I have officially become a *young professional*. I have been waiting for this my entire life. The only thing that stopped me was one single dirty habit — bartending. I loved the service industry more than I hated it (which was often, ask anyone that has worked in it or works there now). The thrill of the kill was my favorite part. Not knowing who I would be interacting with. How much I would be bringing home after my shift. What drinks I would be challenged to make. It was something new every day and it had me running around in a swirl of chaos for 6-10 hours before going home with a hefty stack of cash in my purse.
The one thing that I heard every day whilst working this riveting and onerous job was, “When are you going to get a real job?” So after four years, I finally did.
My First 30 Days in a “Real Job”
Competing for Entry-Level
I did what they asked. What everyone told me would make my life worthwhile. I put my college degree to use and found an impressive and polished job at a higher education institution.
As an assistant. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given the timing was horrible. If you are looking for a job right now, or have had to in the past year and a half, I am sorry and good luck. Covid-19 has made the work search hostile and demoralizing.
Competing with those laid off with years of experience and know-how, or fresh-faced college graduates that are ready to be molded. Everyone is boasting about how great the market is right now and how we need people, but no one wants to acknowledge the fact that those jobs are the ones with low pay, little benefits, and a grueling environment that is unwilling to cater to their employees.
The pandemic has made this opportunity for career change something I don’t wish upon anyone. Such a grueling task that your life depends on. That is why I acknowledge how fortunate I am to have found something as great as I have despite such a gap in my resume from Covid.
All that is to say; I completed 30 days officially and here is what I am thinking.
30 Long Days in a Covid World
The transition was more effortless than I thought. Honestly, after one year stuck in my house with my boyfriend and cat I have come to realize that my people skills and natural charisma have deteriorated. This is disappointing because for a while there it was all I had to offer. But, I dusted myself off and did what I could. Went through pain-staking small-talk to try to relearn how humans interact with one another.
What do we do now that we don’t shake hands? After 30 days I still don’t know. Mostly nods, occasional elbow bumps, I got a peace sign once. One person tried to shake my hand and my brain melted trying to figure out what to do. If you’re wondering, I shook it and then purchased a large tub of Purell for my desk. We’re all still learning.
Working in a Covid world is perplexing because most people don’t want to be at work anyway, but now they have a viable excuse — you know, the health and wellness of mankind. I was lucky enough to obtain my own office (my very first with a laptop, desktop, and printer to boot. Luxury!) but I have no window. I have to wear a mask at all times. I have to keep my door closed. Everything is very “only interact when absolutely necessary.” I get tested for Covid once a week.
The walk to the clinic allows me to get some outdoor time which is arguably the highlight of my week. It is not what I expected when I was in college dreaming up this first job, but it is an experience.
Learn, Learn, and Learn Some More
The beauty of starting new work is that there is so much to learn. What was once daunting you are now masterful at. I never had to work with Excel in college, and frankly, it terrified me. After 30 days of making spreadsheets upon spreadsheets, I find myself getting enthusiastic by the work and, gasp, asking for more! In a single month, I have learned more about technology and the different interfaces to use than I had in four years of college where Microsoft Word was the only tool I knew and cherished.
Not only will you gain hard skills such as interacting with diverse platforms, but the amount of help you need when starting allows you to meet so many different people.
In higher education it is not simply one office doing one thing, it is active participation from the Dean’s office, Department Chairs, the faculty, the Registrar, Admissions, HR, IT, and beyond working together toward a singular goal and they all have wisdom to impart on you. If you are a part of a functioning business that intends to succeed, it will look very similar.
I am becoming a well-rounded individual that is proficient in things I don’t even need to know day-to-day and as a result, I am a stronger candidate for my next employment opportunity. This is the value of starting low and working your way up. Learn the foundational aspects so when you rise you have an abundance of other assets that will make you that much stronger in your role.
Prepare to be a Grunt
What I enjoy about this job, in particular, is that I have my own office and, despite being an assistant, minimal supervision. I am given certain tasks within certain timelines and sent on my merry way.
