Since graduating from my master’s program in 2015, I have worked 2 jobs. It’s been almost 2 years since I first entered the workforce, but it feels a lot longer because I’ve learned so much. For those of you who are just starting out or who are about to graduate and start working, here are a few lessons I wanted to share from my experience.
LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’
Whenever any of us start a new job at a new place, we’re eager to convince the people around we were the right hire. We were able to convince the hiring committee, but not all of our new colleagues were in on the interview. So, we do absolutely everything we can to prove we are worthy of this position. Sometimes it entails us going above and beyond what our job requires, doing things beyond our scope of abilities or knowledge. Sometimes it stops us from asking legitimate questions out of fear of looking incapable. Sometimes it burns us out before we can actually do our jobs.
Learning to say ‘no’ was the first hard lesson I learned when I started working my first job out of university. What made my first job very unique was we were all new hires. We were hired for a project in Alberta that would last 6 months by a non-profit organization based in Ontario. Everything was new: no one knew what exactly was expected of them. So, it wasn’t exactly the best formula for my type of personality. I’m the type of person who sees a gap in workflow and fixes it myself. So, with a new project and no concrete expectations, I said ‘yes’ to tasks that didn’t necessarily need to fall in my scope of responsibilities. I secretly hoped those who should be responsible for certain tasks would eventually take it off my plate, but I was scared to voice my growing concern because I didn’t want anyone to think I was incompetent.
Needless to say, I was burnt out by the second month and we had four more months to go. I had to start saying ‘no’ and not feel guilty for it. There’s a difference between saying ‘no’ to things outside of your realm of responsibility and saying ‘no’ to just doing your job. Identify your boundaries, then communicate them. Of course, always leave room for flexibility. But know that you’re not incompetent because you say ‘no’ every once in awhile. In fact, people may respect you more for being clear about what you can take on and do an excellent job at, rather than taking everything on and producing mediocre work then complaining about it.
I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I subscribe to the notion that if you want something done, do it yourself. I don’t think that someone else will do what I need them to do when I need them to do it. That kind of thinking not only creates unnecessary stress for me, but it can hurt the confidence of my coworkers and/or team members. People can sense if you don’t think they’re capable of getting a job done. It’s not a great feeling. It breeds mistrust and doubt: two things that shouldn’t have room on an effective and productive team.
Once I learned to say ‘no’, I had to learn how to redirect the request to someone suitable and capable for the task. It’s learning to trust that other members on your team can get the job just as well as you would do it, or maybe even better. It’s accepting that you don’t have the skills to do everything and someone will always be a better fit to do certain things than you are. No matter what your position may be in a company or organization, learn how to tune in to the strengths and skills of your coworkers, then utilize those strengths and skills. You’ll find that not only are you able to have some breathing room to get done what’s already on your plate, but you’ll find that your relationships with your coworkers will flourish.
WORKING OVERTIME IS NOT A BADGE OF HONOUR.
We live in a society that praises individuals who work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’ve associated working long hours with being successful. I’ve encountered individuals who brag about the amount of hours they work in a week, emphasizing how little of a life they have outside of work. I’ve also encountered individuals who brag about not being able to use vacation time because of how “swamped” they are. I always roll my eyes when I run into these type of individuals. I’m an avid supporter of two things: (1) If you frequently have to work over the allotted 8-8.5 hours a day that’s usually slotted for work, you’re either being inefficient or wasting time; and (2) If you have the vacation hours and the down time at work to take a day or two off, take it.
My coworkers at my current workplace know this about me: Once I have the hours and the ability to take a day or two off, I will gladly take it. It honestly keeps me sane. It gives me the ability to reset and come back fresh with renewed motivation. It also gives me the ability to spend a little more time with my fiancé who I only see on weekends because we currently live 1.5 hours away from each other. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about a day off because I know when I’m in the office, I give my 110% and I get the job done. I’d rather people see me as someone who gets the job done in less time than someone who needs all hours of the day to do their job. Don’t be that person: the one who needs 12 hours to do a job that someone else can usually do in 8 or less. Because then you become a hindrance and liability to progress and no one wants those type of people around.