What I Have Learned from a Year Working in Corporate America

I am close to leaving my position as a sales assistant for a media company in America in favor of working in Prague as an English teacher.  I found this time of transition a good point to reflect on what I learned from working in corporate America.  This was my first job after graduating from college and it has has shaped my entire view of what the working world is actually like.  This is what I’ve learned from the corporate world throughout the past year.

Your reward for being a reliable hard worker will be more work.

If you take pride in doing your job well, which is one of the only ways to get through the long days, you will inevitably get more work — and for me, at least, it was without any increase in pay.  Once your coworkers find out that you can do your job, they will see you as a reliable hard worker and they will agree to give you the task that no one else wants to do.

Everyone – I mean everyone – is waiting for the weekend.

One day I was in the elevator and a woman said something about being so happy that tomorrow was Friday.  Everyone agreed with her.  But, then she said “Oh, it’s so bad.  We all wish our lives away.”  And that got me thinking.  It’s true. Once you join the working world, every day of the week is defined by how close it is to the weekend.  From the time you get to work, your day is outlined by how close you are to quitting time.  Ultimately, we are wishing our lives away.  I compared this to my time in college where in each class, each hour in library you are trying to get the most out of it, or get the most homework done that you possibly can.  Work and college are opposites.  In work, you are waiting for it to be over, in college you are squeezing as much as you can into every day.

Everyone looks miserable. 

I have really felt bad for some of the people that work in my 20 floor building.  In the morning they come in looking aggravated as though they just rushed through all of their morning tasks, sat through terrible traffic, and now they have an eight hour day ahead of them where they must complete menial tasks that they get no enjoyment out of.  And, for some people, that may be the case.  When I see people leave the building, they look exhausted, dreading the fact that they have to come back tomorrow.  People have back, foot, leg, and wrist ailments from sitting at their desks all day and it shows.  Some walk slowly to their cars; others make small groans as they move. Humans are meant to be mobile creatures. We don’t have tree roots for a reason. It is sad to me that our culture tells us that sitting at a desk for 8-9 hours a day and only getting up to use the bathroom is an acceptable lifestyle.

Stick up for yourself and ask for what you want.

Unlike college, no one is really looking out for you. People want you to be a working piece of the puzzle, but they are not going to go out of their way to cheer you on, give you guidance, or support you. You have no professors, advisors, or mentors who’s job it is to help you succeed. You have yourself and your own wherewithal. Because of this, you must stick up for yourself. If you have a question, find the person to ask. If you want a raise, ask your boss. If you need a day off, you have to ask. When I first started, I would feel guilty for asking my co-workers questions because I didn’t want to bother them. But I eventually realized, no one is going to ask how you’re doing. You must tell or ask whatever it is you need to say in order for anyone to ever know it was on your mind. And your co-workers will undoubtedly be more thankful that the task was done right than if you saved them five minutes of their day by not asking.

You will feel like you have no free time.

When it comes to life outside of work, which everyone wants to have, it can be tricky. At the beginning and end of my time working for the largest media company in America, I had a 45 minute commute. I was so surprised when I first started, I remember musing that I only had time to work out and eat dinner when I got home before it was time to go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow. You will soon realize that if you want to get more out of your days, you’ll have to carefully plan it out. Read on your lunch break, workout in the morning before work. Study language tapes in your car on the way home. It all adds up to a more fulfilling day than one spent just sitting in your cubicle staring at your computer screen. That can be such a sad existence, especially if your job is not creatively fulfilling.

Ask about aspects of the company that are the most interesting to you.

In my position, I was close to my field of interest, but not exactly there. The place I really wanted to be was a few offices away and most of my co-workers knew it. Unfortunately, I was kind of pigeonholed into my position with no real hope of growth into the place I really wanted to be. I didn’t let that stop me from learning as much as I could and getting “in” with the people that did the jobs that were more interesting to me. If there is any aspect of your office that you find interesting, ask the expert that does the job. They will most likely be flattered that you asked and willing to give you a few pointers. Plus, it’s never bad to have those connections. You never know how you may be able to network in the future.

You will get sick of small talk.

Small talk is an art. An art that you may feel like you have to go through with each and every one of your co-workers each day. Be yourself at work in order to avoid brain numbing small talk each day. Share your interests, talk about what you really did last night, share the story of how you and your boyfriend met. And if your co-workers seem to have a positive response to your personal sharing, ask them real questions about themselves. Ask more than, how are you today? Ask something deeper, more meaningful. Ask something that you really want to know. A great place to start is, how did you get into this field? Where did you go to college and what was the best part? Get them talking and then don’t forget to share information about yourself, too. The more you feel like your authentic self in the workplace, the more you will be your authentic self. You will be able to stay true to the things that are most important to you, which, I’m guessing, is not typing numbers into an Excel spreadsheet.

I have really enjoyed my time working for this company. I met some great people and learned so much about the way the world works. I was lucky to have such a great first work experience, although I did notice the things above. No job is ever perfect, but I can’t complain about my maiden voyage into the corporate world. Do I want to work in business again in the future? Maybe not, but I am thankful that I gave myself this insight to find out what I really want out of work: something creatively stimulating, a job where I don’t have to sit at a desk all day, a job where I can help people. Life is too short to not chase the job you really want.

What have you learned from working in Corporate America? Does anything change after more time working? Let me know in the comments below.