Being an introvert the tranquility of this role has been quite the perk. I am used to high-stress chaotic environments with foul mouths and the occasional foul-play. The speed at which this job has me running is more turtle than rabbit. It will get me to the same destination in roughly the same amount of time but a vastly different journey.
While this has the potential to change with Covid it is safe to assume nothing too urgent will be flying across my desk beyond the occasional printer jam or need for more sticky notes. And, that is the thing. I am an assistant. I am here to assist others with a greater purpose to do their jobs better, and that can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow.
I spent four years of college and I-don’t-even-want-to-discuss-it dollars on an education for a job that I could have successfully done before graduating high school. While some may say it is my fault for falling into the field I did, I say “there is a greater goal here.” It is a means to an end. You will not do this role forever. Maybe not even a year.
Entry-level work is to demonstrate to the company you are committing to that you are a functioning adult that can handle responsibility. You need to do better than well. You need to transcend the job description and remind your company that you are an integral part of their success and as such, they owe it to you to keep you around and satisfied.
You need to advocate for yourself when things are slow and ask for more work. Trust me, they will love it. You may regret it, but they will love it. You need to remind them again and again that you are here, you are vital, and you need a reason to stay. Make them want to find space for you because if you don’t they will love to have you as a masterful assistant as long as you will allow them.
Remind Yourself of Blue Skies Ahead
Entry-level has the name it does for a reason. It is not the end-all. You know that and they do too. When I received this job they told me it was the highest level I could be within the department. While they were saying it like, “this is the best position we can offer you, isn’t that fabulous?” I heard, “this is as far as you will go from here.”
What that tells me is I need to do an incredible job and let them know I will need to be placed elsewhere to flourish if they want to keep me. What I recommend, and what I am doing, is watching, listening, and inquiring about all the departments around me.
Envisioning what that life would be like and if there is a future for me in it. I am entry-level because I do not have a specialty right now, but I want one. I also want the right one and I am willing to buy some time and pick up some helpful skills and resources on the way while I figure it out. I remind myself this every time I stare at the wall in boredom (see previous ‘lack of window’). Every time I look at the clock and it has not moved, I remind myself that one day I will be on my own schedule. I am manifesting this energy now. 30 days in. I want more.
You Are Beyond Your Titles
What the first 30 days of this job taught me is that nobody cares. The people that made me feel bad about being a bartender are going to make me feel just as bad about being an assistant. They are wrong. There is nothing shameful about either work, and both are important and necessary. Both have opportunities beyond them and both are often careers for people who truly love it.
I spent six years in the service industry and once I started doing so in college everyone’s attitude about it changed. I started to resent the work because my drunk regulars were bullying me for being there but desperate for me to stay. It made no sense then and it doesn’t now.
My colleagues here find my bartending experience thrilling and compelling, and so do I. I find that a lot of the skills I obtained from bartending are what made me such a strong contender for this job and what will continue to benefit me for years to come.
I learned how to be patient and composed in a fast-paced and oftentimes degrading line of work where people from both sides of the bar can be vicious and petty. I learned service with a smile and how to respect others because the second you disrespect someone in the kitchen your food comes out cold. Working as a team, doing so with a positive attitude, and doing so promptly with quality will benefit you in literally every job you ever have.
It is a good thing to have a unique background because it shapes you into a three-dimensional person that thinks differently than the person next to them. We need more of that because differing opinions are what make collaboration so worthwhile.
At the very core, both jobs are the same. Complete your goal, do it well, and treat people fairly if you want it to be a fluid effort. Both are real jobs and insinuating otherwise is doing an incredible disservice to those in that line of work. I have enjoyed many aspects of both jobs, and quickly discovered the things I disliked in both jobs.
I grin and bear it because I know that at one time I was a 16-year old server with a dream of shaking martinis and I did it and I did it extraordinarily well. I treat this job with the same zest and endeavor. I cannot wait to see where it brings me, and I hope you find the same joy and avidity for your future.