Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lessons on Working (From a Millennial)

It has taken me longer than I thought it would to adjust to working full-time permanently. There is no inevitable end, and after years of constant changes and milestones like semester, break, semester, summer job, semester and so on, it’s unsettling to be at the same place at the same time, day in day out.

The transition from an academic life to a professional one has been harder than I thought and I am nowhere near really understanding the work place, but here are some of the lessons I’ve learned…

On being prepared and continuous learning.
Getting a job does not mean it is the end of learning. The truth is, you don’t know it all. In fact, you might even know less than you thought you did because the hypothetical and past experiences do not always translate the same way into present reality. No matter how prepared you are, there will always be situations you cannot anticipate; so be flexible and willing to adapt. And at the same time, be open to learning— new ways, new strategies and new skills to make work easier, better or maybe just make you smarter.

On opportunities and asking.
There are lots of opportunities to grow and develop professionally. You have to be willing to look for them, and to ask for them. Whenever I was afraid to ask for something, my parents always used to tell me “What’s the worst that could happen? Someone says no.” Maybe it’s not that simple, but it can be. If it isn’t possible for your work to sponsor you to attend a conference, gain a membership to a professional association, whatever it may be – rest assured, they will tell you they can’t. It is not embarrassing to ask, so long as you do it professionally and so long as you really do ask and not tell or suggest.

On the difference between school and work.
Being a keener in school, I was used to the “work hard, get rewarded” method. While there is praising for jobs well done, it is not the same as school. There are no grades to show how you’re doing or gold stars for A’s. Work is an expectation, and there are no participation ribbons just for showing up, not that I ever thought it would be that way. However, I think after years of frequent milestones and feedback loops (i.e. progress reports and report cards) as a measure of success, it is strange to adjust to verbal agreements and annual performance reviews. The rest is all jumbled into one big bowl of spaghetti that indicate your ability, professionalism, character and so on to coworkers and bosses, but do not necessarily mean anything in terms of success.

On work/life balance.
Balancing is never easy and this will probably been one to juggle for the rest of my working life. I have not yet gotten the hang of it, some weeks it’s too much work and other weeks, it’s too much life. I think the key might be to work hard, and play hard. There is a time and place for everything, and that’s just how it goes. Never neglect your work to live your life. At the same time, learn to recognize the events and situations where everything else is more important than what is going on at work. I think there’s a lot of trial and error to figuring out what works and what doesn’t and where that thin line lays. 

On saying I don't know when I don't know. 
It's okay not to know how to do something. I think sometimes it's expected. I know I've had a hard time, because I am eager to show my ability and initiative, but I think it's important to ask for more direction if something isn't clear about the assignment/task/project. One error on my part could lead down a path that snowballs into many more. I think saying I don't know but I want to, while it can be embarrassing, also demonstrates an openness to learn and is an opportunity to take something new away (think of it not only as a resume builder, but professional growing). 

1 comment:

  1. it's all about work/life balance - if you can nail that, everything else is gravy :)