Saturday, March 13, 2010

Life Lessons from a Real World Neophyte

I've been living the "real world" life for four, going on five months now, and I'm happy to report I've come away with some wisdom (you proud?). As a means to cushion the transition, I was happy to find a job in the academic world, surrounded by college students on the one hand but logging 40 hours a week and applying for benefits and a retirement plan on the other. The best of both worlds, I suppose you'd say.

Well, recently, I've felt the crotchety old lady in me rising. She may be wiser, but man is she way more easily annoyed by everyone else. I'm trying to keep her under control, but even my body is physically manifesting her, with necessary earlier bedtimes and early onset Carpal Tunnel. (True story. Ergonomics are important!)

Having not known any of this in advance, I thought I'd do my real world-bound peers a favor and divulge some musings I've had, so that they could come into the workforce well armed and prepared to beat that crotchety old lady down...figuratively speaking, of course.

1. The first couple of months after you start your job, you'll probably be more exhausted than you've ever been, and yes, that includes the semester where you didn't sleep because you were writing your thesis on Freud and the Implications of his Philosophies in 21st Century Zambia. Working 9-5, 8-5, 9-7, whatever, is a totally different schedule than college folk are used to. Be prepared for a transition, and don't be too upset when the clock hits 11 PM and you are well on your way to dreamland. It's a good thing.
2. The fastest way to lose your money? Spending it on eating out. Not having a meal plan can be a shock to some, so it's important to understand that while your job may come with health care, it does not come with a fixed number of meal points. Cook your own meals, take your own lunch to work with you. Yes, they make adult looking lunch boxes. Invest in one. You will literally save hundreds of dollars in a matter of months.
3. Piggybacking on #2: Learn to cook. It's not hard, and it doesn't require many tools. Get a frying pan, a sauce pan, and some spatulas. Voila. You're halfway to being as good as Rachel Ray.
4. When you're looking for an apartment, inquire about the neighbors. This is something I highly regret not doing, as above me I have an ongoing opera lasting from about 10 AM til 9 PM 24/7, brought to you by that one guy who apparently has NO practice space outside of his apartment, and below me I have some other guy who loves techno and Armageddon and really wants everyone to know about it. Asking about the neighbors is as important as asking about rent and utilities.
5. This one is primarily for the ladies: Leggings are not pants. This may be the most crucial lesson you can learn. Honestly, I don't even know why it's allowed in college. What happened to sweatpants? Have leggings, Ugg boots and North Face fleeces become the new lazy girl uniform? Kill it, please. No one needs to be that well acquainted with your butt, and I don't care how thin you are.
6. Learn to love Happy Hours. Just because you've entered the working world and fear becoming a trench coat-wearing, briefcase-toting robot doesn't mean you can't still have a good time, and without having to spend a ton of money. It may also behoove you to learn to enjoy drinks that a) don't come with a juice bottle chaser or b) aren't available in 30 racks for $10.
7. Consult your parents, mentors, whomever, about insurance stuff. When you go to your first orientation and learn about every single insurance plan you can sign up for, your head will want to explode. It's a lot of terminology (terminology that you most likely will not understand, nor be told about) and a lot of information, so don't just blindly check boxes and sign by the X's. Talk to someone. And no, just because it's cheap does not mean it's the best.
8. Become very comfortable with the fact that you will most likely not be able to maintain the lifestyle you were living in college. This means financially, socially, physically, etc. And I would also stress that it's not a bad thing; it's just a change. Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures. Being able to buy generic instead of name brand is small potatoes compared to what we've had to deal with evolutionarily.
9. Finding friends will not be an easy feat, unless you're moving to a city where most of your college friends are also moving. Unlike college, opportunities aren't as readily thrown at you. You have to seek things out on your own, which may require a level of courage and risk that seem unfamiliar, and perhaps even silly. But making small changes can have a big impact: Join a gym and sign up for a class. Find adult education classes at the local community college. Befriend the people in the office next to yours. Becoming a hermit is an all too scary reality. Don't let it happen to you just because you don't want to put yourself out there.
10. Stay strong in your convictions. It's easy as a new member of the work force to lose perspective, or get caught up in micromanaging, or be pissed that your boss doesn't let you do anything. Whatever it is, you may sometimes feel your optimism fading, or the idealism from college slipping through your fingers. These things are fantastically great allies to you. Don't let everyone else's negativity seep into you.
11. While you will mourn the fact that college is a beautiful, once in a lifetime event, you will also (hopefully) realize that life outside of college has just as many opportunities to do awesome things. You might just have to look a little harder.

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