Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve either A) Landed a job out of college or B) Are reading this in your pajamas at 2 p.m. cursing the people in group A. Either way, (insert witty connection between two groups).
You may have had an internship or two, and you may have gone to a top-notch school that claims to offer classes similar to the professional world.
You feel ready for your working life.
You got the job and it’s time to change the world. Day 1, kicking ass and taking names (and finding where the bathroom is).
Then you’re there for a week. And, in the words of Captain Dokes:
Here’s the deal. NO class, group or activity can truly prepare you for the circus show that IS the professional life. There’s a lot happening at once, and you’re going to need to pick up on it all. Fast. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, you might ruin yourself financially and professionally. You’ll quickly find that college didn’t even come close to preparing your for this, and you’ll feel like this.
Fortunately, I’ve gone through a few years of the newbie life, and I want to share the 28 things about work that I wish someone would have told me right out of college. They aren’t arranged in any order, because they’re all important in one way or another for you to succeed.
1) The world doesn’t wait for you.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that, if something happens, the world doesn’t stop. Granted, YOURS does, but for others it doesn’t. People will go about their business, and it’s up to you to figure things out.
In college, if you had problems with your work, you could go to a professor who literally had all the time in the world and they’d sit down, hold your hand and walk you through things. In the real world, decent people will help you out, but only for so long. If you don’t pick up on things quick, they won’t wait for you. That’s why you’ve got to be on top of your life and be prepared for things to happen.
2) No one owes you anything.
You might think because you graduated from a certain school that you’ll get all the prime projects. You might think because you have a certain job that things should be handed to you. You might think because you have a certain last name or lots of friends that people should treat you differently.
Nope. You are owed nothing.
The good things that will come to you in life will be through your efforts. You know that saying “You reap what you sow?” That’s a big-time quote that really means something now. The time and effort you put into things will directly correlate to what you get back in life. Gone are the days of things falling into your lap with no effort. If you want something, you’ve got to work harder than the other people that want it just as much, because there will undoubtedly be hundreds of other skilled people that want what exactly you want. You just need to take it from them.
3) You have to look out for you.
This is a tough one for most people. For so long, you’ve been surrounded by people your age with a relatively similar lifestyle all striving towards the same general goal (get laid and graduate). When that’s the case, it’s very easy to get help, because everyone is doing the same thing.
In life after college, this isn’t the case.
Everyone has entirely different backgrounds and lives, and they’ve all got their own problems to worry about. They’ve got debt staring them in the face when they get home. They’ve got a family member that isn’t doing so well. The list goes on and on. So, when you’re falling behind at work or you want a shiny new project, you’ve got to do that stuff yourself.
Granted, there will be the rare people that are so selfless they’ll help you with whatever problem you’ve got. That’s why when you meet those people, you don’t let them go. They are special. For the most part, though, when push comes to shove, individuals look out for their best interests. When your co-workers leave work, they aren’t thinking about all the work you have to do and that promotion you want. They’re thinking about them, and their own problems.
And that’s fine.
4) Charisma will only get you so far.
You’ll find that there are a lot of loud people out there. They talk often. They talk with confidence. They know how to play the system. They’ve charmed the pants off of so many people that their Facebook profile is now listed under “Casual Encounters” on Craigslist. These people will be noticed more than you when you first start out. Sometimes they’ll even move through the ranks quicker than you.
The thing is, eventually these people are tested. They face a problem where intellect and talent are the only solutions, and talking will get them nowhere. It’s at that point where they get in trouble. They’ve been exposed, and once that realization hits, it all goes downhill from there. Charisma is a fantastic thing to have, but it’s not everything. You’ve got to be knowledgeable and able if you want to make it far.
5) If you want to be noticed, you’ve got to put in serious time.
This one has two meanings.
First, there’s the time it takes to master something. The great philosophers Malcolm Gladwell and Mackelmore said it. 10,000 hours. Good things takes time. To put forth solid work, you’ve got to put in the time behind the scenes to hone your skills. Reading. Practicing. Learning. Those things don’t come overnight.
Second, there’s the time you put in at work. In sports, they always talk about the person that’s “First to the building, last to leave.” Even if you aren’t creating the most ground-breaking work, showing others that you’re willing to put in the effort will seriously go a very long way. It shows that you want to be there, and that you care about what you do.
Granted, this is all tough to do, because time is a noticeable commodity. Putting in time takes away from the other fun things you want to do. But, it goes back to #2 on the list. You get back what you put in.
6) Find a mentor.
A mentor is someone who shines in your field. They’ve been doing what you do for years, and they’re considered top-notch.
Hopefully, you have one of these people in your department where you work. It makes the communicating and feedback a lot easier because they’re right there working on the same stuff you are.
If you don’t have one of these people at your job, you’re going to need to find someone outside your workplace. Generally, most people are very open to mentoring someone right out of college, because they remember what it was like when they were just starting out, too.
When you find a mentor, use the opportunity to bounce things off them, and show them some of your work. They’ll be able to offer up advice on what worked for them, and even suggest things to read or other people to talk to on the subject. However, they aren’t there to hold your hand and do things for you. Think of them like a lighthouse in the fog: They’re farther out in the waters than you, but they’ll make sure you follow the right path.
7) People will try to make you look bad.
In this world, there are people that won’t hesitate to embarrass you, demean you, or undermine your work if it means they can be seen in a more favorable light. Scientists have debated it for years, but the term they’ve settled on for this phenomenon is “getting railed.”
