Life Lessons: First Year As A Professional

Work anniversaries (Work-aversaries) hold a special place in many people’s hearts. Most people I’ve talked to know the exact date when they started working for a company. Especially for those who have been at the same company for many years- decades even- that date becomes more and more special each year it comes around. It’s something to be celebrated not only by the individual, but by the company who has seen this person grow over the years. For me, “years” is not yet plural, as May marks my first work-aversary of my young career. And although this anniversary may not even merit a pizza party, it does invoke a sense of reflection in consideration for all of the lessons that have been learned in a year that will one day be long in the past.

Let’s start with the common hurdles that many young people graduating college must first overcome. I would title this first lesson, perspective. For the first 20-ish years, we learn, succeed, and fail among our peers who are similar in age and background. From the youth baseball games, to the high school AP tests, to the college capstone projects, we were always surrounded by people in the same shoes. It was comfortable, safe, and most all, relatable. However, when the real-world hits (after college, let’s be honest…) we plunge into the diverse environment that is “the workplace.” Many of our fellow co-workers are not the same age, they went to different schools, have held other jobs, and might even have children our age! You are now just another guy or gal that is held to the same standard as everyone else in the office. A missed deadline is no longer 10% off your grade, it’s overhead, it may affect the bottom line, and it probably isn’t going to tolerated like it was in school. For the first-year employee, you have to grow up fast and get up to speed with how people do business. The sooner that happens, the sooner the real world will feel more comfortable, safe, and relatable.

The second lesson that I learned is how to have confidence in the workplace. Growing up and looking at corporate life, I remember thinking how complicated business must be. With words like “capital expenses” and “contract administrator” and “taxes” (kidding about the last one), I thought I’d never be able to grasp what it takes to be successful beyond the classroom. What I’ve learned, however, is that no matter the complexity of a subject, the least you can do is identify its purpose and function. Drawing any sort of connection to something that sounds foreign will begin to make sense overtime. There might be a big learning curve, but once the confidence comes, you become dangerous.

The third lesson, and certainly not the last lesson, is one of research. I don’t mean research like you would do in a library, it’s research you carry out by asking people questions. The importance of asking the right questions in the right way and at the right time is a skill that is not taught in school. Just like asking the “right” questions, you must also seek the “right” answer. To do this, problems have to be broken down in its simplest form in order to ask the simplest questions. As always, time is of the essence. People may not have time for you to explain the problem at hand, so it’s important to get the information you need as efficiently as possible. It therefore becomes imperative to identify people who know the answers to certain questions, and if they give good answers, keep going back to ask more questions. At the end of the day, if you’re not asking questions, you’re not learning.

In reviewing my first year of working, it was packed full of new experiences; I can confidently say that learned something new every single day. Making sense of the real world by doing good research, having confidence, and keeping a fresh perspective on things is my best advice to anyone struggling with first year transitions. By the time I retire, I may not remember everything I did in that first year of working, but I will remember the lessons I learned based on how they have shaped who I have become.