10 Things No One Told Me About Having a Career

Career Development

I was unaware of a lot of things when I graduated from college. For one, I learned pretty damn fast that it would take me ten years to write an email at my first “big girl” job. And the first time my boss asked me to create a PowerPoint presentation for a client I thought my soul had left my body. 

I’ve come a long way since then. I quit my “dream advertising job” and became a flight attendant. I lived in my parent’s basement. I met some incredible mentors. I jump-started my writing career and wrote two books. I failed. I got back into the ad industry. I wrote hundreds of emails in one year. I met lifelong friends on the other side of cubicles. I bit my tongue in meetings and tried testing out manspreading; it was tough with a skirt. Firsts became seconds. Seconds became routine. I created things faster. I learned about myself and my working style. My career, like a significant other, taught me a lot about who I was.

That being said, there were a lot of things I didn’t expect about “having a career.” Furthermore, I had no idea it would teach me so much about myself. I had no idea it would define what I truly loved, because jobs become extensions of ourselves and define how we want to contribute to the world. 

Here’s what no one told me about having a career:

1. It will not always be someone else’s choice for you to leave. Sometimes, it will be yours.

I always thought the “Rule of Leaving” at work was termination. If I were ever to leave a job it would absolutely be because HR came into the room, fired me, and escorted me out in front of all my friends, kicking and screaming. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Transparently, I’ve left two jobs I loved because of my own choice. Jobs where I loved the people. Jobs where I loved the work. In both circumstances, the culture and management weren’t right and I needed to make the right decision for my well being. At the time, it felt selfish and brash. But, I was unhappy. As much as I didn’t want to, I needed to move on. Leaving has brought me a lot of clarity in the process. One, I am in control of my career. Two, I might need to take a pay cut for the right experience. And I did. I took a step back one day and three forward the next. 

2. Every personality trait you thought was negative about yourself will eventually define your success.

Here is a genuine list of personality traits about myself I thought sucked when I started my career: imposter syndrome, empathy, shyness, and being overly emotional. A lot of these thread within one another. I’m overly emotional because I’m empathetic and carry others’ emotions like a sack of sand on my back. I have imposter syndrome because I’m shy and have a viscous superiority complex. 

But these are all really good things. Imposter syndrome? Yes! In an article by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld in The New York Times, the authors write that the most successful groups of people have three common characteristics: some sense of insecurity and feeling you’re not good enough at what you do, impulse control, and a superiority complex (**stands up and waves uncontrollably**). That’s totally, totally me. And, until recently, I had no idea feeling inadequate could be positive. I’m not saying we should be walking around feeling like a giant, useless bag of poop. I’m just saying there is strength in being humble.

Empathy is genuine. Empathy is not absurd and wrath-soaked. It’s kindness. And we need that more than ever in our professional space.

Empathy is a big part of that, too. I have empathy because I want to keep others warm. But, above all, empathy is genuine. Empathy is not absurd and wrath-soaked. It’s kindness. And we need that more than ever in our professional space.

3. You’re going to have to be mouthier. 

Me?! Mouthy?! Not in a million years! I’m a presentable, polite woman. I would never!! 

Only kidding! In a world where women have been looked down upon for being ardent, uncouth and candid, it’s time to be all of those things at once. Speak up in meetings. Spread out. Act on intuitions. Share your story. You are an uncut, rightful bitch. 

4. You’re going to have to learn “work acronyms.” And every job won’t have the same ones. It’s weird, I know.  

Work acronyms are really off-putting. I worked at a company that had hundreds of them. Acronyms for the type of meetings they’d have. Acronyms for strategy. Acronyms for systems in the industry. Everything. People would use them repeatedly in meetings and I had no idea what they were talking about. I started to write them down with feverish intention. My third month in, I’d taken up six full pages of them to study when I had free time. A later job experience had acronyms too, specifically for internal expectations and behaviors.  

PSA: Work acronyms are stupid and they alienate every new employee and outside employee from the business. Please don’t use them. (Writer’s Note: I’m working on being mouthier, see?)

5. Everything you learned in college won’t apply in five years.

Here’s a list of things I learned about in college: types of print ads, billboard messaging, direct mail, writing radio ads, media buying, a lot about Aristotle (I went to a Catholic school), how to talk in Spanish about the groceries, and Christian marriage. 

Here’s a list of things I actually use at my job now: PowerPoint, Excel, everything under the digital space (virtual reality and an app called TikTok that makes fifteen-year-old girls famous in a day). Most importantly, beyond the technical stuff, I’ve learned how to navigate office politics and become efficient at my job with a team. 

I know I work in a fast-paced advertising and marketing world, one that changes drastically month by month. The thing is, a lot of the things that truly help me build my career are the things I learn at work. 

6. You will get laid off. 

This one is very important!! I honestly never thought it would happen to me. I got laid off a year ago. And it was just as life-altering and painful and embarrassing as I expected it to be. 

One major thing about my layoff that I didn’t consider: The comeback is always greater than the setback. I think I read that somewhere on Twitter, and it PERFORMS.

One major thing about my layoff that I didn’t consider: The comeback is always greater than the setback. . . . Since being laid off, I’ve been published in some of my favorite online magazines and newspapers. Since being laid off, I’ve exceeded in my career. . . . It’s annoying!! But getting laid off was the best thing for my heart. 

