Back to School: What I Learned From Working 2 Years

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I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Anthropology in 2018, which feels so long ago but it most definitely was not. Getting older (yes, I’m only 24 but bare with me) keeps showing me, time-and-time again, how quickly time flies. One minute, you’re walking onto a college campus with lofty ideas and goals about the world, the next you’re working in a leasing office signing up for your 401(k) as soon as you become eligible. Now here I am, about to walk back onto another college campus but this time…things are different.

The past two years of working full-time has really helped me create a more realistic perspective about life. Don’t get me wrong: I still have my moments of naïveté where I get caught up in dreams instead of what is actually happening; but it’s easier now to cope when reality doesn’t match with my plans. Is that maturity? I don’t know. I do know that, this time around, being a student feels much different – especially since I’m entering law school, a graduate program that is specific to the career I want to do. My time in undergraduate didn’t have quite this level of focus. I feel like I have more to lose and that’s coming from someone who took her undergraduate courses very seriously.

Taking the time to work and really be in the world figuring out what it means to be an adult has taught me a lot of things. I’m going to immortalize a few of those lessons below, mainly as reminders for myself when school gets stressful (because it will), but also to help any other students or young adults figuring out their plans for school and career.

1. You’ve Got A Lot To Learn

I’ve only been in the workforce for two years, okay? I’m no Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, obviously. But I could be one day – that day will never come though, if I let my pride in the way. We each will always be students as long as we welcome learning. There are so many people who stop learning because they don’t like the work of it or feeling like a beginner again. Rightfully so, it CAN be horrifying to be back at a starting point but the truth of the matter is that none of us will ever know everything. We might as well embrace that mentality and be open to people and subjects (even if we think we know them well) as opportunities for learning, not perfecting. Pride is your kryptonite to growth.

2. You Have A Lot To Contribute

That being said, don’t discount the knowledge you have. Looking back the past two years, I constantly went from moments of pride thinking I knew what I was doing to crashing into a pit of despair feeling like I knew absolutely nothing. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I would even venture to say that that is the truth for most people: we all may not know EVERYTHING but we each do know SOMETHING. Share that ‘something.’ Use that ‘something’ to catapult your journey and get the learning flowing – don’t hold back your contribution out of fear. That’s just as prideful as thinking you’ve learned everything there is to know about a subject.

3. Goals and Reflection Are Important

I have always been a list person. I like writing them, setting out goals, and making plans. However, I would make so many that I would often forget or be too overwhelmed to go back and reflect on them. James Clear in his life-changing book, Atomic Habits, discusses the importance of starting small and making time to reflect on your efforts. How do you know if you’ve made improvement or not, or the progress of your to-do list if you don’t go back and check it? My outlook on planners and goals are still the same: I love them. However, now I don’t need multiple planners or various lists. Lately, I’ve been working on relying on fewer calendars and lists to make sure I’m not getting overwhelmed and that I’m focusing on taking action, not just planning to take action. I also make time–ideally at the end of each day for daily to-dos and then weekly/monthly/quarterly, as needed, for longer term goals–to see where I’m sitting in terms of progress.

4. Chase Discomfort, Reasonably

A tough lesson I have learned in 2021: discomfort usually means growth. I’m not saying to be reckless or put yourself in dangerous or self-destructive situations – please don’t. I AM saying to go after the goals you have that seem a little scary or intense. If you are working on your mental health, that might mean doing more exposures for your anxiety or learning coping mechanisms that you are not used to. If you are working on your physical health, that could look like waking up earlier and dealing with the awkward transition of living a more active lifestyle (figuring out sleep cycle, handling soreness, balancing cravings etc.) Most people stop their efforts because of that initial discomfort that comes with making a change. Sometimes it’s not even discomfort, it’s just…new territory, and that can be a little frightening. Don’t let that stop you.

5. Welcome Rejection

A big lesson that I’m going to be learning from for years to come is the negative ramifications of people-pleasing and what it looks like to have a healthy balance of concern over others and not being concerned at all. There’s a certain kind of confidence that comes with putting myself in a situation where I could easily get rejected: I’m aware of the potential heartbreak, and yet, I do it anyways. The answer very well could be a ‘yes’ but how will I know if I never try? Learning to welcome rejections and mistakes so that I can learn from them is an ongoing lesson, much like the above lessons as well, but it gets easier to put myself in those situations. Most mistakes are fixable or at the very least, learnable, and rejections, over time, can be overcome. Again, don’t let these hold you back but if they do get you down, don’t stay down. Get up again and keep going.

What are some lessons from work life that have changed you? Share below!

Stay curious,

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