the things you don’t know about work when you’re early in your career

Last week, I asked what misconceptions you had when you were new to the work world, and what misconceptions you’ve seen from junior people around you. There were loads of insightful comments, and here are 15 of my favorites.

1. “When I was new to the working world, I thought that my boss knew everything about my work situation, and that if something was wrong or making me unhappy my boss would notice and fix it. If something didn’t get fixed, I assumed that the boss knew and had decided not to do anything about it. I know now that I’m the only person who’s fully immersed in my own day-to-day work, and I have to speak up when I want my boss to fix something (although it’s still difficult to do in practice).”

2. “I would say the biggest misconception I had is about how much people care about ‘who is to blame.’ In some situations, where something dramatically goes wrong, leadership might take root-cause analysis very seriously and pinpointing who did what wrong and when might matter.

In most everyday situations managers/leaders are far more interested in how you plan to fix the issue vs. who was responsible for causing it. That may mean that, yes, you will sometimes get poked in the eye for failures that are completely outside of your control. But that’s better than the black eye you will get from trying to explain (in detail) how the issue actually originated with someone else.”

3. “My biggest misconception about the workplace was that the people in charge will have everything together and really know what they’re doing. The more I work, the more I realize that just because you’ve got a fancy title, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.”

4. “A complete lack of processes around you is very likely to hurt you. To explain: it’s good and useful to be able to be spontaneous and figure things out on the fly if there is an emergency. If that is how the day-to-day operations are run, you have a problem, because you won’t have enough space for personal growth – you’re likely to constantly be dropping long term projects at the last minute to fix the immediate stuff. i used to feel very important, until I realized I was stuck because I could never focus on anything long term.”

5. “I’ve spent 8+ years working with entry level customer service reps and innovation was a big focus for me with a number of the teams I’ve worked with. There were two misconceptions I saw A LOT of from newer employees (and honestly, even some who’d been around for a while):

* If a process or tool doesn’t work the way an employee thinks it should, it must be broken and in need of fixing. In a lot of situations where this came up, the employee didn’t have (and didn’t seek out) any background on why we did things the way we did, and just assumed management must be idiots. In reality, there were nearly always valid (and sometimes legal / regulatory) reasons why things worked the way they did. I was always happy to help investigate the why, but I saw a lot of generally good ideas go nowhere because the employee did no research and pitched the idea as if we were all silly for not having thought of it.

* If I see something I perceive to be a problem and report it, my work is done and someone else will fix it. This was especially egregious when the ‘problem’ was nebulously defined and limited to one or two people with no supporting data, but would require a lot of time / effort / money to ‘fix.’

It can be incredibly helpful to have newer eyes help you spot the opportunities in your processes and tools, and come up with innovative solutions the people entrenched in the processes and tools might not think of. But it’s important for employees to do their research, understand the background, and have a workable solution, which is something not everyone knows how to do when they’re new. Being innovative is more than just ‘having brilliant ideas,’ it’s doing the work to make them feasible, too.”

6. “I recently gave my notice, and I’m coming to realize that something that seems SO HUGE to me (quitting my first professional job) is just normal ‘doing business’ to everybody else. It’s a little more complicated than that, but I really expected my resignation to be much more drama filled than it actually was.”

7. “I think my biggest misconception was that I’d get regular feedback and plenty of it, and that I’d know where I stood at all times. As a corollary, I assumed that if anyone had a problem with my work, they would tell me and I would have the ability and opportunity to correct it. So if no one was actually complaining about me, I figured, ‘Hey, I’m doing great! If I wasn’t, someone would have told me.’

I think this was probably a carryover from both the school environment (where you get report cards telling you how you’re doing and you get your papers back with lots of comments on them) and my earliest jobs (where I was a teenager and worked for small local businesses, and where my supervisors weren’t hesitant to both praise and correct me as needed, and where most of my tasks could be pretty accurately described as pass/fail). Also, in both of those settings, corrections were confined to the work product itself and not to areas like attitude, affect, or how others perceived me.”

8. “My biggest misconception (and one I still struggle with sometimes even though I’ve identified it) is that you really don’t have to be ‘yourself’ at work. Many times, being professional means doing something or acting in a way that I would have that I would have thought of as fake or disingenuous when I was in school. Figuring out that what’s really important is being professional (like being polite and maintaining a pleasant working relationship with a coworker that you absolutely, positively can’t freaking stand and want to strangle on a daily basis) was a crazy wake up call.

My internal mantra is ‘These people are not your friends, they are just your coworkers. It’s not being fake, it’s called being professional. You DO NOT have to like them. You just have to act like you don’t want to murder them.'”

9. “I wish I’d known that it was okay to ask questions and that no one cared how smart I appeared to be — they cared that I could do my dang job and think on my feet. This one is a HUGE holdover from grad school in the humanities, where if you have to ask, you’re too dumb to be there. I am now really embarrassed of how much time I wasted faffing about trying to quietly figure things out instead of letting on that I didn’t know something that was (in hindsight) completely reasonable not to know.

I still struggle with this daily and am always impressed when a smart, competent coworker asks for clarification or says ‘wait, I don’t understand X.’ I always have this moment of shock, like, ‘oh, right! you can DO that!'”

10. “Beware ‘venting’ with your coworkers. It feels like you’re blowing off steam and that it’s helping, but more often than not, you’re just stewing in your misery and it’s making you more miserable. It will change how you see things. A groupthink can start to take hold where nobody is willing to give management benefit of the doubt because the group’s default reaction to everything is mistrust and skepticism, and it starts to feel like you’d be violating a group norm or shunned by your coworkers if you expressed support or optimism about something. In complaining so much about the problems, you end up ensuring the problems don’t get resolved because negativity torpedoes all attempts at change.

Nobody perfectly avoids venting all the time, but try to keep the number of times you complain about something without proposing a solution to a minimum. If you look at your IM history with a coworker and it’s one gripe after another that neither of you have ever brought to management for resolution, you are only furthering your own unhappiness even if it feels cathartic in the moment.”

11. “One of the greatest pieces of advice I ran across on here was to figure out which *tasks* you like, and which you don’t. Rather than think in terms of believing that the work is important and noble. Jobs are made up of tasks, and if you love or hate detail work, or talking to people on the phone, or writing, then having a lot of it or almost none will be a big factor in how you feel at the end of the day.”

12. “I underestimated how important it is for my co-workers to announce whether they are feeling hot or cold at different points during the day. Rookie mistake.”

