The jump from college life to a professional career catalyzes a lot of changes in most young adults’ lives—some drastic, some not so much; some positive, some which kind of suck.
I wish I had a better idea of what to expect when I made that leap—partially so I could’ve taken full advantage of my college years, partially to prime me for professional life.
To help you with that transition, I’m sharing six simple tips I’ve picked up in the first years of my professional life. Hopefully the jump from college to career will be less shocking than the Ice Bucket Challenge for you.
- Knock yourself out.
In college, you realized you actually wanted to take those naps that were once forced upon you. Professional life yanks that luxury away from you as soon as you’ve become accustomed to taking advantage of it between classes. Once you enter the office world, you soon learn you need to build stamina… somewhere other than on an elliptical or in the bedroom.
Once you’ve accepted the fact that you can’t get away with hiding underneath your desk for a quick nap, you’ve got to catch those ‘Zzz’s at night like a typical workingman or workingwoman. Surviving off of two hours of sleep every night just doesn’t cut it anymore. At least complete a couple full R.E.M. cycles per night. If you don’t, you’ll definitely become a slave to caffeine… or go insane. If you “just can’t fall asleep before 3am,” start doing research on sleep aids. You don’t have to get prescribed Ambien or Lunesta; look into diphenhydramine and melatonin. Heck, drink a warm glass of milk or invest in a sound machine. Whatever you do, get some sleep. You don’t want to be the jackass nodding off during the employee meeting, do you? Don’t be ‘that guy.’
- Acquire a taste for the hard stuff.
Throughout your college years, you realized the cheapest light beer at the gas station was indeed bland… like dirty cardboard-flavored water. You began to acquire a taste and appreciation for craft beer, once you got over the not-actually-so-exciting excitement of funneling shitty beer or downing it via keg stands.
Here you are again adjusting your beverage taste, because drinking craft beer at work is generally frowned upon. But this time, you’re pivoting back towards the convenience of coffee and pivoting away from the temporary rush of those dairy-laden, sugary lattes or Fraps. They just don’t cut it anymore. You need a quick boost that won’t drag you down shortly thereafter. You need the strong stuff—straight up coffee. Or if you’re feeling really hard, opt for espresso.
You begin to appreciate the taste of good coffee once you’ve gotten over the bitterness of drinking it “black” out of necessity. Hey, give it a little longer and you might become that hipster who can identify the origin of coffee beans utilizing your senses alone. Congratulations, you’re now an adult.
- What’s in a name?
Refer to your coworkers by their first names.
Even if you’re significantly younger than many of your coworkers, that’s still what they are—coworkers. You’re all effectively players on the same “team.” Did you refer to your basketball teammates as Miss Bila or Mr. Mathers? I’m willing to bet you didn’t. So don’t draw attention to the fact that you’re younger and likely less experienced than your coworkers by referring to them as ‘Mr. Young’ and ‘Mrs. Goulding.’ Call them Colson and Megyn—just like everybody else. You’re one of them, so act like it.
If you were raised in the south (or somewhere with similar social conventions) this will be a hard habit to break. If you want to be treated like a professional rather than a child, then referring to people by their first names is necessary.
- Be a fly on the wall.
Ask to observe meetings typically reserved for “higher-ups.” If you’re granted permission, get ready to reap numerous benefits.
You’ll be exposed to how these important management meetings are structured, as well as how senior managers and executives interact and reach consensus (or not) behind closed doors. This helps you prepare for the day when you’ll be an integral part of similar meetings
A little “face time” won’t hurt you. The next time “higher ups” are looking for a fresh perspective, you might be the person who comes to mind. This is more likely to happen if the “big shots” are familiar with you. Your presence alone could help land an opportunity to demonstrate your ability.
You could become exposed to aspects of the company you might’ve been clueless about beforehand. This will give you greater perspective on how your roles and responsibilities tie into the “big picture” of the organization. In the future, your exposure could help build the credibility necessary to assert game-changing ideas into conversation.
Every so often, bring in a treat for the people you work with—a simple, nice gesture. You can buy a couple dozen doughnuts for twenty bucks. Isn’t $20 worth the improved moods of your coworkers in the early morning hours?
You could announce the special delivery, leave the doughnuts in the break room, and allow people to munch at their leisure. Or you could even deliver them to each office or cubicle, giving you a chance to connect with people outside of strictly business. “How was your drive in this morning? The snowfall has been kind of crazy, right? I bet your kids love it… How many do you have again?” Doughnuts can definitely help you make friends!
Plus, I mean, who doesn’t like doughnuts? You don’t want to be associated with those people… I’m kidding. Kinda.
- Get a life.
Maintain some of the life you once knew. If you’re in a new city, it’s time to “get a life” all over again!
Do you want your friends to gradually become acquaintances? Do you want to only see your family on holidays? Do you want to become so inactive you gain the “freshman fifteen” all over again? I hope those are rhetorical questions. I hope we’re in agreement that answering “yes” to those questions may not make for the happiest life.
Yes, your earliest professional years help set the stage for your future. They’re important in determining the trajectory of the rest of your career. Now please heed this public service announcement: Don’t let work become your life. You have to find balance. Maintain relationships. Keep enjoying your hobbies as time permits. Maybe pick up a new hobby or make a new friend… Find something that inspires you enough to peel yourself away from your desk in the office.
If you’re ambitious, if you have a good work ethic, if you’re a passionate individual… you could easily slide into workaholism without even realizing it. Before you know it, you’ll be eating, breathing, and dreaming about spreadsheets and strategies. Step away from the computer and no one will get hurt! Get a life!