Later this summer, I’ll be turning 30. I graduated from college eight years ago. And yes, I’m starting to find gray hairs.
But on a lighter note … Now that I have almost a decade of work experience under my belt (which is now a few notches looser), I’ve realized there are a handful of lessons my 16 years in the school system failed to teach me. For those of you who recently graduated or are maybe still getting settled in the professional atmosphere, allow me to share my vast old man knowledge with you. I recognize not everyone has desk jobs exactly like mine, but if you do, you might be experiencing a bit of a rude awakening with #adulting.
Here are three realities in office-land I’ve had a tough time adjusting to, plus some advice for how to get through.
1. You don’t get promoted every year.
My wife is a grade school music teacher. In her district, the third graders are honored with a special program at the end of the year recognizing their achievements and celebrating their “graduation” before moving to fourth grade. Three of the top performing students give speeches, talking about how fast the time has gone and how much they’ve grown since they were little kids a few years ago.
These are 8 year olds.
I’m all for recognizing achievements, and sure, these little speeches are cute. However, I think the school system has set us up for disappointment in the workplace. Since graduating eight years ago, I have yet to receive a promotion. No one has positioned me on a stage with a robe and funny hat and applauded me for meeting all of my minimum requirements. Every year passes without a party with cake and balloons and gift cards in my honor.
In the workplace, you have to get used to the lack of upward movement. Hopefully you’ll gain new responsibilities and get a raise every once in a while, but it’s totally normal (and totally OK) that your routine won’t change very much year to year. You’ll have to embrace that reality. At the same time, it is good to take a minute to stop and pat yourself on the back for your achievements. If you wrap up a big project or successfully navigate a busy season, it’s OK to celebrate and do something to treat yourself. Don’t expect an arena full of people applauding your status of summa cum laude (whatever that means), but you should do something to recognize steps of growth and improvement in your own life.
2. There is no “passing period.”
In high school and college, I would walk around (sometimes outside!) for a few extra minutes here and there to catch up with friends and get even a tiny bit of exercise in between classes. I didn’t realize how valuable that time was until I got my first internship in college.
I quickly learned that eight hours is a long time to sit in an office chair and stare at a screen. There’s not much physical activity, and there’s often little socializing. There’s not a fun bell or grown-up to remind you to get up and move to your next learning station. Doing anything for that long can become dull, boring and draining, especially when you’re used to taking breaks every hour or two to talk with friends and get some fresh air.
My advice? Take those breaks anyway. I found I began to lose my sanity if I didn’t get up and move around a bit every couple hours. Take the long route to a meeting. Go to the restroom down the hall instead of the one right by your office. Swing by the lobby or break room and have a quick conversation to clear your mind. I found that I need this to keep creativity flowing. Even on particularly busy days (and especially on slower days), give yourself a break and take a quick walk. Your body and your mind will thank you.
3. Summer and spring break are myths.
The longer I’m in the workforce, the more I’m tempted to quit and become a teacher. I sure do miss summer and spring break and Christmas break and President’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Good Friday and Groundhog Day and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and inservices and snow days. (Just kidding, teacher friends. I know firsthand from my wife how hard your jobs are!)
Still, it’s true most workplaces are open just about every day (how dare they?!), and you’re expected to be there seemingly all the time. I’ve gone through seasons where I felt like I just needed a break, and the next official office holiday was light-years away. It was a huge bummer until I remembered I had vacation days. Last year I somehow made it until mid-June before I took a day off. No wonder I was worn out!
If your job gives you vacation days, use them. I still have to force myself to do this, because for some reason I’m tempted to be a vacation-day-hoarder. I guess it feels good to have a bank of days saved up in case something comes up and you need them, but guess what?
You do need them. It’s dumb to stockpile those magical days, so plan a day off in advance. Since those natural breaks aren’t worked into your schedule as much as they used to be, it’s important for you to schedule them yourself and not fall into a state of exhaustion from a lack of rest.
So there you have it. Yes, your first few months and years in the workplace can provide new challenges, but be sure to remember the new perks you’re enjoying as well. Hopefully, you’re in a position where you’re able to use your talents and gifts in a way that honors God and advances culture somehow. Even on days when it’s hard to see the silver lining, find comfort knowing God orchestrates your days and has you in your current position for a reason.
Do your best and work hard, but don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Take a walk, award yourself for progress and take a day off. Celebrate Groundhog Day or give yourself an inservice day. Staying rested is good for your soul, so do what it takes to keep your sanity. Follow these steps over the long haul and maybe one day you, too, can graduate adulthood summa cum laude — or at least figure out what that means.