Some people do it for attention. Others, to gain power. It happens in varying degrees, but it will happen to you. ESPECIALLY as the new person, where it’s easy for others to “blame the new guy/girl.” It is absolutely crucial for you to stand up against this in the early parts of your career, because giving these kind of people any sort of leeway makes you look bad AND implicitly gives them the OK to do it over and over again. Be ready to defend yourself by making sure your work and professional demeanor is airtight.
8) Those people you didn’t like in school? They’re still here.
Walt Disney said, “Adults are just grown up kids.” While he meant that quote to be as charming and full of magic as his firework-filled theme parks, it takes on a slightly different meaning in the professional world.
The adults at your job are, for the most part, the same people they were in college, but now they’ve got fancy suits and stronger opinions on car insurance.
The complainers still complain about everything.
The drama queens still make a big deal about everything.
The jerks are still jerks.
The know-it-alls still like to point out their mental superiority.
And the bossy people still hand off work. They’re all still here, so you’ll just need to develop some thick skin and learn how to shrug this stuff off.
9) Make the boss look good.
Your boss is like the warden from Shawshank Redemption. They can either make your time at work go smoothly, or they can make it a living hell. You thought cramming for two tests and writing a paper in a day in college was tough? Cross the boss and that’ll seem like a cakewalk.
In all seriousness, making the boss happy is a high priority in the first couple months starting a job. If they give you an assignment, take it, smile, make it perfect, and take no credit for it. The boss looks good, and you get in their good graces right away. After a few months, then you can start to worry about making a name for yourself.
10) You need to be ok with taking not awesome tasks.
This is vital. When you start your new job, you aren’t going to be tasked with a complete company rebrand, or the redesign of a new piece of technology. Most likely, you’ll get the stuff no one else really wants to do.
And that’s fine.
It’s what actors call “paying your dues.” When you get this work, you need to own it. Make it yours, and make it the best. You’ve got to prove first that you can dominate the little stuff before you get the big projects. Plus, as Seth Godin says, you become a linchpin. If you do the work that others won’t, and you do it well, then you’ve got an extremely secure foothold in the company.
11) Find a rival.
Do you know what the biggest killer of innovation is? It’s not bad luck or lack of talent.
It is the disappearance of motivation. If you aren’t motivated to work, I guarantee you the work you produce will be lackluster after a while.
One sure-fire way to make sure you’re always motivated is to find a rival. Someone who you think is a little better than you and is in the same profession. Let them know they’re your rival. Be like Rasheed Wallace and talk a little trash. Your rival will push you to do better work because they, too, will want to put out fantastic work. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
12) It’s ok to fail, but don’t be a fuck-up.
When I was in college, I worked for the local radio station. One of my very first times on air, the unthinkable happened—the computer that played the music just stopped playing music.
That means dead air, and that’s every on-air person’s nightmare.
After mentally kissing my short-lived time at the station goodbye, I called my boss. I nervously explained the situation, and was totally ready to hear the words, “You’re fired.”
Instead, he said something that’s stuck with me to this day.
He said, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we’re airline pilots. If you mess up, no one is going to die.” And then he proceeded to walk me through how to fix what happened.
Two things happened. First, I figured out how to fix that problem, so when it happened a couple more times I could take care of it. Second, he made me realize that mistakes happen, and they rarely are as big of a deal as they seem.
Let’s be clear. You’re going to mess up when you start out. That’s inevitable, but that’s not the important part. What matters is how you bounce back from failure, and what you learn from your attempt. Seeing what doesn’t work just eventually guides you to what will work.
But, if you mess up too much, you won’t have the opportunity to succeed, because your boss and coworkers can’t afford to see so many things bomb. So learn quickly from your mistakes, and move forward to make it better.
13) Working out is now mandatory.
Most of you will work a sedentary desk job. That means movement will be quite limited.
Guess what happens if you sit around all day and then sit around all night? You become ridiculously unhealthy.
It starts slowly, as you notice you’ve got some love handles. Then a little belly. Then a pronounced roll. You get winded going up stairs. You’re tired all the time. And so on and so forth.
The fact is, you can’t eat and sit around like you used to in college. Diabetes, high blood pressure and the myriad of health problems that come from a passive lifestyle are now all on the table, and living with any of those is no fun. Even though you’ll be tired after work and not want to do anything, you’ve got to at least jog or bike or swim or something to keep your body looking and feeling good.
14) Be patient.
When you get your first taste of success at your job, everything lavish and extravagant will flash before your eyes. You’ll want it all, and damned if anyone stops you from having it. This might happen a couple weeks or months after you’re hired, or maybe your big win will happen a year or two from now.
Either way, when it happens, you’ll want it all, and you’ll want it now.
The reality is, you won’t get what you expect. It takes many, many wins, hard work, a lot of recognition and truly selfless egos for you to get that promotion/raise/jetski. And sometimes, even when all those stars align, you still won’t get what you want. Unforeseen circumstances outside your control will prevent your upward movement. Even though this will feel devastating, almost unfair, you need to know this: you will eventually be rewarded. If you put in the time and work and are truly dedicated to what you do, things have a way of working themselves out. You just need to be patient.
If you’re paying attention, we’ve gone through 14 of the 28 things you need to know. Since I don’t want your thumb to cramp up from scrolling, I’ve created a PART 2 you can read Thursday. You can view it by clicking here.