13. “For me, it took a long time to realize that my criticism of the boss was problematic and short sighted. I always secretly suspected I was sooooo much smarter than he or she, that I saw the obvious answers to all the tough problems, and that the boss’s laziness or stupidity is what kept them from acting. ‘If I were the boss, I could easily fix this by doing A, B or C…’ was always floating around in my head.

Now that I AM the boss? I recognize how many tough decisions there are every day where making everyone happy is utterly impossible … and how much planning and thoughtful work can backfire due to things like bad timing, losing an important staff member, shifts in federal and state budgets, the overall political climate or even just bad luck. What I also never considered: all problems I didn’t see, because my ‘awful’ boss addressed them before they even became problems. Many times the boss was doing solid work that I didn’t understand or see as valuable because I didn’t understand the implications – I only saw the small fraction of the work that did go wrong, and scoffed about their obvious incompetence. The sample size for my observations, as it were, was utterly skewed to only notice the mistakes. I have a lot more empathy and respect for my old bosses today than I did back then.”

14. “You’re going to have to take enough initiative to get the information and things you need. A lot of things won’t be spelled out for you – it’s on you to ask for clarification, find the information you need, etc. You might not get multiple reminders that something important is happening – you might just get a single notification and you need to pay attention to it and remind yourself.”

15. “One of my early career mistakes was that I let my job at the time (daycare) be a bigger part of my identity/life than it needed to be. One very stressful day I got into a little spat with a co-worker/close friend. I went outside, sat down, and started crying. Another co-worker saw me crying, sat down and put her arm around me, and told me, this is your job, not your life. She had come to this country from Belarus for a better life for her kids. She was making about minimum wage working an assistant teacher position here, when she was qualified to be a center director back home. She helped me put the situation in perspective. Of course, everything blew over and work/my friendship was back to normal in an hour. Now I approach work as a means to an end. Ideally, I enjoy it and find meaning in it. But at the end of the day, it’s just my job, not my life.”

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Quick suggestion about commenting on these — if you’re going to refer back to one, rather than just using its number (“#11” or whatever), mention what it was about (e.g., “the one about figuring out which tasks you like”). Otherwise everyone will be scrolling back and forth to figure out which you’re talking about!

    (I’m adding this after a bunch of that has already happened, despite the time stamp on this post.)

    1. LBK*

      Agreed, I laughed out loud at that one (also, I am totally guilty of complaining about how cold it is in my office, but seriously, it is SO COLD).

      1. Cyndy*

        Kind of off topic, but for the last five years I have commented during each of my (many) dental office visits on how cold they keep their office–knowing that it is NEVER going to change. The fact that they haven’t invited me to find a dentist whose office faces West is admirable.

    2. Spoonie*

      Same song, different verse — at my office, we generally comment about how floor A is so much warmer than floor B and how coworker 1 would really probably appreciate sitting on floor A instead considering she’s always so cold, but coworker 2….ad nauseum.

    3. NW Mossy*

      It is! It’s also making me laugh because I just accepted a transfer to manage another team, and the first thing my new boss and new directs wanted to tell me is “OMG, it gets SO HOT over here in the afternoon!”

    4. ceiswyn*

      Office temperature is SRS BSNS!

      How can anyone live without learning that my side of the first floor is at least two degrees hotter than the other side?!

    5. k*

      Not 10 minutes after reading this someone in my office complained that they were cold. I almost burst out laughing at my desk.

    6. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Someone was complaining about the temperature while I was reading this!

    7. Lemon Zinger*

      Especially when the complaining coworker is wearing a sundress and sandals on a cold day! Like… sorry you’re cold, maybe you should have dressed appropriately?!

      1. Clever Name*

        My former officemate would do this. It would be 30 and snowing outside and he’d have on a light shirt and shoes with no socks (and his pant legs rolled up). At one point, he had the heater blasting so that it was 80 degrees in our shared office (I have a thermometer). I suggested to him that he wear more clothing rather than keeping our office at such a high temperature. I was prepared for the weather (a sweater and boots with socks) and I didn’t want to sweat through all of my clothing.

    8. CDL*

      At my first company, I worked in a department that had one big office for the 12 of us. The fight over temperature was a daily battle, as my manager was going through some hormonal changes and insisted that we put the AC at full blast, even in the dead of winter. I unfortunately sat right underneath the AC wall unit, and would have to spend the day in my winter coat and gloves. I’m not even a person who’s always cold – it was just unbearable.

      Despite my current office being slightly cold, I will never comment on temperature in the office again. If the temperature is manageable with a sweater on, that’s fine with me!

    9. Chihuahua Mom*

      My job is to install temperature controls in buildings. As much as you all complain about it, it’s even more frustrating trying to fix it most of the time because so much of it is relative to the person using the space. And then there are the energy efficiency demands of the facility owner.

      Needless to say, even as someone who can fix her own temperature situation, I have found the best solution is to dress appropriately.

  2. Rincat*

    #4 really hits home for me! I just left a job of 7+ yeras because that’s the state I was in – barely any formal processes, no documentation, always putting out fires and keeping things together with band-aids. Long-term projects were constantly falling by the wayside. Management wouldn’t stand up to customers who kept steamrolling over us and treating me like a personal assistant (I work in higher ed, so professors and high level campus administration). I realized I would never progress or have any career growth because there was just no time to do anything other than constantly duct-taping things. I left that job for a new one a couple months ago and I’m waaaay happier, less stressed, and more optimistic about my professional growth at my new place.

    1. Museum Educator*

      I am currently trying to get out of a job like #4… you’re giving me hope it’s possible!

      1. Rincat*

        It’s possible and it will happen for you! One of the things I found that was holding me back was getting stuck in too much venting and negativity – like #10. I let the negativity consume me and didn’t think anything would ever change or get better, even at a new job, so why try? But I realized I was hurting myself doing that – and also it was mostly instigated by a particular coworker, so I stopped talking to him – and all the energy I was using being negative I poured into the job search. Good luck!

    2. Stellaclair*

      I found this one (#4) to be soooo true in my current workplace. I am the first (and only) dedicated HR person for my current company so there are no processes in place around HR. I’ve been trying to make progress on an updated company handbook for nearly a year now (last update was in 2005). I’ve been trying to put policies in place. Hell, I’m still just trying to get managers to remember that I’m here. It’s hurting me, and it’s hurting the company. And it’s always a crisis in Accounting, where I get pulled in to assist. Do I know anything about accounting? No. Am I still forced to take time away from actual HR work to do things like physical inventory in the warehouse? Yes.

