10 Things I’ve Learned in 11 Years of Work

shovel to dig on the farm
Your Monday memespiration.

I’ve been focusing a lot on my fear of and my general aimlessness surrounding work. It’s time to focus on the helpful things I’ve learned in my 11 years in the work world.

  1. You might have more than one calling. As I navigate through this very uncertain career terrain, I’ve figured that I might end up cobbling together two callings. One will be for the sheer joy of doing it. Hell, I might not even get paid much or anything at all for doing it. The other will be more practical. I might not love it, but I’ll be good enough to get paid decently and won’t hate going into work every day. If you’re like me and have a lot of diverse interests, it might be that one calling won’t be enough to capitalize on all your awesome gifts šŸ˜‰
  2. You are only as valuable as your value to others. Like it or not, working hard and being a nice person is only half the battle when it comes to crawling through the trenches that is modern work life. I’ve had at least three jobs where they could see I was a hard worker and I made people laugh, but once it became clear I didn’t have the right skill set, I was handed my walking papers. The sooner you be honest about where your strengths and weaknesses lie, the more likely it is you’ll land a stable job (one you hopefully like).
  3. Being likable isn’t everything, but it is important. While bringing tasty donuts every morning or having a tight comedy set won’t keep you from losing a job you’re terrible at, it’s not something you should neglect. We all want to work with people we like and it’s much easier for your boss to forgive mistakes if you’re well-regarded among your colleagues. Every company has a culture and being liked is part of fitting in.
  4. Your job = high school with a paycheck. Learn to fit in or find another job.Ā One of the reasons I began to suspect working in finance wasn’t for me was because I felt severely out of place at my job. Not only am I a woman working in a heavily male dominated environment, but I’m also a liberal, an agnostic, a proud feminist with a better head for creative projects than numbers. My Republican, Christian polo shirt wearing, golf playing, Dave Matthews band listening colleagues and managers didn’t quite know what to do with me. They enjoyed my weird, sarcastic sense of humor and liked that I didn’t seem easily offended (or could tactfully call them out if I was).Ā  Once it became clear our values didn’t exactly line up, I started to become unhappier at my job. I thought all jobs were meant to make you miserable until I started finding environments where I had more in common with the people I work with. Make no mistake, your coworkers are not your friends. You should be friendly but always professional and take care never to reveal anything you don’t want used against you later. Still, birds of a feather work together.
  5. I don’t work well under pressure. What isĀ  strange is that I have been in a few life or death situations in my life and handled them much better than I do any kind of work place criticism or mistakes. I preventedĀ  a car accident on an icy road where I could’ve easily died. For some reason, my brain gets injected with an extra dose of clarity during emergency situations and I was able to act quickly and steer the car from crashing into another vehicle or into a tree. Once I get the sense that my job is in danger because I’m not performing up my bosses standards, or get even mild criticism, I fall apart like a four-year-old child being told she won’t get her favorite toy for Christmas.
  6. I’m only detail-oriented if I like doing something. If I enjoy writing or I’m researching something I’m actually interested in, I’ll produce my best work and triple-check it for accuracy. If I’m uninterested in the industry that I’m working in as a whole or a specific project I’m working on, I get sloppy. I stupidly used to think that if I could write about anything or research all the day long I would love my job and never want to leave. Dead wrong.
  7. I fear failure more than I like success. If I get praised for my work (which usually happens involving something research-, marketing-, event planning-, social media-related), I write it off as “just doing my job” and don’t take time to fully savor the recognition for my good work. If I make a mistake, it’s the end of the world and I’m going to die a nice person but an incompetent failure.
  8. My idea of success isn’t tied to my salary. When I think of what successful Alex looks like, she is helping people, learning a lot and making a difference in her community. Ideally, I’d love to make a lot of money while doing those things, but I could forgo a six figure salary if it means doing meaningless, tedious work. Once I realized making money wasn’t my primary purpose for going to work every day, that was another hint that maybe the ole money industry wasn’t for me.
  9. I place too much pressure on my career to make me happy. In Amy Poehler’s fantastic book Yes, Please, she advises her reader to remember that “your career is like a bad boyfriend, it likes it when you don’t depend on it.” I don’t think I would’ve realized how true that statement was if I hadn’t been fired or laid off as much as I have. Friends, travel, great loves, family are going to be the features of my death bed highlight reel, not how many work hours I put in. There’s a reason why nobody’s epitaph has ever read “I wish I spent more time in the office.”
  10. You have bad days at a good job. Even at a job you love and find purpose in, you will have to deal with jerks, boredom, unexpected overtime and unrealistic expectations. There is no such thing as a job where every day is 100% awesome all the day. The sooner you learn this, the easier your work life will be.
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