(I normally blog biweekly about work and volunteering for Next Avenue. But this week, in honor of college graduation season, I’ve turned my blog over to my daughter Juliana, a 2013 grad, and asked her to reflect on her first year in the workplace. — Nancy Collamer)
Last year, as I was about to graduate from George Washington University, you wrote me a letter that Next Avenue published passing on your wisdom about how to approach the “real world.”
Admittedly, my transition from college student to Executive Director of Volunteers On Call (a nonprofit dedicated to service opportunities in Fairfield, Conn.) has had its challenges and over the past 12 months, I’ve turned to your words time and again for guidance.
While I hate to be difficult (especially because you’re letting me live in your house rent-free — thanks!), I must admit that you missed a few key pieces of advice.
With a year of working under my belt, here are five insights I have for the class of 2014 that I wish I’d known:
1. Pace yourself. So, you graduated summa cum laude and your resumé is overflowing with big-name internships. Congratulations! Now, take a deep breath… and get over yourself.
At the ripe old age of 22, it’s highly unlikely that you will be working at the job of your dreams. I have friends with Ivy League degrees who are toiling at sailing schools by day and bartending by night. And there is nothing wrong with that.
A first job is just that — a first job. It might not be glamorous or as stimulating as you had hoped, but this position will undoubtedly open the door to a second job, a third job, and hopefully, to a fulfilling lifelong career.
2. Ask for help. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I have heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” more times than I can bear. And contrary to popular belief, just because a phrase rhymes, it does not necessarily apply to all situations in the office or otherwise.
What I wish someone had told me was to ask for help until I made it.
Over the past year, I have squandered countless hours pretending like I had it all together, while internally panicking. In retrospect, I should have simply requested additional direction from my colleagues and superiors.
Don’t get me wrong — learning to improvise and make independent discoveries can be highly valuable, but there is also a time and a place to ask questions.
While no one wants to be the person in the office pestering his supervisor with constant inquiries, I can nearly guarantee that any boss would rather you ask for clarification than waste time and resources completing the wrong task.
If you feel uncomfortable approaching your manager, find a co-worker who can show you the ropes. For life’s bigger decisions, find a mentor (or two) to guide you towards a path of personal and professional success.
3. Pick up the phone. As members of the digital generation, recent graduates have been conditioned to communicate almost exclusively by email and text. However, if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that there are several advantages to actually talking on the phone instead of tapping on its screen or reaching for the mouse.
Phone calls allow questions to be addressed quickly and efficiently, minimize confusion and misunderstandings and create more personal exchanges.
Furthermore, many professionals in their mid-50s and early 60s prefer to communicate by phone and are more likely to respond to voicemails than emails.
And here’s the bonus: When you pick up the phone, you never have to worry about being “that guy” who mistakenly hits Reply All on a company-wide email.
4. Get a side hustle. One of the best pieces of advice my mom gave me last year was to live beneath my means, which I’ve done. Despite having to fundraise my own salary as the Executive Director of a small nonprofit, I’ve created a financial safety net by becoming an SAT tutor and taking odd jobs on the side.
If you find yourself with a few hours to spare and needing extra cash, there is no shame in coming up with creative ways to cushion your bank account. Offer to sell your friends’ old college textbooks on eBay or check out Craigslist for opportunities to pet-sit. If you need something more permanent, try picking up the weekend shift at a local retail store or restaurant.
Spending a Saturday night babysitting may make you feel like you’re back in high school, but it will be well worth it when you can afford dinner out with friends and write your rent check without breaking into a cold sweat.
5. Keep your perspective. If you’re anything like me, you might start to feel slightly nauseous when the Forbes “30 Under 30” list comes out. Suddenly, your recent promotion at work and the fact that three more people subscribed to your blog seem wildly insignificant in contrast to the multi-billion dollar valuation of a startup founded by a 23-year-old.
At moments like this, I retain my sanity by turning to the words of writer Christopher Morley, “There is only one success: to be able to spend life in your own way and not to give others absurd maddening claims upon it.”
There will always be someone who has a nicer apartment, earns a higher salary and can afford a Netflix subscription instead of poaching off of friends. But at the end of the day, the only person you’re accountable to is yourself.
So, get married. Or stay single for the next twenty years. Move to the big city. Or build your life in a small town. Pursue your MBA. Or work for a nonprofit.
Recognize your own happy place and forget about everyone else.
And, when in doubt, ask your mom and dad — they really do know best.
One last thing, Mom: Thank you for giving me the wisdom and tools to establish a personally and professionally fulfilling life post-graduation. I’m grateful for the advice you gave me last year and think you’ll approve of my additions.