I absolutely LOVE today’s guest post by Abby Cooper. She’s an amazing writer, and today she’s offering some insight on success in the workplace. Read it! I promise… it’s really great 🙂
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.
Unfortunately, it turns out that knowing does not get you hired. Sometimes it gets you a fake teacher discount at Michael’s when the guy takes pity on you because you’re doing art projects by yourself instead of with children. Apparently doing paint-by-number alone on a Saturdaynight stopped being cool after age ten. It would have been nice if someone sent a memo or something.
I am about to embark on my junior year of life (aka, third year out of college) and I’m only now starting my first real-life grown-up job. For the past two years, I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door. Any door. I would have happily taken a doggie door had one been open. You get the point.
Through all my door-seeking, I’ve learned a lot about what you need to do to get hired. I’ve also learned that not all doors lead to places that are right for you. Here’s what I know:
You have to touch the bugs. I was substitute teaching one day when an announcement boomed over the loudspeaker: “the bugs are here!”
Oh, cool. Kill me now.
The bugs were for the first grade’s insect unit, but these were not your run-of-the-mill ladybugs and caterpillars. We’re talking millipedes (aka worms on steroids) and lifesize killer beetles.
I couldn’t help wondering if the real first-grade teachers had known about this and strategically chosen this day to be “sick”…
The other substitute in first grade couldn’t handle the Monster Bugs of Doom and went home. I couldn’t blame her, but I wasn’t going to hand over my chance of ever getting hired at this school just because there was a strong possibility that one of these things could swallow me whole.
I took a deep breath (and by “a” deep breath I obviously mean like 800), took off my glasses (it wasn’t necessary to see all the details of their slimy bodies) and put the creatures in their cages. It was not pleasant. But guess who got called back to teach again the next day? (Hint: me.)
Whether or not your job asks you to pick up bugs that could eat you for breakfast, I think the important thing to remember is to say yes to whatever seemingly strange requests come your way. Within reason. These are the adventures we have to challenge ourselves to have if we want to get somewhere, and they’re awesome opportunities to show just how valuable (and brave) you are.
Speak the language. Or fake it.
I once got called to teach Chinese for a week. I don’t know Chinese. I went anyway.
It’s amazing what you can learn in a class you’re supposed to be teaching. For example, shuttlecock is a Chinese sport, not something scandalous that makes you wonder why they want you to teach it to small children. Also, don’t assume every question a child asks in another language means “can I go to the bathroom?” Sometimes it means “can I throw this shuttlecock at your head?” and you will regret saying yes.
It’s okay to agree to do things you don’t know how to do, like teach Chinese. And it’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to do those things (but you are super willing to learn, in case any potential employers want to know.) Don’t be scared of the unknown. The unknown could pay your bills and also teach you a new sport that will make you very popular at parties.
Play the game until it gets creepy.
Ever since I first started working, I’ve noticed that a lot of bosses seem to really, really like the power that comes with being the boss. I don’t particularly care for these people, but I can deal with them. I nod. I smile. I imagine them moving to Australia. Etc.
Every boss has some kind of game going on. And in addition to your actual job, it’s your job to figure it out and play. Until it gets creepy. This is different than “until it stops being fun.” I think we need to accept that first-ish jobs, generally, are not fun.
Creepy happens when your boss yells at you for wearing blue, despite the fact that your office doesn’t have a dress code.
Creepy also happens when your boss makes Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada look like a pretty nice lady.
This is when you say bye-bye-boss. This is also when you change your phone number and quite possibly your address.
I’ve left more than one of these kinds of situations in my day. But I’m not a quitter – I’m a person who’s decided that her sanity is more valuable than a job. And while sadly sanity does not pay my rent, I have learned what I will and will not accept at work, and I’ve learned how to get feet through doors in the process. And these are some really valuable things to know. I am looking forward to finally going through a door at a school this coming August. Whether it brings bugs or shuttlecocks or a really bizarre combination of the two, the past few years of adventure and experience have made me ready for just about anything.
Abby Cooper is a twenty-something living and working in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Twitter @_AnxiousA_
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