Welcome to “the real world.”
Written by Stephen Cruz, associate producer for Secret6 since 2016. Avid bullet journalist and spreadsheet maker. Stephen likes to adopt a rookie mindset: maintaining humility and trying to see all things as learning opportunities. Originally posted on his personal blog, Story of a Square.
I started working on July 4, 2016; less than a month after my college graduation, hired by none other than The Studio of Secret6. To most people, that’s considered very lucky (and I am) but for me, that started out as one big panic attack. Hearing all the stories, what was I going to expect? How harsh was this new environment going to be? Am I going to be miserable having to deal with the adult life?
Fast forward to July 4, 2017, and you know what? It’s not so bad! This is probably going to be more useful for soon-to-be graduates, but as a way to celebrate my first work anniversary, allow me to share six of the most valuable lessons I’ve picked up from the workplace so far.
1. The clock stops, but time marches ever forward.
I’ve come to value my time a lot more than I used to after I started working, and while that doesn’t mean that our families and the academe fall short of teaching us that, employment is the experience that drove this message home for me. Think about it; work is not just the 8-hour shifts and the overtime, it’s the hours spent commuting to and from and getting ready for it as well. School is arguably similar, but rarely does work allow us to choose shorter schedules, longer breaks or flexible starting times in the same way that education does (at least not for me.)
And you know what? Knowing how little time I have in every day has really made me more aware of my emotions than I used to be. Granted, I still have the occasional mental breakdown and dwell on some of my failures, but I’m getting there. Don’t be the clock that stops when it breaks; be time itself. Or a clock battery. March ever forward (more on that later!)
Sometimes that just doesn’t work best for some people – sometimes including myself, and that only makes the weekend ever so desirable than it was back in our “preparing for the real world” days. Between my job and maintaining this blog, wanting to go out with friends, playing video games and looking for new skills to pick up, I find myself being more deliberate and creative about how I spend my 24/7/365 (or 366, if you want to be super obsessive about that.)
“Be time itself. Or a clock battery.”
2. Curiosity killed the cat…
…but satisfaction brought it back. Keyword: curiosity. It pays to ask, you guys! I honestly don’t think companies expect new hires (or any of their employees) to be perfect; that’s what terminations are for – but in all seriousness, one of the most important questions that our superiors, mentors, even co-workers ask is the one that we rarely ever bother to answer:
“Do you have any questions?”
Maybe it’s for fear of seeming incompetent; I still feel that way sometimes, but I am confident that companies are going to love you for asking. Let me emphasize that they don’t even have to remind you to ask if you have any; any time is the best time to be asking questions. Not only does it tell people that you are intent on doing this right, it lets them know that by sharing knowledge with you, there is one more person in the company that is even the tiniest bit more valuable for knowing more than he/she did a minute ago. The cat is your ego, and if you let that die for a moment and dare to ask for help, the satisfaction that comes from knowing how and being able to perform in the workplace will reward you with a confidence that can change even the introvert-est of introverts, like myself!
Let me take this opportunity to say that is what I love about being an [associate] producer at Secret6. I am the youngest out of the 5 of us in the company as of this writing, and they (along with literally everyone else in the other departments) have been way more open to my questions and concerns than I had ever expected before entering the work force. Never have they made me feel incompetent for not knowing how to do a thing, and I’ve had my fair share of co-workers show appreciation for my intent to learn even the tiniest bit about what they do. With guides like them, how can you not want to do your best?
” Any time is the best time to be asking questions.”
3. “A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
There were so many names connected to that quote, so I’m not really sure who to credit it to, so…
In connection with the first two items, okay, maybe sometimes you are a clock. Sometimes you just break, and you might not have the energy or the know-how to move forward (do not argue that clocks move in a circle, I will fight you.)
That’s okay, at least for a while.