      It’s exhausting.

  3. Pup Seal*

    Number 4. Yeeeessss!

    I work at a dysfunctional non-profit that has fewer than 10 people. We have no focus. No structure. Something bad is always going on, and we’re always switching projects. The consequences of this: low funds, many frozen accounts, and always fearing you won’t have a job next week.

    You can’t grow when you’re constantly in survival mode.

    1. hayling*

      I worked at a startup that was like this. We never got anything done because we didn’t get the time to actually complete projects. The CEO confused being “nimble” with being schizophrenic.

      1. Pup Seal*

        At least we can put down we’re flexible and able to adapt to change on our resumes. Haha.

      2. Windchime*

        They called it “Agile” at my last workplace. Um, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

      3. Someone Else*

        Ah yes. For me, the CEO confused being “team players” with “Everyone drop what you’re doing and chip in because team X is having a faux emergency”. They were really proud every time an emergency got addressed all-hands-on-deck style, and would go out of their way to give kudos to the department who had the emergency for “fixing” it.

        These emergencies were often things like “the toilet was clogged and is now fixed” or “Fergus didn’t remember his monthly report was due this month”.

        1. StrikingFalcon*

          I really want to know how all hands on deck helps getting a toilet unclogged. Do you take turns? Does one person do the plunging while everyone else watches and complains about how much colder this bathroom is than the one upstairs?

    2. Mona Lisa*

      This was how the non-profit where I worked was, too. There were constantly fires that needed putting out, and it seemed that all hands needed to be on-deck to help, even if we weren’t directly affected by it or had no way of practically helping. It made it difficult to concentrate long-term on important projects and overall numbers because we needed to help this volunteer or staff member with their immediate deadline or emergency.

      1. Someone Else*

        That’s a perfect description! Especially “even if we weren’t directly affected by it or had no way of practically helping”. I remember so many meetings where I was required to attend because “this is related to your work” but honestly it wasn’t.

    3. TootsNYC*

      It’s interesting that part of the focus of this is that YOU don’t get any chance to grow in skills and experience.

      It’s really easy to see that it hurts the company. But there’s an extra level present when you realize that YOU don’t get to try something and see if it works, or observe good processes or practices and absorb them.

      The company may be able to keep on keeping on–but you’ll stagnate without the opportunity to truly accomplish growth.

  4. hayling*

    #10 rings so true for me. Complaining about work is the easiest way to bond with coworkers, but it can become such a cycle, and have really negative effects. For one, you end up reinforcing each others views and skewing your perception. Two, if your coworkers are known to be complainers, you get associated with them and labeled as a gossip or a Negative Nancy, and that’s not good for your reputation.

    1. k*

      I missed #10 in the other thread; it’s such a good point though. I’ve had someone venting to me a lot at work lately, and it’s amazing how much that’s impacted my feelings about my job. It really just brings the whole environment down.

      1. KHB*

        I have a different experience. I was just listening to a coworker’s complaints this morning (and she was listening to mine). By virtue of our different roles, I see problems that she doesn’t, and she sees problems that I don’t, and it turns out that what each of us was seeing as a handful of isolated, frustrating incidents is actually part of a larger pattern of problematic behavior coming from specific people. I’m glad we both know the bigger picture, now, because it means we’re in a better position to work with the boss to try to get things turned around.

        1. Letters*

          I think more what they’re addressing is people who do this to the exclusion of everything else, WITHOUT paying attention to what could be done to fix it. You’re doing venting the “right” way (lol) — in the sense that you’re listening to someone in another department bring up something you’ve never thought of, and promptly taking steps to address it.

          It’s constantly complaining without focus, as well as shooting down any attempts to correct what’s being complained about (“Oh, that will NEVER work, because the managers here are just idiots .. don’t even bother trying to say anything, they won’t listen!”) that’s really kind of self-defeating.

          But you’re totally right about seeing things from another person’s perspective — this is one of the reasons I am HUGE in my industry about cross-training. In the hotel industry I am a fan of EVERYONE having cross-training, even if you have no intention of ever working in the other department, just because departments are so interconnected. We get so focused on our own needs and wants as to the way things are done that we often don’t realize how the way WE do things influences someone else’s workday for better or for worse.

        2. Liane*

          I think it’s constant venting that is more the problem than a one-off or once-in-a-great-while gripe session. You and Coworker found a pattern or root cause/s and did something constructive.

          1. KHB*

            Well, but we didn’t know we were going to find a pattern or a path to a solution before we started talking.

            I guess my point is that the whole “come on, nobody likes a Negative Nancy” attitude bothers me because it can make people feel like they can’t speak up about legitimate problems.

    2. K.*

      I had to tell a former coworker to stop venting to me because it was bringing me down – and it was an environment in which I was already really down (I cried every day working there). I later found out that her boss spoke to her about it because a lot of people were complaining to the boss about her. (Funnily enough, she’s still at the company two years later.)

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        My colleague complains a lot too, and I’ve let our boss know (she works remotely and doesn’t interact with us in person very often). Unfortunately it seems to just be a part of her personality, and I’ve learned to not acknowledge her complaints or vents.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Sometimes the biggest complainers are the ones who privately believe they are stuck in their job.

    3. Rincat*

      I had to disengage from a coworker like that. I needed a new job, but constantly venting about everything with him did not make it any better. Breaking that cycle of negativity gave me more energy and resolve to go out and get a new job – which I did. I think if I had stayed with him in his little bitterness pool, I’d still be working there and even more miserable – he certainly is!

    4. SophieChotek*

      I need to work on that too. I just got off FB venting to a friend (not a co-worker) but even poor friend is probably sick of me venting always about the same thing. I mean, we need to blow off steam, and I know (or least I think I do) that some of my complaints are legitimate, but I also just need to not let it get to me and just keep going and work at what I can do to resolve the issue and not take things so personally or fall into #13 with the venting…

    5. PB*

      Oh my goodness, yes. My old work environment was so toxic, and my department made it worse. There was one clique that was super snarky and complained all the time, and then there was the quieter clique that complained about the snarky clique AND the job. I joined in at first (rookie mistake) because complaining feels good at the time. When I realized the error of my ways and tried to be more positive, it was hard to change, and even harder to communicate to others that I didn’t want to play that game anymore.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I had one job where survival depended on one’s ability to constantly complain.
        If you did not constantly complain something was obviously wrong with you and you would become topic of conversation for the complainers.
        The job was a lot of work, but I had been through worse and I could see that the job was doable with the right attitude. One day I worked with a person whose attitude was exemplary. What. a. difference. We got through a lot of work, I was less tired and we finished early. Even she said, “wow”.
        Sour grapes only makes our own jobs harder. No matter where we work something will be distasteful/difficult/needlessly complex. This comes with almost all jobs.

