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.