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Thoughts and questions such as “how do I respond to that”, “Wtf are they talking about”, “Oh shi*t did I mess up?”, “did they really just say that”, “WTF is going on” are frequently running through my mind at work.

I have been working for 10.5 years. I started working when I was 14. However, June 2017 was my first job after grad school and February 2018 my first legit job, benefits and all. I thought I knew a thing or two about work culture, but I barely know a thing.

 

(Photo: Quote reads: “Any man who knows a thing, knows he knows not a damn, damn thing at all.” – K’Naan)

Thoughts and questions such as “how do I respond to that”, “Wtf are they talking about”, “Oh shi*t did I mess up?”, “did they really just say that”, “WTF is going on” are frequently running through my mind at work.

I have been working for 10.5 years. I started working when I was 14. However, June 2017 was my first job after grad school and February 2018 my first legit job, benefits and all. I thought I knew a thing or two about work culture, but I barely know a thing.

I asked some of my fellow POC friends what their first year of work taught them:

1.) Show Up and Speak Up

  • You get a paycheck because someone or a group thought you were competent enough to do the job, so you are. Ask if you do not know something, or clarify. It’ll save everyone confusion in the end and you will look mature/ competent.
  • Additionally, in meetings evaluate yourself and ask:

o  “What have I contributed to this meeting”

o  “Have I… shared an idea, asked a question, clarified a point, shared an opinion”

o  If there was a task introduced and I am capable, did I volunteer?

o  Am I actively listening?

*For me, this point is easier said than done, for several reasons, I’ll just highlight one:

  • I grew up in a culture that said: “only speak when you are spoken to” and when you do speak its “yes, mom” and I didn’t try to ask questions or voice an opinion, that turned to me being a rude child and so much more. It is a daily struggle to voice opinions or dissent when surrounded by authority or “adults” it is an uncomfortable-ness that I constantly have to push myself towards. It’s worth it and needed. (this is probably the first because I feel, it’s the hardest for soooo many reasons)

2.) Take your lunch i.e Carve space out for your sanity

  • This can mean actually leaving your desk or office when you eat lunch. Maybe eating with other co-workers, taking a walk. Workspaces and environments can be emotionally draining; always remember that YOU are your biggest priority, besides if you’re half asleep or not in the right mindset you’re wasting everyone’s time doing whatever task you are doing.

3.) Find your People, your Tribe

  • Whether it is that one person that you always make eye contact with or a designated affinity group. Find people who “get it ” and “get you”, might not be the same people. There is a wonderful feeling when someone says “me too “or “nah you aren’t crazy, that’s wild”. This can also mean people pointing out where you effed up as well.

4.) Document

Let me code switch*. You need RECEIPTS.

  • Had a call, meeting, conversation- email those involved. Bare minimum summarize what you gathered from the conversation and what action steps/next steps you have. If you can outline everyone’s action items do so, but if it’s a big group add something like; “did I miss anything?”
  • Also, keep a running tab of things you are doing in a folder. In it have an excel sheet or a word doc with what you have done and evidence to back it up. This varies for each industry but if you did something keep receipts. Save an email from your supervisor/ co-worker etc. commending you on a good job. Worked on a PowerPoint? Save that. Presented something? Write it down. Went to a professional development or conference? Write down what you learned. This will be helpful for you when you are looking for a promotion, want to expand responsibility or updating your resume and need to pull on some things you’ve done.

* Code-switching is when you turn on your phone voice and the minute you hang up you switch back to whenever language or style of language you were using.

5.) Be polite-Email etiquette

  • Say hello, thank you, if it’s one or two people address them by their names
  • Personalize: emails can seem a bit impersonal and formal at times, but knowing your audience will get you a response. (Sometimes picking up the phone is best)

6.) Make “friends”

  • Work isn’t necessarily the place to make friends or find your partner, even though it can happen. The goal isn’t to find your bestie but fostering friendly relationships so people know your name and your work is important. This way when an opportunity or opening comes up you are first to know. (When I was looking for a position my brother said, “If the posting is online they probably already have a person for the job.” I have learned it is not that brutal, but definitely truth in that statement.)

7.) Make room for mistakes/ Manage expectations

  • I really struggle with feeling incompetent or imposter syndrome. Working in an office with so many veteran workers in the field and just so much knowledge I barely know BUGS ME. I’m learning to be okay with mistakes, own up to mistakes when you spot them or it’s addressed, and being okay with not being the “Best”. Every day is a learning process and a step closer to your version of “I know what I’m doing”.

8.) Take feedback

  • They don’t hate you, actually, they might…but evaluate what they are saying if they right- then fix it. For the most part, especially when you are a young professional people want to see you succeed. Ask for clarification if you do not understand the feedback. In the same vein, self-advocate. If something comes up and it is being presented to you in a way that doesn’t align with how you saw something, explain your rationale.*

* “Be savvy about getting feedback. Find a mentor who you trust, you can ask them to gather feedback for you informally. This can be another way to gain feedback if the person you wanted feedback from may seem uncomfortable with giving you direct answers” (my best friend)

9.) Understand that conflict happens

  • We work with humans. They will rub you the wrong way, sometimes it’s a matter of 1.2.3 woosah, and others it’s a more serious conversation of: “this is the impact of your words/ actions”. Remember, it might not be about you at all.

10.) Follow through

  • If you said, you’ll do something Do It. If you find you can no longer do it, let the person know #sorrysis or I got you it’ll take a little longer, is that okay?  Repeat to yourself: “under promise, over deliver”

11.) Over-Communicate

  • Going to be late – let whoever is waiting on you know
  • Need more clarity – ask
  • Still working on a project/ task – send an update ( if there is not an update… because you are waiting on something/someone let people know)

Bonus

I really like the mission of what I do, but my day to day can be a bit rote. Every time I think this I also remember that this is my 1st real job that is more than a paycheck and also aligned with my career goals. So, with that said I try not to wallow in my dislike for some tasks. I 1) try my best to deliver on everything i’m asked to the best of my ability and 2) If I see a gap, or there is an opportunity I try to get in on it. At the end of the day, I won’t be promoted to or be able to move into another position/ path if I can’t prove myself to do the bare minimum and show that I care about what i’m doing.

What have you learned since you started working, please share in the comments?


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