    6. Natalie*

      Definitely. My first job was with a group like that and it took me a while to see how their negativity was a huge part of the problem, *and* how the venting made them feel just better enough that they didn’t make any substantive changes to be happier. Two of them eventually moved on and are hugely happier now. I wonder if they ever regret not making that move sooner.

    7. Kore*

      I’m of two minds with #10 – on the one hand, having too much venting can really make things negative. But, on the other hand, it’s sometimes helpful – sometimes people need to vent. I’ve also been in circumstances where venting has helped someone realize “OK, this situation I’m in actually ISN’T normal.”

      1. CDL*

        I agree with this – I worked in an environment where everyone complained non-stop, and it definitely just added negative fuel to the fire. I left the company nine years ago but am still friendly with a few old colleagues. I’ve gone to happy hours where many of my old colleagues are present and they are having the exact same conversations that we had a decade ago. Word for word, the exact same conversations. While I used to feel sympathetic to their issues (it really is a dysfunctional workplace), they’ve also made no effort to change anything for themselves and it’s sad to watch.

        On the other hand, a current colleague and I are friends and vented to each other recently. We realized that the issues that we were experiencing with our boss were not normal and could really damage the entire team, so we put a plan into place to handle the issues. In that case, venting was productive, so it’s not always the worst thing.

        1. Someone Else*

          In my new workplace, there’s quite a bit of venting. I think there are some positives (though I would like more positivity overall).

          First, it helps me see my problem clients as part of a larger trend and take it less personally when their projects are frustrating. Rather than thinking I must be doing something wrong every time, I get the context that some clients just act that way and the boss can step into handle them if I need help.

          Second, a coworker who is very… irate…. was complaining about something. I tried spinning it more positively, and she shared something I hadn’t realized about how our process works and how things were supposed to go.

      2. Koko*

        I am the OP of #10, and to me the difference about venting vs. what you’re describing is that venting isn’t constructive – it’s just an airing of grievances. If you gripe to your boss or coworker about X problem and the conversation leads to, “You know, what we need to do is establish a standard policy and intake form for requests from Other Department so they don’t keep dumping these messes on us and expecting us to figure it out at the last minute.” And then doing that!

        Talking through a problem that’s driving you crazy is helpful if you’re trying to solve the problem. It’s less helpful when you aren’t. For your own mental health, you need to try to improve your situation in your job, or get a new job, not just stay in the one that makes you crazy and think that griping about it will preserve your sanity (because it won’t).

    8. Channel Z*

      Venting has so far been my biggest career mistake. I participated in it, and now regret it became a problem unto itself, separate from whatever we were venting about in the first place.

    9. Fiennes*

      My perspective on this got badly skewed in a workplace that was toxic to the core due to terrible management. (All blame, no responsibility; a cliquish boss who made her favorites go get manicures with her in their “free time”; loud, rude, public dressings-down for mistakes that sometimes proved either not to be mistakes at all or to have arisen from someone else; the boss openly mocking people’s appearance & weight, etc.) We DID talk there, but I swear to you, it had a whole lot less to do with dwelling in negativity than it did with being a kind of anti-gaslighting measure. Like, after the famous meeting in which our boss lectured us for an hour about how we (a) didn’t take responsibility and pushed everything onto her favorite manager AND (b) constantly overstepped our authority by not running absolutely everything by the same favorite manager for approval: We all had to talk afterward just to go, “Did that really happen? She did just yell at us for two things that cannot simultaneously be true? Okay, I guess that happened.” (FWIW, I honestly don’t think either tendency was an issue department-wide & maybe not for anyone; I think her favorite manager had cast blame in these directions and Evil Boss never stopped to think about how plausible any of it was.)

      There, this kind of talk with coworkers did serve a purpose. If you hadn’t been able to talk with anyone, you would’ve quit within a few weeks (as many did anyway). But that was a habit I carried into my next workplace, where it was NO GOOD AT ALL. It felt good to break that habit…even better not to need it anymore.

    10. Tau*

      I’ve just come from my senior coworker/team lead’s leaving do. He is I think the most negative person I’ve ever met. Although he was a great coworker in some ways and not having him on the team is going to cause some real chaos (I might have to assign myself work from now on because there are around 2-3 levels of management above me missing) I have got to say I’m not sorry to see him go. The complaining is so exhausting, and it’s so hard not to get sucked in. I really hope he’ll be happier at his new job, but I’m afraid the negativity is a habit he won’t be able to break.

    11. The Other Liz*

      The other problem with the venting is when it’s so often the lunchroom conversation. I was taken aback recently to hear two interns, who have been here mere months and treated well, complaining about something they havne’t seen firsthand but can be a problem at our organization. It’s a problem that many of us are working to address, constructively, and it’s a fantastic nonprofit to work at. It was jarring to hear two young people take on this culture of venting, and really gossiping about something they knew nothing of – they probably heard others venting about the problem. And I’ve seen them vent about other office issues in front of brand new staff, which is NOT the way to welcome new colleagues who haven’t gotten a chance to see all of the good things about working here yet.

  5. bb_nyc*

    I LOVE #12.
    As the person who receives all the complaints about the temperature in the office, I learned a long time ago that you will NEVER make everybody happy – when half the people complain it’s too hot, and half the people complain it’s too cold, then you’ve found the right temperature.

    1. Root*

      A coworker once threatened to write me up because I was shivering and burrowing inside my jacket and the heat was already on in our work vehicle.

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        I feel you. I shook hands with a new coworker once and they asked if I was even alive.

        1. Rob aka Mediancat*

          Maybe the co-worker thought Root was making a big production of it, or something? (Not saying Root was, just saying maybe that was the line of thought.)

    1. LJL*

      I need this to be embroidered and put up in my office: “You DO NOT have to like them. You just have to act like you don’t want to murder them.’”

      1. Liane*

        This is useful for many areas of life.
        Reminds me of that old tee shirt, “Stress is refraining from strangling someone who desperately needs strangling.”

    1. Leatherwings*

      Same! That’s the one that speaks to me the most. In my early career “the man” was pretty much always wrong. Then I became “the man” and realized how annoying it is when people to constantly question you on things they don’t have the full context to understand.

