Lady Business: Ten Things That Would Have Been Good to Know At and After Graduation

Ryan Gosling Prompting You

Aside from the time between when I get my tax return check & I’ve saved some and bought unnecessary shoes, Graduating Season is my favorite time of year. 

I haven’t donned a cap and gown of my own for a little while, but as a self-help and business book nerd, all the great career advice dispensed around this year keeps my Instapaper account busy.

There’s business advice hidden in funny books like Tina Fey’s Bossypants (paraphrase: If there’s someone you dislike at your office and they don’t have the power to change your fate, ignore them and move on) or even in general life advice books like Katie Couric’s The Best Advice I Ever Got. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Couric: “I realized that whatever your path, whatever your calling, the most damaging thing you can do is let other voices define you and drown out your own. You’ve got to block them out and find that place deep inside you, shaken but still intact, and hold on to it.”

What’s the most useful career advice anyone ever gave you? Here’s my best shot at dispensing words of wisdom that I wish someone had told me when I entered the workforce but I didn’t know until later. Feel free to add some to the comments. I’m sure me and my imaginary boo, Ryan Gosling, are missing something.

1. You’re probably going to suck at first. That’s how most things are until you master them. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours. It will feel like 100,000. That’s normal.

2. Acquaintances are not the same as friends. It’s rare to make genuine friendships at work, no matter what the sitcoms and movies suggest. You might have one or two, but you’re not there to be popular, you’re there to show off your skills. If you make friends, that’s icing.

3. Ignore snide remarks. “I have sweaters older than you” = A real thing I heard on the job as a twenty-something. I cried, but not at my desk. I was kind! I was smart! I was important! Some of your co-workers will look at you and see their misspent youth. Not your problem.They’re just mad because they can’t stay up all night and work like a boss all day like you can. This is something that you will also lose the ability to do, so enjoy life while you can stay up past 10 without yawning.

4. People are not quite right in their twenties. There’s this whole bridge to adulthood thing that makes life a little unbearable. It is normal to not know who you are or what your Purpose In Life is. You will find it or it will find you.

5. Find a mentor or two. They don’t have to be women, and they don’t have to be alive. I have several mentors that have kept me sane and from being utterly broken by life on dozens of occasions. In my free time, when I’m not walking my dog or gardening, I hunt for mentors. They’ve been down the road you want to walk, they have a wealth of experience. In Annie Leibovitz’ book, At Work, she writes about photography: “You learn as you work, and you certainly can ask for advice.” That’s true for everything.

6. Don’t date in the office. What? I know. Hot. Right there. Where you spend all your waking hours. Down GIRL! (And by date, I mean whatever it is you think I mean by date.) Certainly, there are all kinds of excuses you can make to say why this is wrongheaded. I know a lot of couples who met at the office. Don’t crap where you sleep. It rarely ends well.

7. Ask for what you want. Like my imaginary honey Ryan suggests above, asking for a raise or a promotion is something that you should totally do. Lois Frankel gives great advice about this, as does Austin-based career coach Ann Daly. It’s scary, but scared money don’t make none. In other words, the worst that could happen is that your boss will say no to whatever you’re asking for.

8. Try to forget ‘What I Thought I’d Be Doing’ and enjoy the ride. Aim to enjoy where you are. Everyone has to start somewhere.

9. Save Money. I used to have a really silly relationship with money, shaped by growing up without much. Interviewing wise people over the years has underscored for me the importance of having a stash saved in the event that I need to leave a toxic or untenable situation and regroup.

10. Win. I used to hate attention and I would unconsciously sabotage myself, thinking that if I won all the time, people would hate me for it. Specifically, “boys club” women and intimidated men. It turns out winning is sexy. It also makes you happy and confident, which gives your skin a healthy glow. Go for it.

Previously: When You Make More Money Than He Does, Women are 60 Percent of Breadwinners, But Still Opting Out of High-Paying Work. Why?

Joshunda Sanders, a Black woman with short black hair, smiles brightly at the camera
by Joshunda Sanders
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Joshunda Sanders is the author of I Can Write the World, How Racism and Sexism Killed Traditional Media: Why the Future of Journalism Depends on Women and People of Color, and The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. She lives in the Bronx, New York, and sometimes tweets @JoshundaSanders.

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20 Comments Have Been Posted

New Grad Advice

Important to note- if you see something unsafe, unprofessional or illegal you need to speak up! As someone who entered the nursing profession which is famous for "eating its young," I was bullied and belittled coninuously until I stood up for myself & involved administration. I dreaded being a "complainer" or a snitch, but know that you have value & that is why you are at your job. I entered my job starry eyed & hopeful for a mentor, instead I learned to stand alone & grew stronger for it. Do not accept bullying, hazing or other office politics as acceptable if it effects your ability to perform your job. Nobody is there to advocate for you, except for yourself!

Also know that your first job will not be your last. Never be afraid to move on when a job is not the right fit for you. You have not failed. You have made a decision that is best for you.


This is awesome. I went through a weird situation earlier today regarding my job, my career and my having twentysomething, and I have the distinct feeling that the Universe sent this article via BitchMag Facebook feed specially for me. I needed it. Thank you!


Being a mid-20's, newly graduated woman, this article is medicine. Thank you so much for writing it! Encouragement and mentorship is good for all. My question applies to the very last point of advice, #10: what do you mean to say with the phrase "male-identified women"? It could mean many things, and as someone who's never heard the term before, I hope with all my heart this is not a phrase meant to shame or discredit transgendered people (which is a bit how it sounds). My other guess is women who identify themselves by standards created by a Patriarchial system. Clarify?

Glad you liked it!


Good question about the phrasing. We've changed the text to read "'boys club' women" because you're absolutely right; Joshunda was referring to women who identify with a patriarchal system in the workplace and compete with their female colleagues for that reason. Thanks for saying something!

