While every workplace is a little different, we all face a similar set of challenges. Everyone remembers their first full-time job job for one of two reasons: it was a serious wake-up call and/or it was an awful experience. Despite absolutely detesting my first “real” job, I did learn some skills that will make the rest of my life easier. Why these tips and skills are not emphasized in any phase of school is beyond me. Instead, you are pretty much left to figure it out on your own. In hope that some tips will make your first job more manageable, I am going to share with you what advice I wish I was given upon my first job acceptance.
1. The Monies
A salary is a whole new concept to new graduates. Getting a “big” paycheck sounds exciting, but it will be a lot less than you think. By the time state, local, and federal taxes, retirement funds, Social Security, health insurance premiums, and whatever other miscellaneous dollars are all deducted from your paycheck, you will be lucky if you can afford rent and food. Perhaps you will have discretionary income for the first few months, but then your student loan payments will start. Instead of spending all of this money upfront, which you will be tempted to do, put it away for those months later on when you will struggle to pay rent, bills, AND student loans.
Work friends and non-work friends should be treated differently. Your coworkers are bound to gossip, discuss how much they hate so & so, their personal relationships, etc. Even if they do or look for you to join in, stifle your urges. You should keep your work and personal life separate, no matter how much you would like to bond with your coworkers or complain about so & so. Instead of joining in gossip, nod, smile, and say, “Wow.” Similarly, do not date someone in your office. I am sure it seems like it will last forever, but if it doesn’t, imagine the juicy gossip and awkward breakroom moments in the future.
The social world of work is much different than every other social environment you have been in. Just as you didn’t like everyone in your 5th grade homeroom, you will not like all of your co-workers. The difference is that you should be nice to your co-workers regardless of how much you like them or how they treat you.
Simple pleasantries, such as small talk in the elevator or a smile, will go a long way. If you absolutely detest them, remember that you are not flashing your pearly whites for their sake; you are doing it for yours. Smiling helps decrease the negative endorphins released when we are angry or irritated. Trust me; you cannot be angry and irritated for 40 hours a week. I tried, and it is exhausting. The bottom line is that you spend more time at work than you likely spend at home or with people you actually like. Try to find ways to cope and tolerate the people you do not like; otherwise, you will be the one that is miserable.
3. Know Your Place
When you have just obtained your shiny, new bachelor’s degree, it is easy to get a big head, particularly regarding your work capabilities. However, you will still start at the bottom, the proverbial equivalent of cleaning the toilet, before you are given real responsibilities. If you want the chance to show your capabilities, start by demonstrating your work ethic even at tasks that are menial and boring. A solid work ethic and eagerness will separate you from all the other viable candidates when it comes to bigger tasks, promotions, and raises. No fresh post-graduate knows what they may need to succeed down the line, but appreciating the opportunities given and working hard at them will help you both now and later.
4. Find your work-life balance
Adjusting to the world of work and everything that comes with it can wear you down. You may be working as hard as possible so you can move past menial tasks and advance. Or perhaps you are simply stressed by workplace drama. No matter which it is, you are at risk to burnout. By burnout, I mean that you will lose your gung-ho attitude and end up doing your job poorly. Instead of letting your productivity and creativity suffer after long hours on the job, find a balance between work and the rest of your life that prevents you being completely sucked in by your work.
In order to strive for balance and saving your sanity, remember to give yourself breaks and rewards. Throughout the day, take breaks to stretch, leave your desk, etc. Eventually, you may need a little more than some short breaks during the day. For those instances, schedule a sick day or as some refer to it “a mental health day”. This allows you to still be reliable, maintain a consistent work ethic, and give yourself time to reset. Ultimately, the best thing you can do to have a balanced life is to find that activity or thing that allows you to relax or turn off your brain for a bit. For some people, it is running or playing with their dog. For me, it is yoga and meditation that recenters me.
Your first job may be a frustrating or joyful learning process. Which ever it is, learn as much as you can and try to stay as calm as you can. On that elating day when you move on, you will be thankful for your first job which taught you about the ways of business, how to play office politics, and how to work nicely with others. If nothing else, remember keeping your expectations in check is a good place to start.