5 Things I Wish I Knew About the Real World Before I Started Working

This post is part of a blog series on Brazen Careerist being sponsored by JobSTART101. They asked Brazen members to answer the question: What do I wish I knew before I started working? Here's my response ...

Whether you did it a long time ago or you’re preparing to experience it yourself, I’m pretty sure that it’s not news to you that entering the real world after college is no walk in the park. Everyone deals with it a little differently. Some get their degree and face it head on while others accumulate thousands more in more debt just to avoid it a little longer. The fact of the matter is, though, we all have to face it at some point.

For me the scariest part of learning to be an adult is that there are a lot of things you won't learn until you experience it. I mean, I still struggle to even call myself an adult because more often than not I feel like I’m really just faking this whole independence thing.

Now let me break it down for you: I was good at school growing up. I even loved it (nerd alert!). For me it was simple: determine what the expectations were for an “A”, assess how much energy I had to use to meet those expectations, adjust my strategy when necessary, and get an A.

Most of my life worked that way. That is, until I finished college.

There is no shortage of lessons to be learned in this "real world", and unfortunately none of them come with a syllabus or office hours for when you have questions. Here are five things I had to learn for myself since leaving undergrad:

My instincts rock more than I’m willing to admit sometimes.
This is something that I’m definitely still learning more and more about. However, there have been so many times that once I reflected on past situations, I realize that my gut feeling about certain individuals, various situations and how I should respond were almost always right from the jump. Trust in yourself even when you feel totally inexperienced.

Managing my personal finances is hard.
Keep in mind that you’re reading the blog of an individual who not only was required to take a considerable number of finance classes for her degree, worked two summers on Wall Street, loves Suze Orman and understands what it means to be in good financial health (for the most part). So, clearly, I thought this part of transitioning into adulthood would be a piece of cake. Wrong. Just like so many other things about adulthood, there is no way to just study something and be good at it. Not only do I wish that I’d known how much trial and error it would take, I also wish I had known sooner that so many of my peers are struggling with the same thing.

Difficult situations at work suck. Yes, everyone deals with them, but it’s okay to talk about it.
Of course I’m not saying to go to the water cooler and talk smack about your boss with one of your peers. Absolutely not. I strongly advise against that. But don't be like me and feel like you'll be all "whoa is me" if you talk it out. It is okay to discuss things with your mentors and other managers with whom you have a trusted relationship about how things are going, how you are feeling, and what you can do about it. The first time I learned this was long after I had already let the stress of the situation get the best of me.

My parents won’t always give me the best advice.
GASP! This one is crazy for me to write because I love my parents dearly and think they’re pretty freakin’ awesome (Hi Mommy!). However, despite our parents’ unconditional love for us, they often give us advice based on what they wanted for themselves or within the context of a lesson learned in their own past. Sometimes their advice is extremely valuable and saves us from having to learn hard lessons ourselves. But sometimes you have to take the time to think about how their perspective has been shaped, what you want for yourself and whether that advice is best for you. Disclaimer: I won't promise you that if you turn out to be wrong that you won't get an onslaught of "I told you so"s!

Once you have a walk-in closet, you’ll never want to go without one.
Okay so maybe this doesn't quite qualify as an important life lesson, but I just finished apartment hunting and this is something that hit me hard. Moving from a studio outside of the city to a new place in the city was a little disheartening in the closet space arena. I was so close to asking leasing offices if they were willing to turn the kitchen into a closet. It’s not like I make much use of a stove anyway.