‘Tis the season of college graduations, which means a whole new freshly-minted batch of newbies will be entering the professional world. With all the bad press millennials get these days, being a young professional isn’t easy, especially if you’re a woman. Trust me—with a lot of hard work and a little “it’s who you know” luck, in my mid-twenties I landed an incredible position as the director of a non-profit organization. I’ve also been an educator, having taught elementary, middle, and high school students as well as adult learners. Fast forward a few years and now I’m a “write-at-home-mom,” living another dream I had tucked away in my heart.
I’ve pulled together 10 tips I’ve learned along the way, as well as some sage advice I received from great friends and mentors in the hopes of encouraging you as you enter the working world.
1. Find a mentor.
I cannot stress how important it will be for you to find someone in your field to help guide you as you navigate the professional field. I promise, I learned more from my mentor than anyone else in my career, and I still consult her when I need advice. You might be fortunate enough to find a mentor at your job, but if not, join your local Junior League. After having gained a mentor through my local league, I then served as the chair of the mentor program a few years ago, and it was a wonderful experience.
2. Five minutes early is on time, and on time is late.
Someone once told me that we can always make more money, but we can never make more time. Think about it: time is finite. We have a certain number of hours in our day and as far as we know, we’re only given one life to live. We can’t manufacture time, so we need to use the minutes we have responsibly. Being late is wasting your most valuable commodity, and quite frankly, being late is disrespectful to those waiting for you because it says you don’t value their time. Do yourself a huge favor and show up early.
3. Don’t stay in a job you hate.
This one seems obvious, right? Why would anyone spend time doing something they loathe? My friend, it happens more often than you think; a person might feel trapped by their education, obligations to their family, or fear of what they’d do otherwise. Be free. If you don’t enjoy your career, take time to search yourself and find out what makes your heart hum and go do it. Life is so short, and your career should (for the most part) bring you joy. This doesn’t mean every day will be wonderful or fun or everything you dreamed (hello, it’s still work), but you don’t have to be miserable to earn a living.
4. Do not gossip.
I can’t stress this one enough: you do not want to be the person known for spreading the latest scuttlebutt. It doesn’t make you look good, and it certainly won’t gain you a promotion or the trust of your colleagues. I’ve seen people fired for running their mouth instead of their department, and it could have been entirely avoided with a little self-control (or duct tape over their mouth).
5. Be as kind to the janitor as you are the CEO.
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make every person you meet feel important, because they are important. Every person in a company plays a vital role, from the person changing the toilet paper rolls and cleaning the floors to the highest officer making chief business decisions. Being kind doesn’t cost you anything, and it takes just a minute of your time to stop and say hello.
6. You don’t know it all.
Shortly after I finished graduate school and had earned two masters degrees simultaneously, I remember my mentor telling me, “no book, no class, no degree will ever take the place of experience. Some things you can only learn by experiencing them yourself.” I will admit, I was a little offended; I mean, I had all this education (and the student loans to prove it), and she was acting like I knew absolutely nothing! And my goodness, was she right. Honestly, I’ve learned that experience is the greatest teacher in all aspects of life: grief, parenting, marriage, and yes, the professional world. So, listen to and learn from your older and much wiser colleagues; they’ve been at this a lot longer than you have. Speak half as often as you listen, and ask questions; soon you’ll be light-years ahead of your contemporaries who still believe they know it all.
7. Never utter the words “that’s not my job.”
Oh friend, be humble and do that task no one else wants to do. It may not be in your job description, and it may be a task you absolutely loathe, but take the initiative, raise your hand, and do the task to the best of your ability. You’ll come across many assignments that seem below your level of ability, and you’ll want to grumble and complain instead of taking the task and running with it. I believe the old proverb, “he who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much.” When you do the menial things no one else wants to do, you show that you’re capable of doing the awesome tasks that everyone is gunning for.
8. Respond to difficult situations with grace and a problem-solving attitude.
Dear one, there are going to be tough days, and there are even going to be moments where you utterly, miserably, terribly fail. But I have great news: sometimes our greatest failures have led us to our greatest successes. Learn to see difficult situations as an opportunity for growth, and use them to your advantage. When you respond to situations and people with grace, it speaks volumes about your maturity and is a testament to your character. Take the space and time you need to feel upset or disappointed, but then channel those feelings into motivation to accomplish more and to do better next time.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
9. Social media is not your therapist, and “private” is not always private.
One of my dearest friends from college is a talent recruiter for a large company in my area, and every time we get together she has some new crazy story about how social media has landed one of her recruits in hot water or cost them a position with a company. You’re a professional now, and that extends to all aspects of your life, including your social media accounts. Take down the pictures from spring break, and watch your language on public forums. And please, for the love of all that is holy, do not use Facebook as your personal therapist or a place to air your dirty laundry.
10. Be patient.
I’m quickly approaching my 10-year college reunion, and boy, my 22-year old self might be pretty disheartened if she could meet me at 32. I never anticipated saying goodbye to the professional world so I could cut string cheese into tiny pieces and read Green Eggs and Ham 5 times before bed. But you know what? I love all the time I get to spend with my two precious girls, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self that success takes time, and it certainly doesn’t come knocking on your door looking for you. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and yet…there might just come a day when you hold a tiny precious baby in your arms and all of it just doesn’t matter as much as that little girl you carried in your belly for 38 weeks and are now seeing for the very first time. Be patient with yourself, and know if you work hard, you’ll earn your successes. And sometimes, your greatest achievement in life looks like two little girls, born two years apart, having a tea party on a blanket in your back yard.
You’ll also like Student Loans and How to Get Out From Under Them, Being a Successful Leader Starts With You, How to Get Your Dream Job, Exhausted From Work? 5 Ways to Refuel During Your Day, How to Know if It’s Time to Change Your Job, and Can You Deviate From the Corporate World and Be Successful?