Career Advice

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Last week, my jaw hit the floor when I received an e-mail asking me for career advice.

“My internship is almost over and I’m trying to get the most from my experience by meeting with some of the global communicators with fascinating jobs. I was wondering if I can call you for a bit tomorrow to informally discuss your background, your job, and how you got here.”

People ask me for advice all the time, normally about food or fashion. I love what I do for a living, but I didn’t realize it was enviable enough to put me in a position where someone might ask how I got there. To be honest, sometimes I’m not quite sure how I got here. It feels like I woke up one morning and suddenly I was 3000 miles from home, with a Virginia voter registration card, a 401K, $50,000 in student loan debt, and a closet full of awesome clothing. Going to graduate school while working full-time can do that to you–it’s like a 2 year roofie.

As I think about it more and continue to watch so many of my friends struggle to find solid ground in the working world, I realize that I’m definitely not the worst person to ask for advice. Without further ado, my words of wisdom for the career-hopeful and newly-employed:

1. Forget Your Dream Job

Stop waiting for “the one.” There’s a very good chance you don’t know yourself very well, so don’t limit yourself to what you think you know. Find something that suits your skills, your talents, and your passion, not just your interests. Just look at House, he may not give a damn about the health of his patients, but he loves solving the puzzles of the human body. Given that you’re not yet set down a defined career path, you still have plenty of time to try out new and different things. Worst case, at least you still have a paycheck while looking for something else to come along.

2. Don’t Suck Up

Sucking up is a great way to encourage all of your coworkers to hate you, while also demonstrating to your superiors that you don’t have a mind of your own. In my experience (or at least in my theory), the best way to get yourself a real gold star in the workplace is respectfully disagreeing, and expressing self-confidence and conviction. Especially with the toughest bosses, being able to hold your own, demonstrating critical thinking skills, foreseeing (their) possible missteps, and having the guts to put someone in their place can go a long way.

3. Act Up

They say you should “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I think a similar principle applies for your work performance. Conduct yourself as though you have the job you want, and bring ideas to the table that will get you there. Don’t be limited by your job description.

4. Be Lazy

I always think its funny when people say I’m a hard worker. I’m not. I’m a smart worker, and I’m a smart worker because I’m extraordinarily lazy. I like to be efficient not for the sake of efficiency, but because the alternative is a waste of time, money, and energy. Sometimes investing a little extra work and energy up front means you can be so much lazier later. The shortest route between two points is a straight line–exploit the straight line. Be lazy, be efficient.

5. Show Up, then Leave

Show up, on time, even early, and make your presence known. I don’t mean have a parade when you show up for an interview, or constantly talk about how early you got into the office, but do something to stand out. Be proactive in meetings. Be more than a seat warmer. Share a good idea, baked goods, a joke or funny story. Leave your mark on every room you enter, because if they don’t remember you, they won’t miss you when you’re gone. Conversely, when possible, leave. Don’t burn yourself out. When you leave the office and have down time, take care of yourself. You’re no good to anyone if you have no mental energy left. This is also called “work hard, play hard,” but as I said, don’t work hard–work smart!

There you have it. Want to be successful in life? Just remember: forget your dream job, don’t suck up, act up, be lazy, show up, and leave! Also, I’m completely unqualified to provide any advice whatsoever, so I’m asking you to leave a comment, answering:

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received? 

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There and back again

Today, I embark upon a journey. From the muggy swampland of Northern Virginia, I’ll venture to the mystic and plastic land I once called home: Los Angeles. Then, in my golden chariot, I will ride across this majestic country, through 13 states, to return to my Capitol City-adjacent home in Arlington, VA.

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Along the way, my trusty sidekick and I will face perilous obstacles that make us ask ourselves questions we’ve never explored before, like “How much is too much BBQ?” and “How long can I hold it so I don’t have to stop at that nasty rest stop?” Our path will take us through

  • California
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Virginia

With stopovers in Las Vegas (Nevada), Denver (Colorado), Jefferson City (Missouri), and Morgantown (West Virginia), it promises to be a thoroughly blog-worthy adventure. Stay tuned to the Star-Spangled Girl and the “Everywhere in Between” tab for more on the sights and sounds from across the U.S. of A.

A Different Kind of Post

The metro is a swamp. I checked the weather last night—89 degrees with 70% humidity and a 30% chance of rain. It’s impossible to dress appropriately for this weather. I wait through the first train that comes. It’s packed and I don’t want to have to stand in other people’s sweat.

I get to work. My desk is at the opposite side of the office as everyone else, but sometimes people make small talk as they walk by me. They don’t slow down.

I read about health policy. I realize that putting together the morning issue updates might make me one of the more up-to-date people in the office. This scares me. I hope it’s not true.

The morning drags, but I have plans at noon. Last week, a classmate invited me to lunch. I checked my work schedule to make sure I wasn’t on any calls or attending any meetings or events—nothing. I agree. He suggests Old Ebbitt Grill because it’s midway between our offices. I agree. He sends me a Google Calendar invite. I accept.

When I get to the restaurant, I discover he made reservations. I’m glad. The line is long and I hate being out of the office. I order the soft-shell crab. It comes with asparagus, a potato cake, and remoulade—not enough remoulade. I had a conversation last week with my British friends about remoulade when they were visiting. I said it was “Like mayonnaise or aioli.” They asked the waiter anyways. I hate that. They hate it when I say “awesome”, but they call eggplant, “aubergine,” and zucchini, “courgette.”

The food is good. We talk about our weekends. Mine sounds more eventful, but I envy his. After splitting the check, we part with a hug and a promise to do it again soon. I smile as I walk away because we aren’t just saying that.

I get back to work. It’s a big day. An important bill is coming to a vote and it looks good. One executive jokes that I’ve single-handedly put the bill through. Later, my boss introduces me as the girl who does all the work. I wonder if they think I’m a workaholic. I wonder if I am.

I ride the metro home. The sign as I get off at my stop says “Welcome to Virginia”. I’m a Virginian now, but I can’t decide if that means I live in The South.

A friend comes over for dinner. It’s nice not to be alone. Over plentiful heapings of chicken and orzo, I talk about my brothers. I haven’t seen them in almost 6 months. If someone told me last year I would go that long without seeing them, I would have never have believed them. I wonder what they are doing. “Looking in the mirror,” I think. I smile. I look in the mirror. I’m vain. The Brits said that too. I didn’t deny it.

I had a can of soda with dinner and I feel the caffeine. I work off the jitters by making macaroons. I don’t have any bar chocolate or chips so I melt M&Ms with soy milk and butter. It’s good. I’m proud.

I watch basketball with my friend. He doesn’t stay for overtime. Even with the chatter of the TV, the apartment seems quiet.

I open my computer, deciding to write a different kind of post. I finish it and hope that no one—and everyone—read it.

Cheers, to no one and everyone.

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.
~Virginia Woolf