Nothing compares to the feeling you experience right before you are about to graduate from college and you already know a shiny, brand-new job awaits you. The excitement fills your heart and the anticipation of something wonderful doesn’t let you sleep at night. However, while getting your first job, without much turmoil and fairly quickly, is a sweet and reassuring feeling, it is also a life changing event that could turn out to be more rewarding if you learn from it.
Whether you are still working at the same place after 2+ years or you already moved on to better and bigger things (like me), it is important to reflect on the lessons this job is leaving you. For me, these lessons have made a great difference in my new job and I hope they show valuable to you. Here are 5 of the most prized lessons I learned from my first job:
1. Never work for free – when you start a job without any kind of experience, it gets hectic in no time, and you catch yourself completely overwhelmed with work (especially if you work for a start-up or any company short on staff). Your first instinct will be to work extra hours because you are there to give it all and what not, but if you are not eligible for over-time and after a few months in, your workload is still the same or worse, speak up! Nobody should work for free and while it is great to have strong work ethics and know that to get farther you should do some work for “free,” it is never acceptable to feel exploited. If you allow this to happen, then you will open a door for other people to think that it is okay to drop massive amounts of work on a single person and expect them to be super heroes.
2. It’s okay to say no and also to ask for help – there is something about being new in the workforce that makes you think you NEED to keep that job and you NEED to agree to every single task your boss and/or coworkers assign you. Let’s make one thing clear, you might be at the bottom of the professional ladder, but that doesn’t mean people can take this as a sign of you being the designated driver of their jobs. It is amazing to form part of a team and help each other out, but while you will need to suck up many tasks from time to time, you need to be able to voice yourself and let people know when there is already a lot in your plate. Saying yes to everything and thinking you can manage without help from anyone, will only set yourself up for imminent failure.
3. Take it easy – while taking your job seriously and being a responsible person is a MUST, knowing that your life doesn’t depend on it will free yourself from a big amount of troubles. Have fun doing what you do and try to come up with ways of making the more mundane tasks – all jobs have those – more enjoyable. Don’t assume that just because you are new and without experience, you must take on the weight of everything that is going on around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and, of course, when in doubt, ask questions.
4. Don’t underestimate a task – many first jobs won’t be dream jobs and that means they will come with tasks that make you wanna scream “why in the world do I have to do this?” However, these tasks are pivotal in teaching you an abundant amount of valuable lessons. Patience and humility are two big ones – you are not at the top (these are still important when you are already at the top) and everybody started the same way. You will need to be humble enough to accept that going up the ladder will take time and A LOT of hard work.
5. Balance is key – this goes without saying, but when you are making such a ginormous change in your life, everything you considered steady will not be anymore. Change is always good if you keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish with it. You don’t need to have the answers all right there because who does? But you should figure out a purpose – big or small, it doesn’t matter – and work towards it.
BONUS: Don’t lose your way in the process – corporate America is a big monster that can easily crush anybody’s dreams. I ventured myself in this corporate world as naïve as they come, and I couldn’t admit that my eagerness of acceptance and approval were proving detrimental to my well-being and self-steem. Having a clear vision of who you are (or at least who you aspire to be) and what you want will not always guarantee your success, but working hard on the person you want to become and surrounding yourself with mentors, coworkers, friends, and people who share your same ethics and have something meaningful to offer to your life will help guide your path.
Don’t be afraid to let go of your first job when it doesn’t longer serve your purpose of self-actualization. Fear of failure and rejection won’t take you far, and it is fear that will dictate whether you will allow others to step on you or you’ll find a place where respect and teamwork becomes the norm in your daily life. Don’t lower your standards to fulfill other people’s dreams.
Are there any lessons you have learned from your first experiences in the workforce? I would love to hear them!