5 Things I Learned in my First Year of Working

For me, the move from being a varsity student with little to fokoll (none, nada – zilch) responsibilities and endless free time – to becoming a Working Person with Overheads, time-sheets and little to fokoll free time, happened gradually and then all-at-once.

During my third year at WITS I worked three consecutive jobs, which sounds hectic, but given that I was in my final year and only had two subjects to worry about, the time made itself easily available. Then, all of a sudden I’d finished my degree and it was time to start working.

I’ve been extremely lucky in that by the time my studies ended I had a full-time job waiting for me. Also, the work I do is exciting, the company I work for treats me as an individual and is forgiving of the stumbling I do while I learn the ropes – and my boss is one of the rarest gems one could find.

Lucky, lucky me.

Still, all things considered, the transition from professional student to student professional was never going to be a spoon-feeding exercise. My first year of full-time working taught me many valuable lessons; here (in no particular order) at the top five:


1. Mind your Manners

This may seem like common sense – but surprisingly, it’s not. Manners means more than your usual ‘please-and-thank you’ in the working world. It goes a little beyond that and extends to common decency, which is something I was surprised and disappointed to find is lacking. What am I referring to, then?

Greet people. Everyone. Don’t wait for them to greet you, and feel disappointed if and when they don’t. Look people in the eye when they are talking to you. Make your mommy proud by responding in your best, least-monosyllabic English. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – play on your phone when you’re being spoken to. If something doesn’t belong to you, don’t assume you can touch/use/eat/play with it without asking first. Put things back where you found them. Clean up after yourself. Honour your deadlines by doing things when you say you will. Respond to emails (FFS, this is a biggie!) and follow-up on unfinished tasks, so as not to leave anyone guessing.

Crisis, I cannot stress this enough! As newbies and novices, entrants to the workforce already have their work cut out for them in disproving some of the stereotypes that exist about young, “student-types“.

lazy_student_stereotype_ruthless_1Sound familiar?

No matter the job, being paid cements the fact that you are accountable. It’s that simple; you’re being paid to do x-y-z and so do x-y-z you must. Like some of you perhaps, I also feel like all of this goes without saying, but unfortunately, it turns out – it doesn’t.

A little bit of effort (common decency) goes a long way.


2. Don’t take it personally

A few key facts:

  1. You’re only human.
  2. There is always someone whose ‘cup of tea’ you are not.
  3. Aresholes are everywhere, and they’re unavoidable.

Life’s too short to waste your time and energy trying to get everyone to like you. They won’t. And that’s ok…

Invariably, you’ll encounter people whose treatment of you is something you don’t like. Granted, there are real arseholes around who may genuinely treat you with contempt and go out of their way to give you a hard time. There’s no denying that the workforce (and I suspect the corporate side in particular) is rife with unnecessary competitiveness: the perception that your status or material possessions dictate your quality as a person, okes with over-priced suits and chips on their shoulders swinging their proverbial dicks around to gain some sense of power and feel better about their own insecurities… That’s probably an entire post on its own. Another time, perhaps.

The good news is that none of that has to matter!

By virtue of the fact that you’re now a Grown Up, you can put on your big-boy panties at any time and decide what you’ll allow to get to you. It’s that simple.

For the most part, everyone means well. What might sometimes feel like criticism and condescension from your colleagues/superiors is (more of than not) their attempts at trying to help you. It’s important to remember when you’re a newbie to the working world that a) Your fresh, beautifully-framed degree/diploma does not mean that you are experienced, and b) Therefore, you could use all of the help that you can get. Accept it gracefully and say thanks!

If you’re anything like me and have difficulty not taking everything personally, read this article. No jokes, it changed my life. People have often told me that I’d be a lot happier if I cared less, and upon reading this article that penny finally dropped. ‘Tis a game changer.

Be discerning about what criticisms you’re going to hold onto, and which ones you’ll release into the abyss of irrelevance where they belong. You’ll be doing yourself a massive favour and making the whole ride more enjoyable. hashtag-good-life-choices!


3. Get Over Yourself

Leading up to entering the working world you could have ticked all the boxes: Private School education, captain of the rugby team, class-rep at university, the bearded, ukelele-wielding wonderchild and all-round cool kid who enjoyed popularity and privilege…

BUT, when you get to work – none of that matters. The committees you headed and the number of distinctions you matriculated with look good on your CV, but in all honesty – nobody cares.



An intern by any other name is still on equal footing with the next one. Ditch the superiority complex early on (if you have one) and embrace your unimpressive same-as-everyone-else-ness! If you think about it, being stripped of those little labels that defined you before is actually hugely liberating! It makes way for a new, more relevant set to take it’s place, (e.g. replacing ‘captain’ with ‘Manager’ or ‘class rep.’ with ‘PR Liaison’) that is a lot more impressive.