Since being laid off, I’ve been published in some of my favorite online magazines and newspapers. Since being laid off, I’ve exceeded in my career; I’ve started a new job I enjoy. I started my own freelance side gig and realized I loved what I hadn’t even explored yet. I made goals to expand that work and write more. I wrote more. It’s annoying!! But getting laid off was the best thing for my heart. 

7. Men own assertiveness, women own aggression. At least for now.

This is a frustrating one. However, I learned quickly that women would come off “too aggressive” and men would be applauded for being aggressive in the workplace because they’d just call it glorified “assertiveness.” An article in the Harvard Business Review looked at 200 performance reviews within one company. The results measured the number of references to being “too aggressive” in the reviews and, not surprisingly, 76% of the instances were attributed to women. Only 24% of men were identified as having such a communication style. 

I’m still learning my way through this. In one specific case, I was told I wasn’t aggressive enough in my job. This was frustrating, too. If a woman is “too much” of anything, there’s a problem. This will change. I can feel it shifting.

8. YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A MEAN GIRL TO WIN!

This is a follow-up to the note above. We don’t need to be aggressive or assertive or mean to win. We can be kind and soft. We can be layered like fresh onions or straightforward like a stiff drink. 

I’ve never been the mean girl and I always thought being “too nice” was a fault. Well, I guess I’m lying slightly about never having been told this one. My mom has always told me I don’t need to be a mean girl. But she’s the only exception!

9. The people you work with will become more important than the job. Especially your boss.

Someone once told me to “pick your boss, not your company” and I feel that. Above all, the people I’ve worked with have kept me at jobs longer. They’ve become lifelong friends. They’ve become mentors. I’ve met female companions at my job that have changed the way I look at the world. I technically met my fiance at my job, too! He worked cleaning planes and I was a flight attendant. I never knew a job would make such an impact on the people in my life. I don’t know where I thought I’d meet them? Maybe at a bar? College and high school expectations are really weird. 

10. A job doesn’t equal identity. 

I saved this one for last because it’s my number one. (Writer’s Note: Makes sense, doesn’t it?)

My job doesn’t define me. I grew up learning I could be “anything I wanted to be” like it was a source of self-definition. But the radical, beautiful part of that is this: I’m responsible for my identity.

Anyway. College made a job feel a lot like my identity because I spent copious amounts of money to get an education that would land me a job that paid to fulfill that expectation. But, somewhere along the line, I messed up. My job doesn’t define me. I grew up learning I could be “anything I wanted to be” like it was a source of self-definition. But the radical, beautiful part of that is this: I’m responsible for my identity. Maybe I work at a job that makes me feel unfulfilled and a little boring. That’s okay! If I don’t want to be defined by that, when I introduce myself, I’ve learned to say “I’m a writer and author.” And boom! That’s me. I’m Brittany, the writer. That’s how I define myself. 

Who we are is a personal, inner right of passage. Our job doesn’t need to be a part of that at all, if we don’t want it to be.

BY Brittany Chaffee - March 17, 2020

8 Comments  +

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  1. Devin Law says:

    Hi! I got laid off last Friday. I was a graphic designer a what I thought was a cool nature travel company. COVID-19 took a huge chunk out of that place and they let a bunch of us go. Ugh & yikes it was awful.

    Anyways.. I’m on weekday 2 of unemployment and feel lost and weird and keeping myself indoors isn’t helping my mental state.

    I’m rambling but essentially want to tell you this made me feel better to read. I hope a year from now to feel that same feeling you described!

    Take care 🙂

    Warmly,
    Devin

  2. Renaud says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, to which I can relate to some extent. I am supposed to start working later this year, in September, and it is a scary step. Even more so since I am already planning a career change before even starting. But it’ll be okay.

    Thank you again, and stay safe.

    Renaud
    http://blogbyrenaud.wordpress.com/

  3. Loved reading this. You were so honest! I’m in my final year of uni and getting my first job is terrifying! And this post really answered quite a few fears I had, does that make sense?

    stay safe!
    https://dorky-and-weird.blogspot.com/
    Beijinhos Jessy

  4. Devin,

    I’m so sorry to hear of your recent lay off. It’s NO FUN, I feel you there. I think I went to Whole Foods and just stood in the frozen aisle for 15 minutes after the day I got laid off. And now it’s even harder to feel normalcy with everything else going on!

    Hope you’re staying safe as well. This extra time will be good for centering and planning your next big move (I swear you’ll look back in a year and feel so proud!)

    xoxo,
    Brittany

  5. Renaud,

    Career changes are such good and beautiful things! Happy to hear you have some wonderful new beginnings coming your way. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Stay safe and healthy out there!

    ~Brittany

  6. Jessica,

    Of course! Starting anew can be challenging and scary, but everything always works out (even though it definitely doesn’t feel that way all the time). Sending you good, safe vibes!

    xoxo,
    Brittany

  7. Riley says:

    I’m pretty sure you wrote this article for me. Thank you!

  8. I’m so glad to hear this, Riley!! I hoped it helped you a little bit. Especially during this mindful time 🙂

    ~Brittany

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