Between my first “real” job out of college and now I feel like I’ve gone through a metamorphosis. Maybe that’s just what happens as you get older and gain more knowledge. So when the folks over at TheLadders asked me to share a little bit about my first job, I was eager to walk down memory lane and examine how I got to where I am today. (P.S. Their Job Search section is GREAT if you’re looking for your first job or are just exploring the market!)

Here are 5 things I’ve garnered from my first job that I took forward with me in life:

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When I started my first job out of college “NO” wasn’t in my vocabulary. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by saying “no.” I didn’t want to expose a weakness like I couldn’t handle the work by saying “no.” So I said “yes” to everything. I, like many others, am also adverse to failure so I would beat myself crazy to get all of my work done and meet everyone’s expectations. It was exhausting! Until I learned that it’s okay to say “no” when you need to. If I had a full plate for the week and had to work 13 hour days as it was, it’s okay to say “no” to one more thing that would make them 14. Good peers and bosses understand or help you re-distribute your work so you CAN get it all done. Others will just take advantage of the “yes girl” and offload work to you just because you never say no.
So know yourself and your abilities. And learn that it’s okay to say no.

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The culture of the first company that I worked at was awesome. Jeans, dogs, free food and drinks, and a rolling start time. What wasn’t to LOVE about that? And I did love it, I’m not going to lie. What bothered me though? I had to commute an hour and a half (yes, AN HOUR AND A HALF) to work ONE WAY. So I spent upwards of 3 hours a day in my car (combined with 12 hour days as it was when I was super busy). The commute bothered me. Things like that compound. Maybe it’s not a long commute for you but maybe it’s the area you work in. There’s no good lunch spots! Or something else. Just know what does and will bother you in the long run and try to mitigate it. Because I had to spend so much time in traffic I would often try to avoid rush hour by coming in late but working late (or vice versa).

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Another girl and I started at the same time at the company and we interacted daily because of certain tasks for our job. Eventually we started going to lunch across the street together and there I had some of the most fire-lighting talks of my life. We uncovered the fact that we were both interested in photography and started shooting together. We’d share equipment and brainstorm ideas. We’d talk about someday starting a company together and products we would want to sell. Fast forward many years and I’m still good friends with that person even though neither of us still work at the company where we met. We still talk business every chance we get and it’s with her advice and listening ear that I had the courage to start my own side business a few years ago.
Maybe you don’t make life-long friends at your first job or your next job. But strive to know the others around you and engage with them.

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One of the things I recognized early on is that you will burn out SO EASILY if you don’t take breaks. My job was EXTREMELY fast paced even though it was in an office most of the time I often traveled for work as well. It’s important to take lunch, even if it’s at your desk, and read. Watch a few videos on YouTube. Look up cat pictures or take a walk around the building and back to your desk. Your mind is like a machine. If it’s runs constantly eventually the parts will wear down and fail. Avoid burn out. Take small breaks.

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I admit, I’m not THE best people person. I can engage with people professionally and often casually chat with peers around the watercooler but it actually requires effort for me because I’m introverted. I’m much better at solitary or small team tasks. I loved doing web anything and organizing things. But when it came time for me to have to pick up the phone to confirm something? Ugh. I’d wait until no one was around to hear me talking. Thankfully I worked with mostly extroverts so they’d always be willing to take “people” work over “desk” work so it balanced out nicely. Do what you do well and share what you don’t.

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Bonus time!

The greatest lesson of all that I learned at my first job was: Stay true to you. Know yourself and stay true to that. Know what you love doing and don’t love doing. Know what makes you happy there and when you’re not so happy. If you always have a good sense of who you are and what you’re doing…you’ll surely succeed.