Throughout college, I worked part-time as a waitress, but I never had a full-time job. My first full-time job was the goal after college — the shiny trophy that I worked toward for 3.5 years. Luckily, I graduated with a part-time copywriting job that transitioned to a full-time copywriting job just a month later.
As I now come up on my one-year anniversary in that role, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over the past 365 days:
1. Find something to look forward to every day.
You might be thinking, “Why would I want a job where I have to do this?”
To be truly happy at your first full-time job, yes, you should look forward to work every day… for the most part. There will be some days where this feels impossible. Days where you’re stressed, have a massive workload, have issues in your personal life, are exhausted, etc. That’s why it’s important to have something — no matter how small — to look forward to every day.
That something can be delicious leftovers for lunch or grabbing takeout from your favorite restaurant. It can be a lunch date with a co-worker. It can be wearing your new outfit to work. It can be going to happy hour or other plans after work. It can be eagerly anticipating your upcoming vacation. No matter what it is, let it pull you through on those days that just feel hard.
This is an especially good tip to use on Sunday nights, when the weekend is over and you’re sad to get back to the grind the next day. Trust me — learning to be excited for rather than dreading work will make is so much more enjoyable!
2. Strive to make connections and friends at work.
We spend about a third of our lives at work, so it’s worth trying to create friendships at your first full-time job. You don’t have to be besties with people at your office, but you should try to laugh, joke and generally enjoy life with them. Not only will this make work more enjoyable, it could serve you well in your future career (you never know when you might need a recommendation or need to rely on professional connections for that next job).
Work friendships don’t need to be forced, and they can take a while to form, but it starts by being open and willing. Don’t just come in and go home — say yes when your co-workers invite you to an after-work happy hour or ask if you can join them for lunch. Make a little effort, and you’ll find that most people will be willing to return it.
And don’t forget about being friendly with your superiors as well. While roles and organizational structures may prevent you from being as close to them as you would be with your co-workers, it’s still wise to get to know your superiors on a more personal level. Don’t be afraid to share with them when appropriate and seek mentorship from them during difficult times.
3. Make dressing the part fun.
My husband works from home. For Christmas, he told me getting him sweatpants was as good as getting him work clothes. I will admit, on the days I work from home, I also wear sweatpants.
However, I love the feeling of dressing up when I go into the office. Working in Boulder, my office’s dress code is rather casual, but I still enjoy putting on a skirt or dress most days. Why? Because I find that when I feel cute and confident, I can tackle most anything.
I also work in a heavily female office, and we always compliment each other’s outfits and talk about where we bought our clothes. So in a way, dressing the part helps strengthen my connections and friendships with my co-workers as well.
4. Manage your work-life balance.
It’s easy to go all in at your first full-time job. You want to make a good impression, of course, but don’t overwork yourself. An overworked employee is often not the most productive or successful one, and overworking yourself can make you resent your job over time.
Learn when it’s time to call it a day. There’s always more work to be done, but at some point you have to know when to stop and go home.
To make it easier to stop, be sure to fill your workweek with other activities. Join a meetup group, have set plans with friends in the evenings, attend an exercise class. Fill your life outside of work with meaningful activities and remember that you’re more than your job.
5. Don’t take work too seriously, but learn to take it seriously enough.
Stress helps us survive, and in the working world it can help us get tasks accomplished. During a stressful period at work, work hard while at the office but strive to leave your stress at the door. I promise you this: The world will keep spinning even if something at work doesn’t go exactly as planned. While you should always strive to meet deadlines and put your best foot forward, remember that you’re only one person. As long as you’re giving your job your all while there, you’re doing more than okay.
There’s no point in stressing about your job after you leave for the day. Unless you plan to do more work, there’s nothing that can be done until you’re back at the office tomorrow.
And work doesn’t always have to be work. It should be fun as well! This year at my office, I organized Secret Santa as well as a Christmas and Valentine’s Day potluck. I did it because I not only love the holidays, but I think it’s important to help my co-workers enjoy the little things in life. While a few of them were reluctant to take part in my festivities, everyone told me they were glad they did after the fact.
As I progress in my career, I know they’ll be plenty more to learn beyond what I have at my first full-time job. I’m already looking forward to what that will be, and I’m also enjoying being one year out of college with a bit more insight into the professional world!