I always think of college as a little bubble. Your campus becomes your world and everything outside of it seems completely separate and foreign. Graduating from college reinforced this parallel for me when I was suddenly in this really big world with lots of people I didn’t know, a million decisions to make and an ‘every man for himself’ mentality.
It’s a little scary.
Even though it’s only been a few months, I’ve learned a couple of important lessons since entering the ‘real’ world.
Affirmation is addicting
When we’re in school we constantly get feedback. Every test, every assignment, every presentation is given a concrete evaluation. And generally in school, if you study a fair amount you’ll most likely do well and if you don’t, you won’t. (Unless you’re one of those awful people that does well without studying in which case I really don’t like you). In the working world I’ve found that feedback works a lot differently. You don’t get feedback for every little thing you do, and a lot of times we get a lot more negative feedback than positive feedback. This is because in terms of the good of the company, negative feedback is a lot more important. When we mess up or fail to meet certain standards it is vital to the company that we know. But if we do it right then it’s not as urgent to let us know.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you work really hard on a project and all you hear back is the couple of things that needed to be fixed. In school, you can mess up a few things but still make an A so you feel good about it. In work, you don’t have a grading scale so all you hear about are those few things that weren’t perfect. When this happens it’s easy to feel ill-used and frustrated because you feel like you’re working so hard and no one is recognizing it.
I realized you have to be confident that you are a good worker, if you need others’ affirmation about this you’ll be waiting in vain and getting upset when it doesn’t happen. Don’t take the criticism personally and know that hearing what you did wrong is the only way to improve. A good boss will tell you when you do a good job too, but don’t depend on their affirmation. Do your best and do it because you want to do things the right way, not because you want a pat on the back.
Self-care is actually really important
One of my internships is with a self-care company. We urge/help/encourage entrepreneurs to take care of themselves. If you say you ‘don’t have time to go to the gym’ then you’re saying you’re not important. I’m saying you are. You don’t have to be a professional athlete or a health nut but taking some time every day to move and making the effort to eat well most of the time will help you so much. I’m not going to go on about the benefits of eating well and exercising because you already know them. But you should do it. Get the amount of sleep you need (not what you wish you needed or what you ‘have time for’), find a form of exercise that you can enjoy (dancing, kickboxing, climbing… whatever floats your boat) and make an active effort to eat good food. This is a relative term, I know, but you know what makes you feel good, not just what tastes good and is convenient.
When work is super stressful or my family is driving me crazy or I’m just having one of those days, working out, drinking a yummy smoothie or just reading a favorite book for a little bit are the best remedies.
Humility makes us better workers
Graduating from college is an awesome accomplishment, and definitely something you should be proud of. But relative to those who graduated 20, 30, 40 years ago…you’re a baby. Understand that your college degree doesn’t mean you know everything. You have a lot to learn and that is a good thing. As you get more experience you’ll have more and more skills/knowledge to bring to the table. Right now you have your degree, your willingness to learn and your super attitude.
Similar to the ‘need for affirmation’ thing, it can be tempting to want to get there early, stay late, respond to emails on weekends or after work hours etc because you want your coworkers/boss to be impressed. Here’s what is actually impressive: getting it done well and in less amount of time.
It’s not worth spending your life trying to impress others, eventually you will burn out and your work will suffer. Not to mention those feelings of ill-usage we talked about earlier. Work hard, yes. Stay focused, yes. By all means if you’re behind stay late and get their early but don’t do it for the sake of looking good.
Community is everything
Although your job and your career are uber important, your relationships can largely determine your quality of life. One of the first things I did when I moved back to Charleston was look for a group of people that I felt I could be a part of. Good friends are hard to come by, but if you actively look for groups that meet regularly and that you have something you feel is important in common with, it will be a lot easier to have a good support system.
If you love to run, join a running club. If you love to play an instrument, join the community orchestra. If you love reading, look for a book club. If you go to church that is also a great place to meet people, join a small group or a young adult group. There are communities for everything. You may not make best friends right away but as you spend more time in a community that you feel is welcoming and enjoyable, you will find that your life is greatly enriched.
I know after a long day at work the last thing you want to do is go meet people or spend time with a group you’re not fully comfortable with yet, I get that. But we need people on our side, people to make us laugh when we need it, to encourage us when we’re feeling down and to remind us how awesome we are every now and then. Unfortunately, (at least for us introverts) relationships don’t just fall into our laps, we have to go out there and show individuals what they have to gain by having us in their lives. Which is a lot.