I’m taking a moment off Ironman training to celebrate an important date in my own personal history. Four years ago to the day I graduated from Kent State University.
There is a soft spot in my heart for KSU. I had the best four years of my life in college (not that my life doesn’t rock now), but there’s something incredibly special about your college years. I look back so fondly on my college memories. Living in the dorms, making new friends, sitting in lecture classes, finding my major and yes (of course) the epic college parties.
College was outrageously fun and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. I declared Public Relations as my major my sophomore year after taking an “Intro to PR” class. The PR program at Kent State is second to none. There have been so many times that I’ve been at work and have thought “This is just like that project in school.” How many post-grads can actually say that? My guess is probably not a lot!
And here I am four years later! The four years I spent in college have now turned into the four years after graduation. I just celebrated my third work anniversary at a major healthcare system in the marketing and communications department. I love my job because of the meaningfulness and my coworkers and managers are second to none.
Learning to navigate the “real world” takes practice and often times includes a few struggles, but if you keep at it and focus your energy on being the best you can be — things will fall into place exactly as they should.
Here are four things I’ve learned in the last four years since graduating:
1.) Find a mentor and an advocate
You need someone on your team in your professional life. You need someone who is going to talk highly of you and recommend you. You can work your butt off day and night, but it all comes down to this: people trust people. Your good work will reflect on your relationships and those relationships will ultimately determine where you go in your career. The best and most important thing I learned over the past four years is to have someone on your team who is an advocate for you. Pick someone who is a good mentor for the career you hope to have one day and someone you aspire to be like. Watch them in meetings and how they handle themselves. Take note of how they respond to emails or criticism. Watch their work ethic, how they prioritize and how they solve problems.
Here’s one last thing about finding an advocate/mentor in the work place — it might be weird and it might be awkward, but (somehow, someway) let him or her know that you consider them your mentor. Trust me it will go a long way. People like to know that they are looked up to and valued. It will make him or her feel good and it will also tug on their heart strings a little bit — this is good because they will want to see you succeed even more! Never hide the fact that you look up to someone.
2.) Get involved, even if you really don’t want to
Christmas party planning committees. Retreat committees. Annual charity softball tournaments. Even happy hour.
Get out and get involved in your company. Not only will you look good to your boss and coworkers, but you will feel more engaged with the company and ultimately your work. You will be personally and socially invested. (You might even find you actually enjoy it!) Getting involved helps you develop a different attitude towards “just work stuff”.
When I first started working at my current company I began attending a yoga class. Mind you — I hate yoga, but I noticed a few people in my office who regularly went. Slowly but surely I began making small talk with these people in my office at yoga each week. Then I began talking to them in the break room over coffee. Soon after I was passing them in the hall asking how their kid’s soccer game went last weekend. After that I had connections on different teams within my department because I made that personal connection. Not only was it nice to talk when we did projects together, but I enjoyed it because I had a personal tie to them. It made work more enjoyable. Getting involved and out of your comfort zone will help you enjoy work more. You don’t gain anything by standing on the sidelines and watching.
3.) Be (borderline) obnoxiously optimistic and friendly
I totally get it. Sometimes you just have a bad day. Maybe even a bad week. You don’t (and shouldn’t) always want to plaster a smile on your face 24/7, but there’s a specific trait I admire about successful people — they smile, greet you and make friendly small talk.
Ask people how they are. Give people a grin in the hallway. Before starting a budget meeting comment about your coworker’s awesome new shoes. Did your client go camping this weekend? Ask about it and don’t just pretend to care — invest in relationships within your company. Doing so now may save your butt later down the road. Be friendly, be optimistic and smile. Smiling makes you approachable and being approachable opens up room for collaboration on projects.
4.) Delete “it’s not my job” from your vocabulary
I can remember my professor in school lecturing my class about our summer internships. She told us to never, ever have the “it’s not my job” mentality. I took this to heart, especially as an intern at four different companies throughout my college career. As an intern I would do the grunt work that no one else wanted to do without complaining. I volunteered for weekend events. I uploaded and renamed the 358 photos from the recent photo shoot. I tracked the media hits and made (truly mind-numbingly boring) monthly reports.
I was careful to never act like I was “above” any of my work. Even today in the real world I have come close to uttering the dreaded phrase “it’s not my job” and have caught myself as the words were on the tip of my tongue. Each time I almost said it I was transported back to sitting in that classroom in Kent, Ohio. Having this type of mentality will go a long way and your coworkers and boss will catch on to your positive outlook and attitude.