1. You inevitably feel like the “baby” of the establishment — in part because of your newness, and in part because you live in fear that someone is going to ask if you were born – *exaggerated-shudder-whisper* — in the 90s, and that your answer will dictate how you are treated for the rest of your tenure here.
2. Concerned family members and parents’ friends will ask you with all earnestness if this is “what you want to do for the rest of your life” and it suddenly hits you that yeah, a career is an actual thing you have to start working on now. (Don’t worry, a lot of us are just making it up as we go.)
3. You act absurdly deferential to anyone who is even slightly superior to you — from meek, whispery “excuse me”s to your direct supervisor, to all but offering the kind of deep bow that would put a Cirque de Soleil contortionist to shame when you’re around anyone whose title involves a lot of capitalized consonants.
4. You will realize that few agonies are like the one wherein you forget your headphones at home and cannot subsequently blast really offensive rap music around a much more genteel situation. You feel your soul shrivel up and die a little every time you have to make yourself focus without DMX’s motivational barking in your ear.
5. Even if you swore you were done with school, you find yourself wondering if maybe you should go back. Colleges in your area can and will find your address and will send you pamphlets and packets and information on the off chance that you want to consider graduate courses. And after a really long, really arduous day, you’re going to grab at one and seriously consider it as a “good idea,” if a good idea is defined as something that gets you out of the working world for at least a few more years.
6. You’ll jump at the chance to dress “like an adult,” and load your wardrobe with blazers and suit pants (or the nicest iteration of your uniform you can manage, if you have one of those.) You make a pact to only wear heels or nice shoes, only to realize that lol, that is unnecessary masochism. You subsequently spend the rest of your time trying to figure out how to make a t-shirt “business-casual” and subvert the clothing culture to read as “anything that still looks nice-ish when you pair it with clean tennis shoes.”
7. Suddenly all of your friends pile together for drinks or dinner, claiming they need to just “forget about work,” but all you wind up doing is venting and troubleshooting as to how to make your work experience that much better. And though you realize that all of this venting is largely toxic and only breeds more dissatisfaction, three beers in on a Thursday night and hoo, buddy, you are ready to let. it. go.
8. At first, you write really long, formal emails (“sincerely,” “warmest regards,” “to whom it may concern,” and “I hope this message finds you well” are regular phrases in your vocabulary) but you quickly realize that everyone else writes really casual, 1-2 sentence emails. The day you switch from “yours truly” to “yours” is nothing short of a graduation in and of itself.
9. I can’t tell you exactly when this happens, but it will: you realize that your boss is, in fact, just a normal person with a sense of humor and quirks and habits all their own, and no matter how formal a place you work, remembering that they’re a person with their own ambitions and faults will get you much further than resisting will.
10. You try your hardest to be diligent about LinkedIn — and put effort and work into your profile, before you realize that A) there really is no way to “win at LinkedIn” like it feels like we’re all trying to do, and B) it is much easier (and much more genuine) to put all that work into organic relationships with clients and coworkers, and they will never forget you if you did right by them.
11. Every so often, you have that one day that makes you really just question why you ever got into that industry to begin with, and you debate just packing it all up and driving to some completely new town to start all over again from zero — but hopefully you have just as many days where things just seem to go right and you look around and realize that whatever your path, right here and right now is exactly what you need to do for you.
12. You learn how to deflect the ire and faux-concern of friends and family who think you should be doing something else with your life. If they always thought you’d “make a great lawyer” but you’re toiling away as a writer; if they “don’t get” why it is you want to be a consultant; if they resist the reality that yeah, some people are perfectly happy working as a store manager for the rest of their lives; if all of your friends are doing the wanderlust thing and you’re actually the odd man out with a 9-to-5 — whatever it is, just because it is not the path that everyone else is taking doesn’t mean it’s not right for you.
13. And you also swallow the very big pill that is realizing that your friends do not want to do what you do for the rest of their lives — nor should they. And this is okay. Taking all the same classes and doing all the same extracurriculars might have first helped you bond, but real friends will support and respect whatever crazy or unorthodox dream their friends pursue.
14. The very real and serious fear of talking up in a meeting, partially because you’re afraid to feel all of those important, decision-making eyes on you, but also because you wonder if, as the newbie, your opinion even matters. (At any company that actually respects the opinions of its employees, it honestly should.)
15. You master the art of flipping between 80 tabs or gossiping with your favorite coworker at any given point in time — but you also realize that work is called work because, well… you actually have to put in the work — and those are the days when you clock out and feel most satisfied.
16. Any and all grand plans of finally #havingyourlifetogether? Forget it. All of those dreams of going to the gym before you head to work, eating a healthy breakfast at home, bringing a great lunch in order to really stretch your paycheck? One day, you’re just going to shrug your shoulders and be like, look, at least I’m showering.
17. You learn exactly how long you can sleep in and still make it to work on time — down to the millisecond.
18. And you realize that all those after-school jobs, summer gigs, internships, and part-time work actually matter and taught you a lot. You learned how to interact with customers, how to take ownership of your mistakes and oversight, how to motivate yourself to show up on days when you really didn’t want to, and how to respect the fact that someone trusted you enough to give you responsibility and that is not to be taken lightly. You’ve gotten work experience, and you definitely have the knowledge to press on. And if you don’t? You’ll learn as you go. That’s how we all learn. So really, this — whatever this is — is not really your first real job, but it is a step in the right direction toward the rest of your life.