When you’re a young adult preparing for a working world that you haven’t yet experienced, knowing what to expect is difficult. Here are a number of things I wish I had known about work when I was 20 that would have gotten me off to a better start. Why learn these lessons the hard way if you can avoid them altogether?
It doesn’t always have to be fun: Many people would agree that you shouldn’t spend most of your time doing something that you don’t really care about. On the other hand, the world we live in has certain unfortunate realities, and one of those is that money is necessary to get by. Working at a job you don’t love in the short-term isn’t always a bad thing if it gets to something you do love in the long-term. Maybe you want to save up for a house, start your own business, or take six months off and travel the globe. When you have a goal that’s important to you, and that involves something that you consider an essential component of living life to the fullest, it sometimes doesn’t matter if you don’t love your job.
Your life doesn’t have to revolve around your job: Not everyone is a career person. For some people, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s okay. Yes, it takes up a large part of your day, but you can minimize its influence over your life if you are sufficiently involved in your life outside of work. This means that instead of just coming home and zoning out in front of the TV every night and all weekend, you have other activities that keep you engaged. A class at the gym, training with a marathon club, a foreign language class, spending time with your circle of friends, taking care of your family — whatever it is, if it fulfills you and makes your life about something other than your job, it might not matter so much what you do from 9-5, as long as it allows you to live comfortably and leaves you with enough energy and happiness to enjoy the other parts of your life.
You can’t please everyone, so don’t even try: You, your boss, coworkers, family, friends, and significant others aren’t all going to have the same idea of how you should best be spending your time, what decisions you should be making, and so on. Trying to please everyone is a surefire way to fail, because it can’t be done. If you have to please someone, make sure it’s yourself.
Burning bridges may come back to haunt you: Just because you’ve chosen not to please everyone doesn’t mean you have to antagonize anyone. Restraining yourself from burning bridges is a skill that makes for success. It’s amazing how many times your path will cross with others even when you think you have left that portion of your life completely behind. While burning bridges may give you a momentary feeling of satisfaction, it’s rarely worth the trouble and can create obstacles for you in the future.
The young have an inherent technological advantage: If you’re in your twenties right now, adapting to new technology is probably a piece of cake for you since you’ve been doing it for most of your life. In the working world, however, there are a lot of dinosaurs who use outdated technology and are afraid of or painfully slow to adapt to technology they didn’t grow up with. Sometimes this is for financial reasons (replacing the software of hundreds or thousands of employees isn’t cheap), but sometimes it’s simply out of a stubborn unwillingness to do things differently from the way they’ve worked for the last 30 years. Your boss may expect you to do things like use a typewriter even when you know there is an easier, faster, and better way.
Just because a job pays better doesn’t mean it’s more challenging: Lots of office jobs pay a decent salary and are unbelievably easy compared to working in a retail store or restaurant. If you’ve ever had one of the latter jobs and then get an office job after graduation, you may be shocked to find that you’re suddenly being paid at least three times as much for work that’s at least three times as easy.
Working in a big company can be a lot like high school: It’s amazing the group dynamics that form in big companies-the gossip and rivalries can often get just as bad as the groups you used to hate in high school. Will joining a clique help advance your career, or will trying to remain neutral and independent serve you best? It’s not always easy to know.
Don’t you sometimes wish that you had a chance to do a part of your life all over again with the knowledge and hindsight that you have now? We rarely get second chances, though: the best we can hope to do is pass down our cumulative wisdom for the benefit of those who are younger. What do you wish you’d known about work when you were twenty?