When I left my first “real world” job to go to graduate school, I was sad to leave the camaraderie of my office and the routine I had grown to love. Had you told me eighteen months earlier that I would ever feel this way, I would not have believed you. Only a few weeks after starting my job, I was exhausted, lonely, unmotivated, didn't feel valued, and missed the flexibility of a school schedule. Yet, just a year and a half later, I left that same job with a very different outlook. Whether you're working your dream job, a college internship, or a job that feels far from your passion, the following tips can empower you to enjoy the working world and your work environment.
The first few weeks on the job you will feel exhausted—but you will adapt.
Entering the working world is intimidating, but more importantly, exhausting. Although I had been a collegiate student-athlete who often burned the candle at both ends, somehow just sitting and standing for nine hours straight at work left me feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I would come home from work with barely the energy to cook for myself, let alone workout or do anything else productive before going to bed early. (Oh, the crazy life of a millennial living in a big city!) I felt in awe of working parents who came home to take care of their children, let alone take care of themselves. How to accomplish anything other than cooking dinner and eating was beyond me.
By the time I left my job, however, I had created a routine that rivaled my productivity as an undergrad. Yet, I was getting more sleep, eating better, and overall living a more balanced life than I had in college. Peers of mine nod knowingly when discussing this strangely exhausting transition to the nine-to-five life—it’s as if the overwhelming feeling it elicits is a rite of passage. Though it seems impossible at first, your body and mind will adapt to the new way of life that seems to sap your energy initially.
As you adjust to your new normal, be gentle with yourself. It’s not helpful to beat yourself up for your lack of energy or productivity. While it can be tempting to compare yourself to your old norms or wonder why you’re so tired when your job is not physically demanding, remember that your mind and body are taking in a lot of new information in a short amount of time. You are adapting to a new schedule, a new routine, and possibly a new city or a new home. While these things don’t seem like they would drain energy the way a HIIT workout class would, your brain is working incredibly hard to make all these new adjustments, and that requires a lot of physical and emotional energy. Particularly for those transitioning from taking classes to punching the clock, the shift from a flexible and often self-determined 24-hour schedule to fixed work hours, during which you always have to be "on," is a lot to get used to. Prioritize sleep, nourish yourself, and give yourself grace, and soon you’ll be feeling like you again.
Just because you don't love your job at first doesn't mean you never will.
Being the new kid on the block (or at the office) is hard. You’re not “in” with the office crowd; you have to prove yourself professionally (and often socially); there is so much about the office culture you don’t know; you have a thousand questions about your daily tasks; you feel as though you can’t relax . . . the list goes on. On top of all that, you might not be in love with the job itself. Maybe this job is the best you could do, a job you had to take to achieve something else down the line, or, as in my case, the only job I could get at the time.
While I never ended up loving my office duties, I did look forward to work and being in the office for the camaraderie and the work my colleagues and I accomplished together. Seemingly overnight, a job that seemed blasé turned out to be not just decent, but actually enjoyable. Just because you don’t like your responsibilities or the work culture initially, doesn’t mean it can’t change. But don’t rely on change to come from the outside. Don’t underestimate your own ability to make changes, to positively influence the environment, and to improve your own role and responsibilities by taking on or asking for more.
Act like you’re going to be there forever.
Since millennials tend to job-hop much more than previous generations, working a job you’re not crazy about can naturally lead to wondering where the grass is greener. Maybe you took this position as a stepping stone to the next level, and you are already looking past it, counting it out of your future plans. While it’s normal to plan for the future and look forward to enjoying the ultimate goal, this non-committal mindset can prevent you from being your best self and hold you back from potential opportunities.
To dive in and fully commit, act as if you will be at this job forever even if you know you won’t. By putting down roots at this job, you will be more invested in adding value to the company—which can only help your performance review and potential salary. With the mindset that you’ll be around in the future, you are also more likely to make connections and improve relationships with those around you. Your co-workers and boss will gain respect and appreciation for you (and you for them). Additionally, you will get more out of your job (however unfulfilling it is) and find ways to make your job more efficient and enjoyable. All the aforementioned benefits contribute to your job satisfaction, which is sure to add to your overall happiness. By changing your mindset from “for now” to “forever” (even if that “forever” seems unrealistic), you may even open up more exciting opportunities both inside and outside of your current job.
Don’t be afraid to make friends.
While this sounds obvious, I actually entered my job assuming I wouldn’t form real friendships. Part of this stemmed from the problematic transient mindset with which I entered the job. Since I planned to go back to graduate school after this job, I assumed that I would have professional relationships that didn’t extend beyond the office. When I shifted my mindset from short-term to long-term, I realized that I could make my tolerable experience enjoyable if I engaged more intentionally in work relationships.
This doesn’t just mean being cordial or polite to your co-workers. Really take the time to get to know them, to learn about what they do and who they are outside the office. To solidify friendships, it helps to do an activity outside of the office together. Grab drinks after work, go to a concert, hit up an antique market, or even take a workout class. You may think you have little in common or you’re not a fan of someone at work, but taken out of the work environment, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Be understanding of yourself and others.
In an environment where we are all trying to climb the corporate ladder or get a promotion, it can be easy to defend your own mistakes or point out a co-worker’s misstep. Obviously, certain actions need to be reported and deserve consequences. But when it comes to everyday work responsibilities, accept the fact that everyone will make mistakes, including you. Everyone will look at her phone from time to time or simply make a well-meaning error on the job. Be patient with your own mistakes as you learn your new roles, but own up to those moments that you messed up so that you don’t let someone else take the fall. One thing every co-worker can appreciate is a person who can own up to her mistakes and take responsibility for her actions. Not only will your co-workers respect you more for your honesty, but you will learn from your mistakes. That being said, realize that the same goes for your co-workers’ mistakes. Refrain from quickly pointing out others’ errors; rather, use such moments as an opportunity to work collaboratively and learn from mistakes.
Remember, be patient with yourself as you adjust to this life, career, and schedule change. Gradually, you will become more competent and confident in your new role and daily life. No matter how menial the job, there are always opportunities to learn lessons you will carry with you moving forward. And no matter how blasé the job, there are always opportunities to let your authentic self shine through.