  6. Erin*

    Numbers 6 and 9 really speak to me.

    I had a lot of anxiety about quitting my first professional job – which was really two jobs with two different bosses to give notice to – and it went very smoothly.

    And I am still terrible at asking for help. But yes, if you can ask someone how to do something and they can tell you in 3 minutes that is much more time effective for everyone than if you spend 2 hours trying to figure out whatever it was.

    1. Purest Green*

      #9 is so important! Nobody’s ever asked me a question at work that made me think less of them.

      1. Red Reader*

        I have gotten a question at work that made me think less of the asker.

        Me: “Your revised form is completed and can be ordered by calling (phone number) and requesting (form number). Thanks!”
        Reply: “Great! When will it be done and how do we order those?”
        Me: *facepalm*

      2. Erin*

        It’s better to look a little dumb asking a question than look like a complete moron making a very dumb mistake.

      3. Tiffin*

        I agree that it’s important to ask questions when you don’t understand, but I do think less of people who ask me questions because they can’t be bothered to look it up in the documentation I’ve provided. The files are searchable; use them. It may not seem like a lot of time, but when I have multiple people coming to me every day asking me things that are written down already, it sucks up my time.

    2. Dana*

      I had/have that misconception in an extreme way – at my first job I was even afraid to ask stuff like “where do we keep the extra paper towels?” as if everyone else in the world has a designated Paper Towel Spot and I’m a clueless rube for not knowing that. I still feel sheepish about asking stuff I feel I ought to know but I’m getting better at just saying to a co-worker “I’ve never seen this kind of brake assembly before, where’s the cable access?” even though I’ve serviced hundreds of brake assemblies. It’s usually way more efficient that struggling until I figure it out or realize the thing is just broken.

      One I didn’t see on here, but I feel might ring true for people, is that I often worried that every tiny mistake was cause for firing and I had to be perfect at all times or else I would become unemployable and starve in the gutter.

      1. Anxa*

        One I didn’t see on here, but I feel might ring true for people, is that I often worried that every tiny mistake was cause for firing and I had to be perfect at all times or else I would become unemployable and starve in the gutter

        I’ve worked jobs where you DID have to be nearly perfect. Or least, you’d be fired on the spot, loudly and publicly for small mistakes. Mine was a quiet layoff for a seasonal staff reduction, but I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach. It definitely messed me up. And now of course you can’t just omit those experiences. Some applications make you divulge you’re whole job history and every firing. Also, I sometimes feel like I’m bordering unemployable and will end up homeless sooner or later (I know the attitude doesn’t help, but I am so so sick of hearing “something will give” year after year).

        1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

          I got told “Don’t bother coming in tomorrow.” by my boss three days into a waitressing job for not being ‘efficient’ (i.e., needing instruction and asking questions), when I’d *specifically told them* I had no waitressing experience and that it was my first job. During the job interview, before they’d even taken me on. So he’d hired someone who said “I don’t know how to do this, but I can learn” and then acted all surprised when I couldn’t do it at once… Bizarre.

          The worst part was, I’d done two unpaid shifts before that and I’d just got my first pay…

    3. Liane*

      “But yes, if you can ask someone how to do something and they can tell you in 3 minutes that is much more time effective for everyone than if you spend 2 hours trying to figure out whatever it was.”

      When we came in for tests, my high school physics teacher used have his blackboard covered with equations, constants, and so on that *might* (or might not) be needed to answer the questions. He told us it was because if you became a scientist, & you didn’t remember one of them, “You aren’t going to spend 30 minutes trying to remember it–y0u’re going to open the CRC [Handbook of Chemistry & Physics] & look it up.” And since he didn’t label what was on the board, we had to know what info was needed. It’s the only thing I recall from that class.

      I think I dated myself a few times here…

  7. Delta Delta*

    #10 – I learned that sometimes in-office venting isn’t confidential. I once vented to a co-worker about a particular thing that happened with an outside colleague. Co-worker ran into colleague’s boss somewhere and ended up telling her the things I said that happened. By the time it got back to me, it had been overblown into a giant thing that it didn’t need to be (was about 2 weeks later, the issue was resolved, and everyone had moved on), and put me in the position of having to apologize for having said something I believed was confidential.

    #4 – Lack of process can be so detrimental. Although it’s good to be flexible, without process people can feel unmoored and unstable. This can cause problems with morale, especially if someone wants to step in and create process where there hadn’t been any in the past.

    1. Elemeno P.*

      When I was a ride operator, I made an offhand comment to a coworker that it had been so long since I was in a position that I almost forgot how to do X task. It was a joke, as X task is vital and everyone knows how to do it, but a few minutes later I got a call from a supervisor frantically asking if I REALLY didn’t know how to do X task. I learned to really watch who I talked to there.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Confidential. Oh this one got me, because there are actually people who will keep a confidence. Finally I settled on speaking as if the whole damn world is listening. I ended up working at Toxic Job and this approach saved me so. many. problems. Everyone had to run to someone to repeat what was just said. They did not just do this to me, they did it to each other as it was almost the culture of the place.
      I finally learned to use the pipeline to fix problems. “Machine B is running too hot. We have a problem here. People have been ignoring it, but this could become an emergency very quickly.” Sure enough. Shortly after that the machine would get fixed. Proper channels did not work but the pipeline was reliable.

  8. NW Mossy*

    #11 is such a useful one, because circling back to “am I doing the kind of tasks I want to be doing?” throughout your career can help point the way to where you want to go next. We grow and change over time, and just like clothes, sometimes a type of work can become ill-fitting or lose its luster from overdoing it.

    Not so long ago, I couldn’t imagine giving up the intricate, down-in-the-weeds technical-expert work that I’d built my career now. Now that I’ve become more capable at big-picture thinking and planning, I’m finding myself gravitating towards it and angling my career towards senior leadership. It’s still sometimes hard for me to grasp how much my view of work and what I love to do has changed in just a handful of years.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      Yep, #11 is why I changed field and went from stressed and burnt out to blissfully happy and fulfilled.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I like this point a lot–that at 22 (or 18, or 35, or 50) you don’t know all of the things that you are going to enjoy or dislike. And those sets will not be unchanging. It’s a starting point. Tasks you really enjoyed can became too mundane, or draining, or high stress; once-bleah tasks might become neutral or enjoyable once you hit the right context for the task and right point in your own lifelong evolution.

      (For example, after the Peace Corps where I had to muddle around in French, public speaking went from “But I’m shy and hate people looking at me!” to “Can I do it in English? Yes? Fine.”)

