What the books don't teach you and teachers don't tell.

Dionne Teo  |  Singapore
Published 2015-05-11 12:25:33

You may not be a student anymore, but the learning never stops.

Tis’ the season for graduation. I remember Instagram-ing a photo of myself standing atop a table in the examination hall. Much like the closing scene in ‘The Breakfast Club’, this melodramatic act seemed a befitting mark to the end of an arduous 15-year battle with the books; an audacious declaration of my emancipation from the local education system. As if to say the worst in life was over.

And with every chapter closed, comes a new chapter to be written.

Image Credit: www.eng2.nus.edu.sg
Image Credit: www.eng2.nus.edu.sg

I was more than ready to leave behind student status and launch myself into a new phase; my engine was revved and I was ready to roll. Like any other yuppie newbie to the workforce, the newfound responsibilities as a legit working adult were refreshing.

As they say, “The grass is always greener on the other side”. Well, until you get there, at least.

It has been a year since I entered the media industry, and unlike the typical office jobs my peers went on to, I stepped onto a career path fraught with late nights, weekend work, and bad dreams of my bosses. Perhaps it is the especially demanding nature of the industry and/or my lack of initial tenacity that saw me wanting out several times. But if I did indeed walk out…then I would be quitting life, and not the job.

Image Credit: gigwarrior.com
Image Credit: gigwarrior.com

Transitioning into full-time working life is tough. That’s a given. But it doesn’t necessarily mean your employment experience has to be a joyless drudgery.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve gathered from my first year stint. These bits of enlightenment didn’t make my job easier, but it did help me realise there was a whole lot of life I had yet to live that didn’t hinge on the 10,000 word essays on feminism I couldn’t write, or the day I got an F in school.

1. I for Internships. I for Important.

Image Credit: www.fastcocreate.com
A still from the film The Internship — it’s never too late to intern! (Image Credit: www.fastcocreate.com)

I did 2 internships over the course of my 3 years in University. I had schoolmates who spent every term break doing an internship, and also schoolmates who didn’t believe in the merits of an internship.

Personally, I think internships are a necessity: not only do they give a peek into the real working world, internships also help you to build up your resume and place you higher up for consideration as a full-time employee at the company you interned at (if you wish to return, that is).

That said, I also believe in an internship that pays you sufficiently for your time and effort. You may not be doing God’s work for them there, but you definitely are giving up your time and energy to make their workload a little lighter — be it as a sai gang warrior or an employee with legit work to complete.

Speaking of sai gang warrior…

2. Sai gang with a Smile.

Image Credit: knowyourmeme.com
Image Credit: knowyourmeme.com

Be it during internships or full-time employment, you are bound to receive some no-brainer, crappy work offloaded to you that you didn’t sign up for. As a newbie to the company, you are especially vulnerable to such treatment.

This may not apply to every industry (since some value aggressiveness as a trait), but my advice is to nod, smile, receive and complete with grit and wit. Yes, it is undeniably frustrating to be dumped work no one else wants, but you don’t need to victimised by your circumstance.

The bane of my job is transcriptions. It is as mundane a task as counting sheep. So when I was given a 45 minute-long clip to transcribe, I was all ready to throw in the towel and leave. But, what would that speak of me? How can an employee, who can’t even see a simple task through, ask for something more challenging?

So I ploughed through, and in the process, realised transcribing was a huge opportunity for me to learn. At the end of the 45 minutes, I emerged with God-speed typing skills, better understanding of framing profiles and above all, a better attitude. Because anyone can approach a highly valued task with a good attitude, but few can use that same stellar attitude to face a discouraging job.

3. Don’t Live to Work.

Image Credit: www.chatelaine.com
Image Credit: www.chatelaine.com

A few months into my job and I felt I had become socially estranged. I could be physically present during meet-ups with my friends but my mind was always on that script I had yet to finish, or the email I forgot to send.

I think many of us start out with the impression that our career should be that heavenly mandate, our purpose in life. We hinge our personal worth on the fulfillment and accomplishment achieved at work. Success can feel extra invigorating especially as a fresh graduate.

But do not forget that you have other jobs to do, and other duties to fulfill. You are a child, a friend and maybe even a parent to someone. These are the jobs that I think well surpass in importance and no salary figure can ever make up for if missed.

4. Then Work to…?

Image Credit: AP Photo, Isaac Brekken
Image Credit: AP Photo, Isaac Brekken

As with societal expectations of a young and able-bodied graduate, living off the folks was no longer a viable nor sensible option. So individual financial stability is definitely any job-seeker’s first push, but it doesn’t need to be the sole life force to your daily grind.

Some I know of work just for the money. Others honour the benefits that come with the employment, how established the employer is, or how flexible the working hours are. There is no right or wrong reason to work. But what I did find right of all the wrong things I did, was making that decision early on not to be slave to money.

As I carried out my job-hunting, I decided job satisfaction was what I would work for and towards. Deciding early on in my career helped me to narrow down the types of jobs I wanted and allowed me to familiarise and adjust my expectations of the salary range and working hours accordingly.

The media industry doesn’t pay as well as say, the financial sector. In fact, sometimes the pay can be as low as that of a purely administrative job, and the hours, even longer. I sometimes find myself grousing about losing personal time, and feeling envious of other batchmates’ higher salaries.

But when each day comes to an end, and work winds down to a quiet moment alone, I am always thankful that I am in an industry that is exciting and unpredictable. Yes, it doesn’t pay gold and it’s not entirely enjoyable, but where I am at, is definitely a step forward and in the right direction towards my aspirations — and that matters to me.

5. Expect Mistakes.

Image Credit: www.feedfloyd.com
Image Credit: www.feedfloyd.com

Let me clarify that I graduated with a degree of little to no relevance to my current job scope. So I do not kid when I say I was a total newbie starting from ground zero. And in the working world, no one is going to have 2-hour long sit-down tutorials complete with notes before they throw you to the deep end.

So I made mistakes. Mistakes are always embarrassing, because it shows unprofessionalism and uncertainty. In addition, it also means there is going to be a lot of cleaning up to do after you, and you definitely do not want to look like the baby of the company, unworthy of your employment.

But what is even more embarrassing than making a mistake, is being unable to take ownership of it and rise above it. Because imbued in admitting a mistake are various qualities that make up the spectrum of soft skills valued by employers today.

There is courage — the initial leap of faith you took prior to making the mistake. There is integrity — the ability to be honest about your mistake. There is inner strength, willingness and drive — accepting your mistaking, learning from it, and moving past it.

Image Credit: www.dmarge.com
Image Credit: www.dmarge.com

These 5 lessons are by no means the only lessons one will learn after a year in the workforce. There will be many more; many other different ones depending on the kind of industry you are in, the degree you hold, your life experience, so on and so forth.

But what I do think is common across the board is the agreement that work and life are intimate realities. By extension, there are always opportunities to take what you have learnt at and in work, and apply it to life’s circumstances, and vice versa.

After all, the best lessons in life are the ones no book can teach, and no teacher can ever prepare you enough for.

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