How to Survive Your First Year in a New Career

Quitting your job is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, along with the death of a loved one, divorce, and a serious illness. If those events are at the top, I would also like to throw “starting a new career” into the mix.

First, let me give you some background. Like many Millennials, I was under the impression that if I got a college degree in whatever, I would immediately get the job of my dreams after I graduated. My degree is in English and I didn’t want to be a teacher, so where did that leave me? It’s a pretty broad major which means I should be able to do anything, right? Well, yes — and no.

After graduation, I was searching for jobs with little aim at any specific industry. I just wanted to write because that’s what I am good at and what I enjoy doing. This made for a very long and, quite honestly, depressing few months. Eventually, I gave up looking for the perfect job and landed at a small law firm preparing legal documents. Famous last words: “I’ll be here for a year just to gain the experience, and then my dream job will appear.”

Long story short, I was at the law firm for seven years. During that time, I explored different industries and met with so many great people who told me about their careers and their own journeys to success. I am forever grateful for those who took the time to meet with me because I learned so much about what I wanted to pursue and what I definitely didn’t. For better or for worse, working at the law firm allowed me to go back to school to find what I had so desperately needed: focus. I enrolled in a two-year public relations certificate program at my local university and hustled my way out of the job rut.

In January, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as the new communications specialist at an accounting and business consulting firm. Obviously second to losing my dad, this year has to be one of the hardest years of my life. So good job on the accuracy of your list, stress scientists!

Going from a small, six-person office to a large company of over 300 quickly showed me that I had a lot to learn and fast. Here are some of the things that helped me this year:

Have a mentor. I cannot stress this enough. Having a coach assigned to me was an absolute blessing. Try to find a mentor at your company who knows the ins and outs of the company culture, office politics, and can help you navigate difficult situations.

Find the fun in every day. Whether that’s at work or after the clock strikes five, do something that brings you joy. Doing something that makes you happy brings down some of the stress that built up during the day. As Elle Woods famously says, “Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

Know that it is okay to cry. Difficult days are just that — difficult. And guess what? Everyone has them! It’s okay (and healthy) to release that tension with a little cry session. Unless you were a child prodigy, chances are it took you a few tries before you mastered riding a bike. Learning a new job is about growth and self-improvement, and that is hard work. But even on my hardest days this year, I still knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This one was hard for me to do. I didn’t want people to think they made a mistake in hiring me if I asked too many questions! What a silly (and very real) insecurity to have. As my own boss reminded me, your boss expects you to have questions and is anticipating mistakes. So speak up! The sooner you get them all out, the sooner you can get the real work done.

Surround yourself with people you trust. Much like having a mentor, it’s important to find your tribe of people who can build you up when you’re feeling low. I’ve found they are pretty good at keeping things in perspective when a serious case of imposter syndrome kicks in.

Most importantly, give yourself a break. Whether you’re in a new career or new to the workforce, patience with your progress is key. It’ll get better and easier. Just know that others have been in your shoes and are willing to help.

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