    3. Someone Else*

      Yes, I remember when I started looking at what parts of my job I really enjoyed and excelled at, and realizing that my field wasn’t really the best fit for me to do those types of activities.

      Also, I was once talking with an acquaintance who told me she wanted to become a grant writer, but didn’t really feel good at writing or project management/organization. She just had in her head that “doing grants” would be useful to get her foot in the door – even though it’s a really different skill set than what she wanted to do.

  9. Callalily*

    #9: I still have problems with this. Someone is saying something complete gibberish at me and then asks “You know what that is?” and my knee jerk reaction is to say “Yes, of course”. Usually I fly under the radar and can google it before it causes any implications – but sometimes my boss will retort, “explain it to me” because he could tell from my glazed look that I had no idea.

    I then have to mumble my own gibberish and then submit to a 30 minute presentation on what it is – if I’d just admitted it, I probably would’ve gotten a one line explanation. To make it worse, it makes you look like a complete liar when you claim you know what something means/what happened/what to do and you really have no clue.

  10. Carolyn*

    #15 reminds me of my boss at my first job out of college. I was freaking out over something that happened, that really wasn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

    She sat me down and said: “What we do here is very important. But it’s not life or death.”

    I’ll never forget those words, and the way it hit me like a ton of bricks.

    1. NC*

      I think this is so useful 99% of the time but when it is closer to actual life or death it makes for a very rough transition. As a grant writer, I’ve worked for organizations that do just about everything, and I have to say the job that cost me the most sleep and kept my therapist in business was working for youth social services. The fact that the outcomes of my grants were *literally* tied to kids getting food, shelter, counseling…it came very close to breaking me altogether.

      1. Carolyn*

        Oh yes – sometimes it definitely is life or death. But my job as in marketing/event planning for a chamber of commerce definitely didn’t meet that criteria!!

      2. Someone Else*

        It’s hard when you have a different view point than your coworkers about the severity of things. I had an admin-style desk job that should have been just fine from 9-5. But because other team members had to be on call for emergencies, they viewed all of our work as life or death and by extension got upset when our team tried to stick to predictable hours.

        1. Freya UK*

          Yep, I’m in what is basically a fancy admin job (in finance), but you’d think the world economy would collapse if an email didn’t get replied to the day it was received *eyeroll*. I stick to my hours, I take my full lunch hour – yet somehow, somehow – I get my work done, and have yet to instigate the apocalypse. I’m definitely considered an untrustworthy monster however, what with prioritising my actual life n’all.

  11. Manders*

    Oof, #2 hit me hard this week. The person who did a task before me screwed something up badly, and when my boss called me into my office, he was muppet-flailing and kept asking me why I did the thing. I don’t know, boss! Wasn’t me! Once I got back to my desk I was able to figure out how the thing happened and how I was going to fix it, but I didn’t handle that conversation with grace and I definitely contributed to the general mass flailing.

    On the plus side, I was the person who posted #1, and this week I finally got permission to move my desk into a quieter room AND got the wheels turning on overdue performance reviews. Speaking up does work!

    1. sstabeler*

      I think with #2, it depends on the situation. To use a metaphor, if the house is on fire, then concentrate on putting the fire out then figure out who caused it- in other words, fix the problem, then figure out who caused it and how it happened, as opposed to sitting around arguing who caused the problem while it gets worse and worse.

    2. Dana*

      It is sometimes important to know who flubbed it so that person can be taught how to do it correctly, but honest mistakes also happen. I couldn’t agree with sstabeler more! It’s frustrating to be blamed for someone else’s clueless error though

    3. paul*

      Sometimes it’s OK to point out that it wasn’t you that did it, and it is impossible to fix.

      An employer, a year or so before I started, had a major computer crash. At that time they didn’t have any back up (HOLY HELL WHY NOT, it’s been years and I still can’t fathom that).

      They asked me for records from the year before the crash and I had to inform our CEO that there were no backups due to cost saving measures implemented previously (I didn’t say due to her and the board choosing a bad place to pinch pennies, I’m not that crazy).

  12. Ms. Meow*

    #4 perfectly defines the thing about my job that I haven’t been able to properly describe. I’ve been here 1.5 years and on-boarding was practically non-existent. Point #4 made me realize that, for my position, typical on-boarding is nearly impossible because 70% of my job is putting out fires: dealing with The Emergency of the Day rather than routine business. I’ve had a hard time picking up the day-to-day work because I’ve been so distracted by trying to figure out how to handle every last-minute crises that comes into my inbox. And every fire has a different way to fight it.

    Holy perspective, Batman.

    1. babblemouth*

      Some jobs are truly focused on dealing with emergencies exclusively, and that’s not necessarily unfair, but if that’s the case, it is also possible to have a process for that. it can go like:
      – a set-up for anyone to escalate a situation they see as an emergency (for example: you can report this to your immeidate manager who then has to use their own reflection to decide if they need to escalate further, or should resolve at this level);
      – a group of people looks at the crisis situation as escalated, and is empowered to decide on next steps, including who is pulled from their day-to-day work to help find a solution, what is the stop-gap solution while the emergency is resolved etc.;
      – a clear system to separate emergencies: is this a PR crisis? is this a security crisis? so everyone knows where to stand. If it’s a PR crisis and my job is not at all related to PR, I know I don’t need to worry;
      – the crisis group is also responsible for de-escalating, i.e. saying official “the situation is now stabilised, Bob, Jane and Fergus are in charge of the resolution, everyone can stand down;
      – the members os the crisis should have a crisis training, so they can manage the situation as well as their stress levels;
      – all other staff know that unless the crisis group are the ones pulling them off a task to deal with an emergency, it’s not a crisis and they can turn down this emergency and get on with work.

      All this to say: even a situation which on first sight has no process can have a process. A forest fire is messy, unpredictable, and extremely high risk, yet fire brigades still have ways to organise the chain of command so everyone knows where they stand, and can focus adequately.

      1. Sketchee*

        Great point! I’ve been taking classes in improv and seeing that… Even making things up on the spot has a process. It’s basically “if/then” planning. It’s helpful at my job more than I realized initially while doing it as a hobby.

      2. Someone Else*

        Babblemouth, I love that perspective. It made me realize that’s exactly what our programming department has done – they have an assigned person each week to handle incoming issues and determine what to do with them. That lets all the other people focus. It shifts around, so each person gets time to focus on their projects.

