Thursday, April 9, 2009

a word from the [worldly] wise

I traveled for work this week. Here's what I learned:

1. Look before you leap. If you find yourself at dinner with a large group of people and an unidentified food item—for the whole table to share! ‘cause now you’re best friends who eat the same thing!—watch and learn. Let someone else take a bit first, then follow their lead. Of course, if you’re the only female at the table with polite males, they’ll wait for you to go first. And you’ll wind up eating an entire artichoke leaf, chewy bite after chewy bite.*

2. Do your research. Awkward silences seem to abound on business trips, even with people you think you know well. To prevent having to insert your foot in your mouth, take a moment before catching your flight to Google your companions. It is 2009, after all. Had I participated in this little exercise prior to my departure, I would have known my travel buddy worked for the New York Times and the Washington Post. As a journalism major, this would have been good to know in advance. Luckily I rescued myself on day 2. But more on that later.

3. Stay true to your school. So, I attended a university named after a preacher. In southern Alabama. With 500 on-campus students. I doubt you had the same school experience, but I’m sure we all can agree: others’ alma maters can be intimidating (because let’s face it: in the working world, people throw around their credentials like a MLB pitcher). So milk your own experiences for all they’re worth. My story can easily sound impressive: “I attended a small private university not far from Birmingham, Alabama” sounds a lot better than “I attended a Christian school the size of a pinhead in a place known as The Gump.” I’m not saying lie, but don’t belittle your place of study or your life experience. It just makes you look dumb for choosing it/them in the first place.

4. Get over yourself. So, let’s say you go out of town for work and make a fool of yourself. Oh well. Do what I do, and move on. Chances are, you aren’t nearly as memorable as you think. (P.S.~ This advice is really the best ever. It's the following it that's tricky. We all tend to think we're more important than we really are.)

5. Make up your mind. So, I may have mentioned before, but I don’t drink anything of the alcoholic variety. For personal moral reasons, yes, but I also just don’t like the stuff. I’ve had a sip or two of wine, and I thought I might throw up. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste, but I don’t want to make the effort to acquire it. (I don’t drink coffee either.) Anyway, the point is that while “just say no [thank you]” may have worked while I was growing up, the phrase has no place in the working world. People just don’t get it. You’d think asking for water when everyone else asks for an alcoholic beverage would be hint enough for people. But no. Peer pressure is alive and well at 23. Better to decide before you travel with the office when you plan to stand your ground.

6. Be proud of your poverty. No, I don’t get email on my phone. Sorry, I don’t have a Blackberry or iPhone. No, I didn’t travel with my personal laptop. It weighs 20 pounds and I share it with my husband. Did I mention he’s in law school? I know I work in design, but I just can’t afford a MacBook right now. Yes, I’m afraid the battery is running low on my flip phone so I may not answer every one of your 20 calls. No, I don’t have two cell phones. How many ways do I have to spell it out for you? I am poor right now. Not by African standards, but by American high-power executive standards, I am living the low-life. Well, I’m dealing and you should too. It’s a recession, people. May all the entry-level employees of the world unite (if you’re underappreciated middle-to-upper management, you can join in). Be proud of the fact that you only have one cell phone circa 2002. Celebrate the joys that come with an ancient laptop or desktop computer (it’s like a free weightlifting class!). Don’t be insecure. Embrace your way of life. You’re probably happier than they are anyway.

7. Network, schmetwork. All while I was interning (at a magazine company that has since seen its demise), I heard one word: network. “It’s what will help you survive this industry!” (How’s that working for you, part-time editor/freelance writer with no health benefits?) Now, it’s true that you should get your name out there, meet people. (Remember, I’m printing my own business cards.) But I’m also learning that sometimes, the truly best I can do is… do my job. I’ve discovered that networking is exhausting. Instead, use your friends to help you broadcast your skills. And when I say friends, I really mean friends. Not the fake friends you have from networking.

8. Keep your ears/eyes open and your mouth closed. Don’t pretend to be an expert at something you’re not—even if you’re trying to network (which, as I’ve already mentioned, often proves to be fruitless anyway). Do your own job to the best of your ability, and observe what’s going on around you. In the grand scheme, I think you learn more that way—and probably are more impressive to people. Let’s face it, there aren’t very many people in this world who can keep their mouths shut.

That’s all I’ve got. Eight little tips from a girl trying to scrape by in the working world. Now, do you have any tips to share? One working girl to another?

*How was I supposed to know this was a vegetable you scraped with your teeth? In my house, we ate our vegetables in their entirety. For tips on how to eat an artichoke and not look like an idiot, check this helpful article out (complete with photos!).


Jordan Jones said...

Wow...Tip 6 made me laugh. It's a good one...

jenna said...

I love this list! haha! I can't wait to hear (in person) all about your adventures on this particular business trip!

Anonymous said...

Tip: Though it sounds corny in the 2009 high power working world of everywhere internet and non-stop ladder climbing.... a beautiful, contented smile still puts people at their ease. Truly, it can open doors and break down walls, plus you feel great too!

Anonymous said...

I came by this via your post about being 25, and I thought it was hilarious. I laughed the whole way through. Thanks for the tips! I'm not in the working world yet, but I'll be there soon.