One year ago, I started my first real job in a city 2,768 miles away from my home. Since then, I have attempted to navigate the ups and downs of making new friends, dating, advancing my career, and living on a budget. Needless to say, many hard lessons were learned. Here’s what I’m taking away from entering the workforce in 2015:
- Making friends in a new city is daunting. You might know a few fellow alumni from your college, but nobody knows you like your best friends at home do. How are you supposed to find new ones from scratch? Even if you do find a potential new friend, you have to go on friend dates to see if you’re right for each other. I can barely muster the energy to do that with a guy! It’s so much less effort to go home after work to Netflix and a bag of cheddar and sour cream Ruffles than it is to haul across town for drinks with that girl you met once at a networking event.
- It’s also much harder to make plans with friends outside of college in general. Walking across the street to your friend’s house for Bachelor night is no longer feasible. Now we have to schedule each other in for happy hours that probably will require a walk to the metro or bus that likely won’t come on time — and the same commute to get home later that night. Socializing is such an ordeal now. But at least that means that when you choose to make the effort, you probably have found friends you really care about. Which I have now! I’ve met some really great friends in D.C. over the last year – through blind girl dates set up by a college friend, through high school friends, and through work. My point is that squad-building requires increased effort now.
- Dating after college is a whole new game to which I’m not sure I am yet accustomed. In D.C., it’s the norm to search for your significant other (or at least date around) via dating apps. Tinder, Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Bumble, OkCupid, Grindr, Grouper (I sound like Stefon listing off nightclubs on SNL). It takes research reminiscent of my sociology class assignments to figure out how they all work. Gone are the days of simply getting drunk and finding someone at insert-your-beloved-college-bar’s-name-here. The love life scene is now like interviewing for a job, because dates in D.C. so closely resemble a resume evaluation. It’s not hard to meet guys who work at the White House or who have frolicked in Africa for years at a time, but the novelty wears off fast because so many of them flaunt their occupation as if they’re god’s gift to politics. (A young white male who’s been told his whole life he’ll be elected to office someday? The world really needs more of those!) And this is why I usually fantasize about a reason to bail before he can ask the most common phrase in Washington, “What do YOU do?” That’s why I’m still single, mom. Sorry.
- Living by a budget is essential. It turns out you can’t just splurge on happy hours and refill your metro card without thinking about it, or you won’t have any money left to buy groceries (shocker). Staying conscientious about spending takes some getting used to. Money leaving the bank has to be accounted for, not spontaneously blown like extra financial aid in college (if you were totally on top of your finances as a college student – I salute you). Extra expenses come up all the time, like the jacked up contact lenses bill I didn’t save for, or the weekend trip I booked 2 days in advance. If you don’t plan for these costs with a monthly budget, you might end up eating Top Ramen for a week in order to compensate… Lesson learned.
- Which brings me to the monthly joy of making student loan payments. I tend to imagine how much cooler my life would be if that percentage of my money didn’t fly away to the government every pay day. Did I know what losing that income would be like when I accepted thousands of dollars in loans as a high school senior? Not exactly. It’s hard not to resent that choice now. But — I had the chance to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and use my university experience to hustle my way into a job in Washington, D.C. — all of which I couldn’t have done without loan money. So my goal for 2016 is to put resentment aside and adopt some gratitude for the opportunity to go to college at all.
- When you’re a junior or entry level staff member, your job entails so much more than the job description says. Sometimes this is overwhelming, but it’s good for your career. I wasn’t hired to manage social media for my organization or to plan events, but those are now responsibilities I can say I’ve taken on in addition to my other duties. And now I know that I want my career to include managing communications! It can be frustrating when you’re expected to do more than your job officially entails, especially if you’re not receiving any sort of extra compensation. But I’ve learned that owning extra responsibilities is the best way to learn new skills, and to build your case for why you’re deserving of a promotion or raise.
- It’s easy to get impatient about your career. I get down on myself for not working at a United Nations agency yet or having the exact job title I want. That is the stereotypical millennial in me that wants my dream career to start right now. It’s especially hard to avoid that mindset in D.C., where you interact with people who work at your dream office on a daily basis. I’ve attempted to assuage my growing impatience by using my free time to build my resume with volunteer activities related to what I eventually want to do for a living. I tell myself that if I work hard, I’ll be on track for that fantasy career soon enough. We don’t have to put so much pressure on ourselves to have a glistening LinkedIn page this early in our careers.
Do you have anything to add? Has your entry into the workforce or move to a new city affected you in different ways? Let me know about your 2015 lessons here or in the comments below.