Everybody has an off day; even my superiors have acknowledged that they’ve been unproductive on some days. Of course, you don’t want to stay in that state for long. It doesn’t need a lot of explaining; just know that slumps just can’t be avoided at times. Your company won’t always appreciate the fact, but what they do appreciate is that you are intent on marching ever forward (see what I did there), learning from your mistakes and working towards being better than no one but your old self at every turn.
A few tips: some of us at the office take short breaks either by walking, reading a book, moving on to a different task or eating. What’s important is that you don’t dwell on the setback; tell yourself that you’ll get through this when you’re ready and find something productive to fill your downtime. Don’t forget that asking for help might also be the solution!
4. Fitting in is not about personality. It’s about respect.
I would describe myself as quite reserved.
It’s been a year, and I’m still used to eating lunch at my desk (I bring packed lunches) and having the occasional short conversation with some of my co-workers. I’ve made a few friends at the office for sure, even when I’m not the type to hang out with people during breaks or after work. I’ve seen others work this way too, and you would think we’re easily the outcasts in the office.
Not at Secret6, we’re not.
I cannot speak for everyone else at the office; maybe they wish I acted contrary to how I normally am, but I have always felt that my inclination for solitude was respected, and it is instead this capacity for respect that allows this company of over 100 people to succeed. Honestly speaking, I’m not friends with everyone at the office, and I think neither is everyone with me, but every day I’m reminded that our differences do not excuse us from being kind to one another, and it’s through kindness that we are all able to fit in with each other. What did I even say?
5. Employment doesn’t make you rich.
It makes you fat, if you’re not careful. Haha! It’s hard work and smart choices that do, however.
You know what they say about not even getting to touch your salary when it gets to you? That’s not at all an exaggeration for some of us, as I’ve come to discover, but it’s a mindset that you can use to your advantage whether or not you earn more than you can (or decide to) spend. In my case, I’m very fortunate to have capable and supportive parents who still shelter me and take care of my basic needs, but still, it’s never too early nor too late to think about preparing for the inevitable call of independent living. As they say: pay the price now, so you can pay any price later. Because of this, I recently opened up an investment fund where a good chunk of my salary goes, especially now that I don’t have to worry about that many expenses, in order to create opportunities for my money to grow outside of having a full-time job.
“I’m working a job that I like, in a company that makes me happy to do so.”
However, you’re not going to be able to budget, save and invest if you’re not earning the money in the first place. Having a job doesn’t guarantee that; it’s about doing that job and doing it well, and I find that to be easier because I’m working a job that I like, in a company that makes me happy to do so. Another stroke of luck for me, but a lesson nonetheless important for those who have it otherwise.
6. You are not your job, but your job is to be you.
Last but not least, the irony of all of this is that one year of work has taught me that I am not, will not and should not be consumed by my work. Secret6 places high value in work-life balance (contrary to what our reputation for overtime says about that) and that was something I had not immediately picked up on when I started working. I used to be so focused on the need to produce results at school; getting perfect attendance, having all my notes and just being nothing less than excellent to survive in the real world.
“We are trying to live.”
The lessons above taught me otherwise. That it’s okay to have an off day and to care for ourselves and other people. That it’s okay to be human and to want to do things that make us happy. That ultimately, we are not trying to survive. We are trying to live.
Some of us thrive from being excellent in the workplace, I’ll give you that, but work should never get in the way of us being able to make time for family and friends, for our own hobbies; to find the things that give us different kinds of satisfaction in life. After all, you can’t do a good job if you’re not happy, and you can’t be happy if you don’t give yourself a break. Before you work for the money, make sure you work on you.
And that’s it! So far these are the biggest lessons that I’ve picked up from my first year at work, and while I probably stopped making sense at some point in the article, I hope I made the idea of a first job less intimidating for you. I also want to take this opportunity to thank my family for equipping me to take on “the real world” (what is that, even?) and to everyone at Secret6 that has been a major part of my first year there. You guys have made it so much better than I ever expected it to be.
Until next year!