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YP Perspective: 2 Lessons I Learned After 2 Years in the Real World

Posted by: Pulse Young Professionals on Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Don’t let the title fool you, there are pleeeeeenty of lessons to be learned after you graduate and become one of the millions of hardworking Americans who are fortunate enough to be employed. Statements like “Don’t say no to a free lunch”, “Don’t look bored”, “Don’t forget to actually attach the attachment”, and “Do/don’t have a candy bowl within reach of your desk” are all examples of lessons learned. The jury’s still out on the last one. The fact is your first year at a “Big-Kid” job is like K-3rd grade.  You learn a ton of really valuable and essential things, like how to file expense reports and how to find the direct number to the IT Help Desk.  But you’re still not exactly sure what’s going on.  Then, in your second year, you start piecing things together a bit more. Like how “No” can mean that you asked the wrong question, the wrong person, or at the wrong time.  And how it’s not always who you know, but who knows you that can make all the difference. Still, you’re a long way away from piecing everything together.  I’ve been told this is still not even a likely outcome even after year 35.  Great. So in my first two years working in the proverbial “real” world, I have arrived at two very important and distinct lessons that really made a difference in my career and my identity as a young professional. Be a sponge. The best metaphor for how to handle the often overwhelming nature of starting a new job or a new career comes from a good ol’ common household item.   The sponge. Sponges absorb, this we know. But successful leaders also absorb. No great executive got to where they are without listening, pausing, and learning first.  As a sponge, your job is to soak it all in.  From the meetings, the memos, the lost craft of a really effective email, there is often more to be learned from the subtleties of an office environment than from the gravitas of the job itself.  Most people, especially when they are just starting out in their careers, don’t spend enough time taking in as much information as possible. If you’re like me, and “People Watching” is not only your favorite pastime, but it’s the only event you’d medal in at the Olympics, then remember to feast your observant little eyes on the office environment and relish all there is to learn. How do the best meetings start off? What makes some people easier or harder to work with than others? How do you build relationships with your boss without being a #brownnoser? How do your peers handle (or not handle) constructive criticism? I bet none of these were covered in your undergraduate courses. But in Real World 101, your trajectory for success is less likely tied to the degree you earned and more likely to be the result of how well you manage interpersonal relationships, how effectively you can communicate, and whether you react, adapt, and grow from both your successes and your challenges. All of these things can be learned just by sitting back, listening, absorbing. Manage expectations. If you say you are going to follow up on Monday, then follow up on Monday.  If you offered to do the TPS report and you know it should have a cover letter, then don’t forget the cover letter on the TPS report. Expectations can make or break you in the real world. If you fail to meet them, good luck trying to course correctly.  If you meet them, good for you; mediocrity isn’t always such a bad thing, I guess.  If you exceed them, congratulations! - now the bar has been raised even higher. The beauty of being new and fresh and young is that people likely expect a lot out of you. #Millennials.  But the real beauty is that they don’t expect you to do it all right, right away.  You’re likely the only one who expects that.  You’ll end up piling heaps of unnecessary stress on yourself by thinking that you have to come out of the gate with a million-dollar, game-changing idea that gives them justification in hiring you.  Or even better yet, gets you a nice promotion right away. People who are the best at what they do, probably didn’t get there by coming in and knowing everything right off the bat. (Please see previous point about being a sponge.) The same boss who taught me to be a sponge also warned me about the importance of optics.  If you’re the youngest, newest on your team, people are watching you.  They are watching to see your potential, your strengths, and your weaknesses.  Be sure to give them more reasons to trust you than doubt you, more confidence in you than concern, and fewer opportunities to fall short of expectations. Self-awareness can be the best tool in your arsenal when it comes to managing expectations.  The more you understand about the environment you’re in and your role in it, the more likely you’ll be to not just exceed - but crush - all expectations of you.  And that is something you’ll likely continue long into your career. Two years down. Too many more to go. About Lauren: Lauren Davis (@LLLDEEEE ) started her dream job with Michelin two years ago.  She’s responsible for public relations, social and digital communications and manages the Michelin Man’s public appearances.  She graduated in May 2012 from the University of South Carolina where she studied International Business and Marketing.  She is a campus ambassador for Michelin at USC and serves on Michelin’s Upstate Women’s Network. Lauren was in the very first class for Youth Leadership Greenville and loves being back in #yeahTHATGreenville.

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