The First Job – Perceptions vs. Realities

5 min. read

Hey Ladderburners! Alaska here – the newest to the Ladderburner crew and fairly new to the professional workforce myself. I graduated with a degree in marketing and social media management from Moraine Park Technical College in May 2022 so the team felt getting my take on one of the latest Burning Issues Livestream with two young professionals – Anna and Mitch – would provide an insightful perspective!

So, let’s dive in…

Wow – this quote hit home immediately for me! As did so many of the other comments about work and the perceptions about what it would entail.

As Anna emphasized, many individuals entering the workforce after high school/college feel an immense amount of pressure about what employers are expecting of them – and what the experience will be like.

Here are some of the top perceptions to squash (or burn to keep with our theme here!) – followed by the reality of the situations at work – to help you take control of your career development starting on day 1.

After listening to Anna & Mitch, it’s refreshing to connect to the reality that you can work hard and accomplish many things – and, it doesn’t have to be miserable.

You are part of the team. Your contributions are important to the day-to-day and bigger picture.

AND, it’s not serious all of the time. In many organizations, you can and are often encouraged to have fun at work too.

A big takeaway for me was that you can’t sacrifice your happiness and well-being for a job. There should be a balance between getting your work done, being successful in a way that’s tangible, and providing results for the company that needs to be on the same level as your personal happiness and well-being.

If you’re doing your job and having a good time doing it, that could be a great way to define success.

Mitch was a huge proponent of meeting as many new people as possible and being a sponge in his internships. His experience has proven that it doesn’t matter how young you are if you’re willing to do the work to build credibility and trust.

Trust is very important in the workplace. It helps people feel motivated, increases productivity, and even lowers stress.
Without trust, communications get complicated and there is no foundation for the relationship.

If you try to dictate your work or only talk about yourself, your colleagues will likely not trust or like you much. Instead, get to know the individuals doing the work around you. Your curiosity and feedback can build them up regardless of your role or seniority. And, chances are, you’ll learn a TON in the process. Keep your dialogue light and conversational. Ask them about how they got to where they are at. Ask them what they think about a specific work topic or issue.

After stacking many small conversations, trust starts to build. It can make the bigger, harder conversations easier, but the young professional panel saw some of the following as ongoing growth opportunities and challenges.

  • Developing confidence to ask the hard questions
  • Being your own advocate  – seeing yourself as an adult in control vs. “just a kid”
  • Knowing what your path is

Anna and Mitch had very different pathways and ideas about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Anna didn’t want to go to college but ended up going anyway. She took her first job and ended up leaving it to pursue a career in a different industry as a paralegal. The work and paralegal environment wasn’t the right fit for Anna but she felt pressure to stay. Around a year later, Anna ended up joyfully back at her first job (at Envision Greater Fond du Lac) where she is thriving in a role of community connection and relationship building!

Since Mitch was three years old he could remember being on a construction site with his dad and knew he wanted to be a part of the construction industry. He looked for schools that offered a good education alongside the opportunity to continue playing football. And, he found that school at a place that feels like home as a senior at UW Stout studying mechanical engineering. Mitch has also had multiple internships with Ahern to further refine his skills and knowledge of his trade.

The pathway to success is unique to each person. Here’s what I’m taking away from the sharing from Mitch & Anna:

Make the decisions that are best for you.

You have to be an advocate for yourself in any work environment – especially bad ones. If you’re not happy with one job, it’s okay – and completely normal – to explore another job. We all deserve to go to work and not lose ourselves – be it our well-being or identity – in the process.

Forge your own path.

Some people know what they want to be when they grow up. Some people don’t have a clue. Many are still trying to figure it out after years in the workforce! Overall, though, I think it’s safe to say most people figure it out along the way. There is no need to compare yourself to others. It’s natural for my definition of success to be different than yours.

TLDR / the moral of the story:

You can choose to see work in a different way even as a newbie to the workforce or your organization. It can be a simultaneously challenging and rewarding game.

With a Ladderburning and bridge-building mindset, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself. Prepare for that first job AND take control of your career by:

  1. Defining career success for yourself (not by societal standards)
  2. Commit to learning a ton along the way
  3. Investing in people – build relationships

About the Burning Issues Series:
Expanding on the book launch of Burn Ladders. Build Bridges. Pursuing Work with Meaning + Purpose, we’re offering monthly, 60-minute conversations to challenge and change how people think about work. The series will run on the fourth Wednesday of each month through 2022. See the latest burning issues series conversations here.