Life is transition

Student struggles disguised as professional perplexities

By Cody Klyne, Layout Manager

When I walked into the office that first day I felt underprepared, overdressed, and out of place.

Moving on from the relative certainty of post-secondary life to my first big “career” job this past June was one of the most simultaneously exciting and vulnerable moments of my adult life. On one hand I’d found my way back on track, though I’d gone about it in a rather roundabout way involving years of schooling in a different field entirely, and was doing what I loved to do: graphic design. On the other hand, I was doing what I loved, getting paid for it, and was given an official job title to match: graphic designer. I wanted to be sick from the pressure.

Before I get into debunking and confirming some workplace clichés, the significance of this transition from student designer to professional designer warrants a brief detour. The long unacknowledged weight of those two words—student and professional—and how I had been relying on them exposed an elephant in the room that would take some thought to finally shoo away.

One was a parachute. When shit hit the fan for Cody the student, he could always pull the, I’m-still-learning-and-I’ll-do-better-next-time ripcord and strategically distance himself (if only mentally) from the incoming storm.

The other was a megaphone. When shit hit the fan for Cody the professional, all he could do was say “yes, that’s me” after awkwardly fiddling with the volume knobs so that everyone within earshot and beyond could hear.

Redefining how you see yourself takes time, so whether you’re a student, professional, or professional student, here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the obstacle course of life.

Own it. While in school it’s easy to pass the buck and come up with excuses, so take the time to develop an understanding of the value of ownership now. Contrary to the preferred choice of procrastinators, submitting something on time and building on that concept is better than dragging something out well past its deadline. At the end of the day, if things unravel and you absolutely need an extension, own that too. Your professors will appreciate it; your co-workers will look for ways to help you out; your clients won’t be happy, but there’s value in maintaining a professional relationship with a little respect and honesty.

No one cares. So what, you’re the new guy/girl. While this rule might better apply in situations with a higher headcount, it’s one less thing to stress about if you can make it fit for you. People have work to do and it’s business as usual whether you’re there or not. The same thing applies for whether this is your first job out of school, or your 15th. People will ask you such questions to break the ice, but don’t sweat it, they’re just trying to get to know you and aren’t necessarily levelling any sort of judgment. You’ve been hired to do a job, so don’t let the new sights, sounds, and smells unnerve you.

Be present and be yourself. While this comes easier to some than others, it’s an old problem that gets a new lease on life when in the context of a professional setting. Take time to understand the culture around you. Is it corporate? Are people wearing jeans? Do people have kitschy knickknacks on their desks? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, just be aware of your surroundings. Above all else, from the first interview to your last day on the job, be you. You’ll enjoy your time at work more if you’re worrying about putting on a performance less.

Invest. We’d all rather be lounging on a beach somewhere sipping Mai Tais. The reality of the situation is that you’re sitting in a grey cubicle in a concrete tower. Make the most of it. Help plan social events for your team. Smile and make the people around you do the same. Going to work should be more than the work you do. While some will be happy to leave well enough alone (which is well within their rights), the extra effort to create a sense of community in the office will not go unnoticed, and can really help to turn the blasé into a blast.

You go to school, you get a job, you never stop learning. It’s just up to you to pick up on the patterns and realize that you’ve been doing new and uncomfortable since you were born.