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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My First Job

A recent grad shares what she’s learned after her first year on the job.

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My First Job
[Photo: Flickr user Md saad andalib]

Now is the time that college seniors usually spend breaking out in stress acne, exhausting the “apply now” button on LinkedIn, and binge eating donuts. These things, for the record, are completely normal, or at least things that consumed my second semester senior year.

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I was determined to graduate with a full-time position to kickstart my professional career. But I graduated unemployed, and I crafted during those two weeks between my graduation and my formal offer. I crafted a lot. But, here I am almost a year later in a first big kid job. Post-grad life is so much more than just that title on your business card. So, here are five things I wish someone had told me about living life after turning the tassel:

1. How to get a professional wardrobe, stat

I had two pairs of dress pants in my closet, a plethora of cardigans, and a job offer at an investment firm. I was supposed to start two weeks after my offer and I needed a wardrobe upgrade: fast. And cheap. But not one that screamed it. I wanted my power outfit, and luckily there were cost-effective and cute ways to achieve this. I hit up clearance racks at Express, the Limited, and Kohls and was able to come out with four pairs of dress pants for under $50 total. As my paychecks began rolling in, I was able to add more than just those basics to my closet, which now makes mornings easier since I have a closet with options!

2. How to converse with people your parents age (and older)

Suddenly, I was surrounded by coworkers in stages of life far past mine. I was in a place where my guilty pleasure of One Direction didn’t fit, and I was hearing references from a time far before I was even a glimmer in my mother’s eye. Getting stuck in an elevator with one of these people seemed terrifying. And then, they became humanized. Just older humans. It’s all about finding a middle ground, asking about weekend plans, family, and the construction on the way to work. But, what’s even more important, and far more flattering, is remembering what they said and asking about their daughter’s recital or the family barbecue the next time you see them. Everyone loves to be heard, regardless of their stage in life.

3. How to get into a daily routine

Real life, although it can be crazy, is a true wake-up call for a daily routine. Determining a bedtime can make or break your next morning. Getting a good night’s sleep lets your boss know that you take your job seriously, and it keeps you accountable to putting your best foot forward. Walking into work ready to start the day can keep you efficient and happy until you walk out. That coveted “nap whenever” culture of college has to change, and it’s vital to a successful launch into the professional workplace.

4. How to balance work life and personal life

This is a challenge I have yet to master. On one hand, the passion and drive of an eager young professional can set us apart. On the other hand, it’s just a job, and it’s the first time in our lives when we even have the option of separating our lives. So far in my career, I’ve found that avoiding checking work email on weekends and at home has been a healthy way of doing this. It’s OK to check your email in the morning to see what needs priority when you get to work, but don’t set another place at the dinner table for your phone. Nights are about rest, and weekends are about rest. Coming into work rejuvenated and energized can have many benefits, far more than the attitude of work taking over every moment of our lives.

5. How not to compare

Comparison makes you second guess yourself. Comparison makes you stop setting goals and prevents you from celebrating milestones. So, stop. It’s your journey, so embrace it. The opportunities you took were yours and only yours. The pace you get promoted is the pace intended for you, so do your career path your way. As long as you work hard and take steps toward your dream career, you’re living the dream.

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Seeking a career mentor or frequenting your post-grad resources can really help you feel more comfortable in your new big kid shoes, and less alone in the hustle of adulthood. It may seem intimidating (it still seems that way to me), but it’s also exciting! So enjoy your last few donuts, midday naps, and turn your tassel with confidence!

This article originally appeared in Levo and is reprinted with permission.

Katy Backode is from the Chicago suburbs where she works in marketing and shovels lots of snow.