keep in mind my areas of study and industry of choice rely more on skills and work experience than educational background. Also, understand that I loved what I studied in undergrad and I love what I do now. But, in the professional world, any time I have attempted to pedal my degree or to bank on that fact that “Oh hey! I studied English and communication studies for four years,” I am met with little more than the bat of an eye or a dismissive shrug. I’ve even been told before, “I don’t care about your degree; I care about your experiences–what you have to offer.” Which, I mean, fair enough. Most organizations care about how you can help them with your skills and work experience and less about showing off your scholarly certifications.
But if that’s really the case, why push for higher education so much if it’s merely to be dismissed by potential employers? Again, this is subject to change based on your desired industry. Of course I’d want my doctor to know a thing or two about medicine and yeah, I’d want a lawyer to be up-to-date on the best law practices. But for me? Honestly, I myself could have studied biology or underwater basket-weaving for that matter with my same career ambitions and I don’t think I would have been met with an employer who would notice or care when comparing it to my job experience and skill set.
I’m not going to say don’t go to college. I think one of the most changeful experiences involves spending time away from home with new people and ideas. But I don’t think we need to be so stressed as many are wont to do when selecting a field of study or so hung up on “getting the most out of the college experience” when the two or four or five-plus years need to earn the desired degree promises to be chalk full of a multitude of learning and growing experiences. And many of those experiences will likely occur off-campus. Whether you derive your “life experiences” from college or not, I think you will be pretty safe; you just have to know how to market them.
Be Prepared for the Learning Curve. No matter what you bring to the table–college degree or not–you will certainly face your fair share of challenges, big and small. There was only one semester during college I wasn’t working; I held a number of internships that all pertain to what I’m doing now, and thus had much marketable experience to offer to my employer. Right? Ehhh, well… Yes and no.
Sure, what I learned is good and all, but there is still so much more to know, more that I haven’t been taught, more that may or may not be tailored specifically to my work organization. To an extent that’s true anywhere. But I guess little naive me assumed a degree with nearly half a dozen internships under my belt would serve as solid foundation for beginning my post-collegiate career. Sadly, that can only take you so far. Be prepared to not know everything about everything and willing to learn ALLLLL THE THINGS. But, of course strut your stuff and show off your smarts when opportunities arise. It’ll only be a matter of time before the student becomes the master.
Remember, There are No Grades. Now, to all overachieving students out there, it is time to groan with disappointment. Or maybe sigh with relief. Or not. If you were always the type of person in school striving to receive that oh-so-coveted “A” or 90-plus percent on an assignment, prepare to be disappointed. No matter how much you have to offer to your workplace or much you don’t and have to learn, you will not be graded on your efforts. At least, not in the way with which you may be familiar.
There are no A’s or 90’s in the working world like we were accustomed to in school. But there are rewards, there are punishments. There are pats on the back, there are scoldings. There are job promotions, there are position terminations. But, if anything, there is a way to gauge your abilities, even if not in the way we are used to. So I’m sorry to say you’ll have to move away from the “A” and focus more on keeping your employer and the pertaining parties happy–by doing a job well done.
No longer may we be motivated by mere letters and numbers, but rather the words of encouragement or disdain from our supervisors and the desire to serve others and serve others well. Arguably, we transition our means of evaluation from selfishness to selflessness; for, now, we are evaluated on a much larger scale seeking to please masses, not simply one person and our successes and failures become much more public and influential, not private or self-reflective. But, no pressure…
You Will Meet All Kinds of People. Yet, funny enough, a lot of this pressure will likely stem from the wonderful, terrifying, and any-other-contrasting-adjectives-you-can-think-of people with whom you become quickly acquainted in your job. We’re talking supervisors, colleagues, clients, third-party representatives, and probably more (but I’ve yet to work with anyone beyond the scope of this demographic). And just like most people you meet throughout life, you will likely love them, hate them, or fall somewhere in-between. In a sense, it’s kind of like being in college again.
There are the professors (read: supervisors, bosses) with whom you share an undeniable bond, who “just get you,” as well as the professors you like as individuals but downright despise in a professional setting. Then there are the fellow students (read: co-workers) who share your major or even your dorm floor with whom you become family over time due to your shared interests and experiences. Then, of course, there’s the roommate (read: work best friend) with whom, maybe under ordinary circumstances, you would have never interacted. But because you were thrown together in one of the most vulnerable of situations, become practically soulmates (of the friend sort), surviving and thriving through the toughest moments of this life phase. And then there’s everybody else on campus (read: customers, those you serve) who you may see and even visit from time to time, yet never really get to know on a deep, personal level; let’s just keep things surface-level.
You may not love everyone you work with in your first job. Or maybe your co-workers will make your work feel like one big corporate party, maybe they’ll be the highlight of your day. But just like in college or in any other esteemed environment, you must treat those around you with respect, professionalism, and, if you’re like me, oodles of excessive Hufflepuff kindness–until otherwise advised by your superiors. Or maybe your office prides itself on a lax culture of denim, swearing, and Nerf gun fights, so all that professionalism, corporate talk gets thrown out the window, I don’t know… In any regard, put your best foot forward when serving with your new crew, because they’re going to make up a good portion of your work experience.
You Will Have Good Days, Bad Days, and In-Between Days. Hopefully, if you jive with the people of your workplace, your first job experience will have more good in it than bad. But, in the reality of most situations, you’ll face experiences on both ends of the spectrum with plenty of in-between.
At a glance, that sentiment probably doesn’t seem much different from how most of our life unfolds and is thus unsurprising. But, I include this as a lesson nonetheless for all those out there who, like my naive college self, are in the midst of idealizing their Life After College and, with it, their First Real World Job.
I became burned out by college far too quickly and developed the ambition to work, to help people, to begin the next step toward the Rest of My Life. I was dissatisfied with school and based my dreams of a career of my internship experiences, envisioning a time where I would be able to set out what I was meant to do with my life, where I would live every day of my working life completely and perfectly and incandescently happy… Or something. Little did I know that work, just like school, just like life in general, of course has good days. GREAT days even. But the share of bad and, more often than not, meh days too. Based on where you work, the ratio of good to bad days is subject to change (hopefully in favor of the good).
Truly, though, if you are blessed in finding what you love to do and find a way to make each day a least a little enjoyable, you may not need to worry about the misalignment of dream and reality. What I’m trying to say is whether you find your work’s reality to be pleasant or not, try not to romanticize you job before you get to it, try not to be vastly unrealistic. Your First Real World Job is like most phases in life, a complex mixture good, bad, and everything in-between. So I say, of course, be excited! Just don’t get too carried away…
And, that’s how I see it! At least for now. Stay grounded, but content, Friends!