Ah, that first job- it comes with so many emotions. For me, the primary emotion was relief sprinkled with a little bit of fear. Like so many other hopeful graduates, I felt the pressure to land my first job post-college, and receiving that offer made me feel like a weight had been lifted. Yet, all the unknowns made the whole situation a tad terrifying.
I was grateful to receive a lot of good advice before starting off (and a fair amount of bad), but I also had plenty of opportunities to learn on my own. While I’m grateful for lessons learned, there are a few things I wish I had known before diving head-first into the working world.
Below, I'm sharing ten things that I wish I knew before starting my first job.
Don’t play the comparison game.
Whether it’s stressing over the fact that your bestie got a promotion and you haven’t or overanalyzing your job benefits to make sure they are on par with everyone else, the comparison game is not worth your energy. I spent too much time weighing my job, my success and even my satisfaction against all my friends. It’s a waste. Every situation is different, and it’s really not a competition. If I could go back, I would focus more on being happy for my friends while still feeling proud of all my work.
Sometimes work will suck, but it doesn’t mean your job sucks.
If you ask someone who loves their job if they like every part of their work, and I can almost guarantee they will say no. Pretty sure that's why they call it work... Some work days are going to be a struggle, even some weeks will be tough, but don’t be so quick to chalk it up to a lousy job. I often too eager blame a sucky day (or week) on the job, when in reality these periods will happen for everyone. Embrace the moments that challenge you and remember that a perfect job is not the goal.
There will be times where you need to put your head down and work.
This one goes hand in hand with the fact that you aren’t going to like every part of your job. There are going to be situations when you get a task that sounds awful. For me, that task was data entry. No, it wasn’t glamorous or brain-stimulating by any stretch of the imagination, but it needed to get done. There will plenty of times where you will need to put your head down and get the job done… no matter how boring or mundane. It’s not all glamorous, but your efforts will hopefully get noticed.
Don’t let all the passion talk stress you out.
It doesn’t take much time on social media for you to stumble across a quote or graphic about following your passion when it comes to your career. While there is good intent in this message, it can also cause a lot of stress. I wasted a lot of brain power worrying that my first job wasn’t aligning with my life’s passion and even more on just trying to figure out what the heck my passion was. You don’t need to have it all figured out at 23 years old. It’s okay to simply go to a job because it pays the bills. It’s also equally okay to have no idea what your passion is when starting out.
Look for fulfillment outside your job.
Job satisfaction is important, but your career also doesn’t need to be to the only thing you are relying on to fill your cup. I wish I had learned this a little earlier on and looked beyond my 9-5 for fulfillment. While this looks different for everyone, some ideas include: experimenting with a new hobby, planning monthly outings with friends, mixing up your workout routine, or volunteering for a cause you care about. The basic idea- don’t rely solely on your job for satisfaction to make your life feel whole. Turn to other areas for joy, fulfillment, creativity, etc.
There is no set timeline, and that can be intimidating.
The 16 years leading up to your first job have been fairly structured, and you knew exactly what you needed to do to get to the next level (a.k.a. grade). I was comforted by the set timeline that came along with school because I knew what success looked like. This structure goes out the window when you start your first job because every path is different. You might not get promoted after the first year on the job, or manage people by the time you are 30, and that’s okay. Try and get a little more comfortable with the unknown, because the journey to success will always look different.
Don’t let burnout break you.
Learning to rest is beyond valuable. There is such a high probability that burnout is going to happen, but the ability to listen to your body and find time to step out of the grind can serve you in the long run. The tendency of our culture to value the go-go-go attitude can lead you straight into a breakdown. I waited till my body gave me no other choice but to slow down (enter anxiety attacks) before I allowed myself to take a step back. No job is worth your mental wellness. If you are feeling burnt out from your job, give yourself permission to step back and recuperate before you slam face first into the (metaphorical) wall.
Big change takes time but small changes can make a difference.
Everyone walks into their first job and sees a whole lot of things they want to change, and more times than not, can't make those changes happen. Change at any organization takes time and it comes with plenty of challenges. I was quick to get frustrated when I had ideas for positive improvements, but I wasn’t given the space to implement them… it just didn’t make sense to me! Your first job comes with learning a whole new ecosystem, and while it’s annoying, you probably won’t be able to shake things up too much. The key is to remember that small changes can have a more significant impact than you realize. Progress takes time, and people will notice the little things you are doing to improve the organization
You actually can’t please em’ all, so don’t try.
Maybe it was just me, but before entering the “real world,” it felt a whole lot easier to keep everyone happy. The workplace comes with all sorts of personalities and whole lot more situations that are entirely out of your control. This means that it becomes pretty impossible to please everyone. Trust me I know, because I tried. And when I wasn’t able to please people, I became more upset with myself. There was a lot of wasted time and energy on my end trying to make people happy when I honestly should have just moved on. Focus on your job and remember that everyone’s emotions are not your responsibility.
Own your mistakes.
Of course, no one likes making mistakes, but they come with the territory and can’t be avoided. I spent a lot of my time early on in my first job stressing over a mistake I made, trying to figure out how to cover my tracks and worrying about telling my boss. It would have been a whole lot easier to merely own the mistake when it happened and present a solution to fix it. People will appreciate the fact that you are willing to be vulnerable, even if it feels challenging.
I’m sure this list will continue to grow throughout my career as I learn new things about myself and others. I think one of the most important lessons of all is that I have to give myself permission to not have it all figured out. No one does, and honestly, that’s a little comforting. In fact, I bet everyone has their own list of things they wish they knew before starting their first job. Here’s to ongoing growth and the opportunity to constantly learn more about ourselves!