Recently, I celebrated my five-year anniversary of being a college graduate. While the last five years in the workforce have been a blur, I certainly have learned a lot about myself and have been given many great opportunities to further my skills. With more wisdom than I had five years ago and a few years of work experience under my belt (and many, many more to go), I give you the top six lessons I have learned, and that I think every young professional should keep in mind:
1. There will be bad days and good days. Fight through the bad to achieve the good. I work in a fast-paced, high-intensity environment which I love. But every so often, the workload gets to the point where I feel like running away to Ireland and never coming back. Or, a grammar error pops up in a printed piece that can never be changed, and I want to hide my face from the world. I’ll never have a good day again, and I’ll always be known as the one who missed a deadline, or who made an error, right? Wrong. Another project will come along that will be on-time, and hundreds of printed pieces will be proofed and printed perfectly. There’s no doubt that life will get challenging. But for every bad day, there are usually hundreds of others that are great and worth every bit of hard work. You are always stronger than you think, and will overcome the challenges to experience the triumphs.
2. When your boss asks you if you want to travel – say yes. In the last three years, I’ve been to Orlando, Chicago (twice), Las Vegas (twice) and Atlanta, plus a bunch of connecting cities’ airports – all for work. Yes, the travel can be rough and the long hours tiring. But it’s given me the chance to visit places I’ve never been before and interact with people from all over the country. Instead of staying in my safe little bubble, I’ve moved outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been able to learn more about the industry I work in, while also learning more about myself.
3. Build good working relationships with your colleagues, and don’t forget to show appreciation for their help. This is something I can’t stress enough. There is no rule that says you have to be a best friend to every member of your team. But if you don’t have some kind of working relationship with them, communication will deteriorate pretty quickly. When they talk to you, be an ACTIVE listener – look at them, give feedback and stay engaged. Also, keep in mind that giving thanks to coworkers will go a long way. They will remember who is polite and who is genuinely grateful for their time and efforts. When someone is nice to you and goes above and beyond what is expected, make sure to recognize them.
4. Remember that it’s called ‘constructive criticism’ for a reason, and it’s not a personal vendetta against you. I struggled with this lesson, and hope others don’t make the same mistakes as I did. Please let me reassure you: When people give you edits or big changes to your work, they aren’t trying to be mean. They aren’t putting down your skills, or saying you should never write again. It’s quite the opposite; they want to help you grow and to show you a better, perhaps more sophisticated way of doing things. Take the edits or changes you get back seriously, and keep them in mind for the next project. Chances are, if you take them to heart, the next project returned will include less edits, and more approvals.
5. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you want to have the best possible outcome and are willing to utilize all the resources necessary to achieve it. I’ll admit, asking for help is not one of my strong suits. But as I’ve progressed in the working world, I’ve realized that if you don’t ask for help, or don’t ask questions, you will just get yourself into more trouble. If you don’t know how to do a pivot table in Excel and spend an entire day just trying to figure it out, you aren’t working smarter; you are working harder, not getting other important work done and costing your company valuable time and money. Identify the people you can rely on for help, and make sure it’s a two-way street: If they need help, make yourself available to assist.
6. Don’t talk about it; be about it. One of my good friends from college first told me this when we were in our early 20s. Almost seven years later, I have grown to appreciate it. You can say until you are blue in the face that you are going to get a new job; that you are going to work toward the career of your dreams; that you are going to move to that big city you always wanted to live in and enjoy. But unless you actually do something about it, it will all stay theoretical. If you want to make a change, you have to be the one who initiates it. Whether you are a young professional like me, or have been in the workforce much longer, there is always the opportunity to change your life path. Put your thoughts into action, and put yourself where you want to be.