  13. Responsible party*

    #2–can I work there? At my previous place of employment, it was basically all about “who screwed this up?” And I made the unfortunate mistake of supporting the directors beneath me who had, in fact, screwed up, because they were my people and we were a team. You’d think they, at least, would have appreciated that…

    Relatedly, #13–absolutely. Though I suspected, before I was the boss, that these were the issues. But I don’t have much respect for my former boss, because she didn’t try to do anything to address issues, and focused solely on keeping everyone (well, except for me and a few other contributors) happy. Should have learned the lesson, though–had I basically put my feet up and avoided all of the problems, as has been done in that office for the nearly two decades I was there, perhaps I would still have a paycheck.

    1. Responsible party*

      And also relatedly, #4–if there are no processes in place, and you try to institute them, don’t expect anyone, above, below, or beside you on the org chart, to be happy. And they know where to point the finger.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        Oh yes!!! I worked in a department that just ran from one fire to the next (even though half of it was stuff that comes up regularly). I was like “guys, if we just take 30 seconds to move this one can of kerosene away from the heater we can prevent at least one fire. Also, b/c kerosene next to the heater has blown up like three times already and the painter won’t stop putting the kerosene next to the heater, how about I institute a once week check (which will take 5 seconds) to be sure that there is no kerosene next to the heater.”

        They acted like I had three heads and labeled me “not a team player”.

        1. Someone Else*

          Love it. I can totally see “You’re not being a team player, just focus on today’s fire. We obviously don’t have the time to check the kerosene once a week!”

  14. Nervous Accountant*

    Can we still post what our misconceptions were if we didn’t get the chance to post last week?

  15. qtipqueen*

    #5 is brilliant. I love the line, “Being innovative is more than just ‘having brilliant ideas,’ it’s doing the work to make them feasible, too.”

    I was guilty of this when I started my first job. Everything seemed so obvious, why can’t we just do it this way? I am thankful for a boss who explained, well, we did, and this disaster happened.

    Just so so important.

  16. Kc89*

    Ugh I work in an office of “cold” people and hear about a dozen times a day how cold the office is

    It’s not that cold

    1. JeanB*

      Our receptionist has a space heater on all the time. I have a thing about space heaters to start with, and that combined with her slightly excessive perfume means that I’m basically walking into a heated wall of perfume. It’s really gross.

      1. Frozen Up North*

        I have a similar situation, but opposite. I sit next to someone who has a fan on all.the.time. We’re in Alaska and the HVAC in here is so bad. And he smokes cloves. I have a constant stream of smokey clovey cold air blowing at me.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I once worked in an office where I was sweating the entire time and everyone else seemed normal. I just assumed I was starting to go through a super early menopause with hot flashes, and didn’t say anything to anyone; though I was understandably upset that this would be happening to me in my early 40s. Then one day, a coworker brought a thermometer in and the thermometer showed 80. I love this guy so much, to this day.

      1. Chaordic One*

        I worked in a freezing workplace and also brought in a thermometer. The thermometer showed a consistent 70 degrees.

        Over time I came to think that the real problem was that the office had a cold concrete floor and I coped by wearing thick socks and thick-soled footwear with insulated thermal inserts in them. I’d change to sneakers in my car.

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #3 – about thinking the people in charge would know what they were doing – was a HUGE awakening for me early in my career. Over time, I’ve learned that the more you make, the less you seem to know about what is actually going on. In my experience, those people are looking at the ‘big picture’ but don’t really understand what is happening down in the trenches to get results and then they make decisions based on what they *think* should be happening.

    1. many bells down*

      I still bump up against this one, and I’m in my 40’s. Most recently, I discovered one of the costumes on exhibit in the museum I work at had the wrong designer’s name on it. But I couldn’t believe an experienced curator could have messed that up, so I was afraid to say anything. I finally took it to my boss, with all kinds of softened language (I think maybe … I’m not sure but …”) and she took it to the curator.

      And I was right. They did get it wrong.

    2. NW Mossy*

      And they can bring in their own biases, too, which is sometimes surprising. Recently, I saw a senior leader have a fear/anxiety reaction over a potential negative outcome that was vastly overblown given the reasonable likelihood of that situation coming to pass. It was a good reminder that cognitive biases affect everyone, at all organizational levels.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        The first place I saw it was in hospital staffing. They wanted to increase the patient census so they would make more money, but they weren’t willing to pay for appropriate staff levels to take care of those patients.

        1. Chaordic One*

          Yeah, increase productivity or sales or whatever, with the same old tools and the same number of people and then they wonder why workers get burnt-out and quit.

  18. Wolfess*

    I struggle so much with the work/life mentality balance in #15, probably because for full-time jobs, most of our waking and daylight time is spent at work; how can it not be considered a significant chunk out of our lives and therefore part of it, not separate?

    1. Anxa*

      Especially because even when you’re not at work, you’re supporting your ability to do work. Many of hours off the clock are doing things we wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t for getting ready to go to work. Arranging commutes, laundry, getting to and from work, hair/makeup/more elaborate dress, packing meals, etc. Plus, you have to be careful not to fall asleep without having alarms set, getting stranding outside of town, etc. It’s not like your personal time is really your own.

  19. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    Love #8. It always surprises me the number of people who do not know how to be “Professional”. My department just got rid of someone who had no idea how to be professional. She had no filter and no boundaries. I can also relate to #14. I have a notebook filled with ALL the things I’ve had to learn and figure out on my own.

    1. oldbiddy*

      I have no idea when people started thinking that being professional at work/not saying every thought that jumps into your head/being polite to people you don’t like meant that you were being fake. (I’ve encountered this in other situations as well.) It just means that you are an adult in the work world.

  20. Jan Levinson*

    #15/”this is your job, not your life” is my favorite.

    No matter what happens during the day, I NEVER let myself leave the office, and stress about work at home. I did that all the time at my old job, and it eventually tore me apart. I defined my self-worth based on how my job was going. It overtook every aspect of my life.

    Now, I realize that I am a person beyond my career. I’m a wife, a daughter, a friend, a Christian, a runner, a reader, a Netflix binge watcher, a cook, and so much more. My job is part of my life, but it’s not my whole life.

  21. Catnip Melba Toast*

    #3 Definitely. This blog has definitely taught me that there are plenty of managers out there who have no idea how to manage, or have prioritized keeping the peace over getting conflicts resolved. I had a boss give me very bad advice about how to handle a direct report who constantly under-minded me. I finally transferred to a different department after three years of that hell. My only regret was that I stayed so long. I just kept thinking it would work itself out eventually. Bah! How was I ever that naive?