I’m losing the thread of this a little, but you get the point. Leave the trivial stuff behind and let what’s truly valuable speak for itself (like your work ethic, discipline and time-management skills).

Similarly, friends of yours who are still at varsity or working in completely different fields really don’t need to be bored with the details of your exciting new job. That’s not to say that they aren’t happy for you, or interested in some of the details – but rattling on about things they don’t understand (and aren’t obliged to) does nothing for either of you. You’ll know (hopefully) when they’re not interested; when it’s time to quit while you’re ahead. It’s a tough thing to master, but it’s for the best. The alternative (apart from possibly putting everyone to sleep) is coming across as a smug, ‘look at me, I’m doing so much with my life!’ douchebag, and nobody wants to be that guy.


4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask

As I pointed out earlier on, one enters the working world without any significant experience. The only way to gain work experience is by working. Duh.

In learning the ropes and establishing yourself in the workplace, it really is in your best interests to ask for help when you need it. Teachers and lecturers are fond of chanting:

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question” 

– and they’re right. To suffer in silence for whatever reason is bound to yield a far more embarrassing result if you don’t know what you’re doing. Not to mention how much time you waste doing the wrong thing.

I know of an intern at a digital agency who blew $18 000 in one go for a campaign with a lifetime budget of R18 000. So much of fuck-up that could have been avoided. The moral of the story? Whether it be for assistance or for further explanation etc. – don’t be afraid to ask.


5. Balance it Out

I feel like this is important to do right from the get-go, if possible.

See, as exciting as it is to ‘start a new chapter’, trading shorts for chinos (probably) and tank tops for something a little more demure (definitely) – joining the workforce also entails sacrificing those countless hours of free time that we always seemed to take for granted. Again, I was a BA student, so the ratio of free time to study time was grossly skewed in our favour (cue students who are doing ‘important’ degrees vloeking off about their massively unsurmountable varsity commitments that, like, us folk couldn’t possibly understand… yawn).

The point is: Eventually, the reality of your new routine will sink in. Suddenly, the prospect of having to nip off to the shop for something after work is upsetting. Maybe you’re lucky and you can squeeze it in before work… Still, you either have to leave home earlier or arrive home later. Typically, traffic will interfere as well, so that by the time you arrive home – triumphant with those one or two f**king items in hand – you’re so ready to laugh off your plans of going to gym in favour of slapping off on the couch, indefinitely. You deserve it, don’t you?

Nngrr. Then again, you did spend all day on your arse, at a desk (no more walking around campus), and driving time is also time spent on your backside… Then there were all those coffees you had, and whatever quick-and-easy crap you gobbled during your lunch break. Fok. You can’t skip gym again, but you can’t face the idea of actually going either.. Ugh.

Behold: the time/energy conundrum. You may have the time on the weekends to address all those menial admin things, but not the energy. Who wants to spend their precious weekend time shopping for toiletries or cleaning their car?!  Conversely: that time isn’t something you necessarily have during the week anymore, when you’re more likely to feel energetically inclined.

Weekends and free time become a coveted commodity: fiercely reserved for socialising with those friends you don’t see anymore… for venturing beyond the home-work-home-again circuit in search of something adventurous and conversation-worthy. Or of course, as is my preference – doing absolutely nothing. If I have my way, weekends see me sleeping late, watching series and eating anything and everything because “it’s the weekend”.


Rambling aside, here’s what I learned:

– Take care of the smaller things as and when you get the chance, so that they don’t pile up. If you were someone who cleaned your car or painted your nails regularly before you got a full-time job – don’t stop. The time to do such things does still exist, it’s just a matter of choosing to use it productively.

– That old cliche: “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life” does indeed have some truth to it. Yes, we’ve all got to grind to make our worlds run; money doesn’t come falling out of the sky (and if it does – good for you! What are you doing reading this?!). BUT – failure to balance work and play comes at a high cost. One loses touch with friends, hobbies and indulgent pastimes fall away… your world starts to feel a lot smaller. Not to mention the effects on your mental wellbeing!

– Time is too precious to waste feeling miserable. It takes maturity to grit your teeth and do what work needs doing, because you accept that that’s life. Nonetheless, if you are truly miserable doing what you’re doing – move on. You’re younger now than you’ll ever be again – seek out whatever will make you happier.

–  There is NOTHING WRONG with turning down an invitation to do something awesome, in favour of doing nothing instead. If nothing is what you feel like doing, go right ahead and do it! Your friends might not understand at first, but they will eventually. Just make sure to join in from time to time – you don’t want to stop being included all together!


It’s all about striking up a balance that enables you to apply yourself at work, without the other facets of your life taking too much of a knock. This is something that requires constant tweaking – and by no means won’t require sacrifice from time to time – but it truly is important.


There you have it: Five of the biggest lessons I learned in my first year of working. I appreciate that all of our stories and backgrounds are vastly different, so I’m open to hearing how your experiences differ from mine.

What did your first year of working teach you?

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