Male-Identified Women

Actually, the term "male-identified women" is a perfectly clear term in common usage in feminist scholarship. No need to change it. The replacement term is less clear.

When you are offered a job,

When you are offered a job, do not be afraid to negotiate before you accept. Make sure you are clear on all the particulars as far as compensation. If something is lacking, ask for something else. For example, if it's very low pay, ask for an extra week off. If you need guidance or inspiration on how to do this, watch a few episodes of Pawn Stars for inspiration.

I know this does not apply to all jobs and won't work in every case, but trust me, you won't be sorry you asked. Be diplomatic and polite, but do not be too timid to ask about details and try to negotiate.

Agree Completely!

Great article and @Meg, I agree COMPLETELY and laughed about the Pawn Stars fodder. If I knew then what I know now I would have pushed the envelope a bit more on the offering package of some of my first jobs. It doesn't hurt to ask, but it's hard to renegotiate certain terms after a point.

I also agree to this one

Ask, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. It will be worth it later, I wish I had asked for what I wanted, I might be more happier now if I had. Also, fight for that higher salery, just not too high, where you start off is important, each raise from there will be small on average and it will take a while to get to where you wanted to be in the begining.

Such good advice

I was deathly afraid of looking like I was crazy for asking for too much money, and when I learned that I could negotiate for other things, the lightbulb went off.

Totally agree with negotiating

As someone who works in HR, I see a lot of people not get all the salary, perks, vacations, etc. that they can. At least in my office, when I make a job offer to someone, I always allow myself some wiggle room in case they want to negotiate. This goes for every position-- from receptionist to executives. Most employers making offers are expecting some sort of negotiation so don't sell yourself short by just taking the first offer you get. They can always say no... it won't make them want to hire you any less.

Do your own thang!

What a great list! To be honest, this would have been lost on me in my 20s. Number 4 kind of covers why - wrapped up in my own trailing adolescent ego is the best description. Here's my two add-ons:

Go ahead and do your own thing! If you don't fit in a j.o.b. then don't get a j.o.b. Blaze your own trail and find stuff you love to do and do it until you don't love it anymore. (Don't be a flake and bounce around, though). Learn all you can. All of the coolest and most abundant opportunities showed up when I was totally present and in the groove with what I was doing.

Make a list of the stuff you want. Not the stuff you *don't* want, the stuff you WANT. I still have my first list I ever made stuffed in my underwear drawer, with the other more recent lists, and I have everything on that first list and then some. It's just magic.

Jessica Clark,

Thanks - and yes, absolutely to blazing your own trail

I love that advice. I could have shaved a few years off a couple of jobs if it had occurred to me that I was sort of a oblong-sized peg trying to fit in a square hole. I feared instability and potentially becoming a flake. I think it takes a certain amount of self-confidence to find what works.

Is the caption in the Ryan

Is the caption in the Ryan Gosling pic grammatically correct?
sorry for the off-topic question but it somehow seems off and I can't get it out of my head!

Thank you so much, just thank

Thank you so much, just thank you.

Great advice

I just wanted to add to numbers 2 and 6. Unfortunately when I started my current job, my first full-time job out of college, I was open to it as a place of social interaction as well as it being a job, especially as I didn't envision myself as making a career out of being there (I'm still there six years later, so...). Having extreme social anxiety, it was just easier. I also got involved with a supervisor. I won't get into the details, but it went as badly as one could imagine, and I wasn't always able to keep my feeling bad out of work (i.e. crying, looking "down", etc.). So not only is he still one of my supervisors, but also I've ruined any chance of advancement there. Though like I said I don't want to stay there forever, I naturally want to be in a different position than when I started. So, in conclusion: don't do it.

I'm desperate to move on (to another job), but any confidence I had starting out is shattered, and I don't know where to begin or who to ask for help.

Terrible Advice!

Damn yo, that's some terrible career advice:

#2: What the hell is that? It's pretty much telling you not to bother to develop work friends. You spend most of your time at work. Try to develop work friends, it will benefit your career in the long-run as long as you don't engage in office politics. #3: Not sure why you would take that as an insult. Someone calls me young at work, and I'm like fuck yeah, I'm doing your job 5 years before you were at this point in your life, I'm awesome!

#7: Is a bit of a disaster in the current economy. Not a good time to be bustin' into an office giving an ultimatum. Your bluff will be called, be happy you have a job.

#10: This is essentially telling you to show off when you triumph in work. Probably not the best way to get ahead. Best way is to make everyone aware that you're awesome through your greatness, without rubbing their face in it.

To be fair

#2 - Work is work for a reason. Certainly you can develop friendships with people at work, but it shouldn't be your focus. Women in particular are conditioned to be people pleasers. And that can get in the way of them making better business decisions.

#7 I never advise people to give ultimatums. Ever. In any situation, in any economy. But that doesn't mean you can't craft a thoughtful description of what you want.

#10 You should totally toot your own horn when you've worked your butt off in an industry. Should you do it all the time? Maybe not. But another issue I have had (and some of my wildly successful and amazing female friends have had, I might add) is being too self-conscious to assess and talk about their worth. If you can't do that, you can't express to other people what makes you valuable at a company.

Keep a victory list

My brother gave me great advice - keep a victory list, that is, a list of good things or extra things you've done, and congratulations from managers and colleagues. This is so useful for performance reviews and interviews. Your prep is already half done. When you know you'll be faced with behavioural questions, you just remember a few and match them up to a possible question.

I kind of needed this today.

I kind of needed this today. I like my job, but I can't save and I'm barely paying off my loans. Time to start looking I guess. I have to say that job interviews are more like an audition for a film than an interview for a job with all the advice on how to twist the truth and assume a 'safer' persona.

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