  22. Fiennes*

    Corollary to #2: if your bosses actually do care more about assigning blame/punishment than fixing the problem and the process, you are probably in a toxic work environment. Seriously, IMO this is the reddest of red flags about a workplace.

        1. Chaordic One*

          Your observations certainly shed some insight on things. My last boss was active in politics and ran for office several times. He wasn’t in the office all that much and he never won an election.

  23. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    Oh wow – #4 (about the lack of processes being detrimental to your long-term growth) really hit home for me!!! That is exactly why I left my last position. Our dept did need to be prepared to be fire fighters, but at least half the stuff we dealt was stuff that happens regularly – annually, quarterly or maybe not consistently, but it would definitely pop up avery couple of months. They had no documentation whatsoever!!! It felt like I was re-inventing the wheel with everything I did – even though I knew these things had been done before. I’d ask colleagues “well, how did you deal with this last year” and then we’d have to piece it together based on email trails, but inevitably some key person would have left or login info for certain systems was never noted. I was in the position for less than a year, but I left behind almost 100 pages of documented processes, contact lists and info. The person I left it with was completely dumbfounded – she could not understand what the purpose of this was and why I wasted so much time creating it.

    I really struggled in how to explain why I was leaving the role. I framed it as more of poor cultural fit. Next time I’m jub hunting though, this is exactly how I’m going to frame it. There was no room for growth or any sort of long-term planning because we were always in fire-fighter mode.

  24. Channel Z*

    #12 Hot and cold, I didn’t get this at first. I live in a country where complaining about the temperature and weather is normal, every day conversation ALL the time, at home, at work, everywhere. And it is often done in question, so response is expected. “It’s cold in here, isn’t it?” “It’s miserable out, isn’t it?” “It’s nice to see the sun for a change, sure it is?”

    1. Jesse*

      I was talking to a guy from Rwanda one time, and he was saying how funny he thought it was that we (in the Northeast US) talk about weather ALL. THE. TIME. But he totally got it — in Rwanda, the weather is basically always perfect, so there’s nothing to say!

      1. LadyKelvin*

        I grew up in an area in the NE US where if the sun was shining, you took the day off because it was such a rare occurrence. Now I live in HI where a cloudy day is a rarity and it is so hard for me to accept that just because it is sunny today doesn’t mean I should blow off work, it will be sunny on the weekend too. But living where every day the temperature is within a few degrees of itself is absolutely worth losing the ability to discuss the weather.

        My office, on the other hand, has a bit of a running joke about the troubles we have regulating temperatures. Some areas have big fans to keep the area somewhat cool while my program are referred to as the “puffy jacket” club because we are always dressed like it is winter.

  25. Lissa*

    Oh, yes, to 13, about not assuming you’re smarter than the boss, and that also relates to 5, the bit about not seeing a problem and thinking “well, there’s a really obvious fix, my coworkers must be dumb to have not seen it!” These two are so huge especially with people who are used to being the “brilliant” one. I see it in all walks of life. I do a volunteer gig that involves the metaphorical herding of cats, and putting a *lot* of effort into something that other people participate in. For a long time I was only on the “participant” side, and would do a lot of venting about the organizers when things weren’t perfect. Well, now I am an organizer, and have decided I will never again rant and rave because something didn’t go perfectly when people are putting time/effort in for free to try to help others have a good time.

    Heck, I even see this attitude when it comes to criticism of our municipal politicians/leaders! “Why have these idiots not fixed X problem yet??” Always said with this tone like if *they* were put in charge, obviously they would be able to do something no other person yet managed despite multiple different people/groups having tried.

  26. Jade*

    As far as the one about not venting at work (#10), one thing that took me a while into my professional career to figure out is that if you’re all complaining about problems that *have* been brought to management repeatedly, and nothing’s been done about any of it, *that’s not normal*! I was at my first job for 10 years, and my coworkers and I would gripe, and some of them would just pass it off as “Well that’s just the working world for you. Nobody ever listens to the peons.”

    It took me until the job I had after that one to realize that there are companies and managers out there who do listen to their employees. My whole experience at that first job soured me into an “us vs. them” mentality, where employees were the victims and managers were the self-important jerks just out to ruin our lives. That mentality still creeps up on me today, and I have to remind myself that not every disagreement with management is a personal attack from some power-seeking corporate shills.

    1. Sami*

      Sometimes there are problems inherent with jobs that simply cannot be fixed. No amount of wishing, hoping, money or magic will solve it. At that point, a little (very little) venting can be cathartic but it’s ultimately useless.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Adding to this list: some companies (or departments, or groups) have a life cycle. Sometimes, some of them really are circling the drain; or, worse, are being deliberately phased out. At this point, mutual venting can help everyone involved determine that what’s happening at their workplace is not normal, and isn’t something that is only in their head; and make their own future plans accordingly. I admit that this is an exceptional situation.

  27. Tableau Wizard*

    Ahh, I made the list! Day Made!

    And seriously, thanks for doing that post and compiling this list. Yet another great resource for me to share with my peers when we’re sharing advice and war stories from work.

  28. Koko*

    Oooh, so much this one: “If a process or tool doesn’t work the way an employee thinks it should, it must be broken and in need of fixing.”

    As a general rule, whenever I want to write an email that says, “Your stupid tool/process doesn’t work and won’t give me what I need,” instead I write an email that says, “I need to do X. Can you show me how to do that with your tool/process?”

    Even if the tool/process is stupid and doesn’t work, you don’t want that to be your default assumption because you look like a jerk when it turns out you were the one misusing or ignorant about the tool/process. Assume by default that the tool/process works and that you just haven’t figured it out yet; most people will react kindly to someone asking for help.

    1. Caity*

      Yes, I have been so guilty of this! I used to always compare my current workplace’s training procedures to those at the place I worked before, without understanding all the big differences that made the other approach not work for us: time, budget, fitting in with similar regional organizations, resource sharing, even just tradition! I honestly thought I could fix something that no one else considered a problem, when I’d been there six months. Now I understand better the processes we have, the barriers to change, the benefits to these methods, and my role in suggesting new ideas!

  29. Time Bomb of Petulance*

    #7 and #15 are two things I struggled with until I reached mid-level in my career field. This is a great list. Thanks, Alison!

  30. Caity*

    I think understanding your boss’ job is harder than it looks is so critical. I have slowly, over time, come to see that being high up in administration at my organization means being beholden to about a hundred different stakeholders/groups. Even if they all mostly want the same thing (our success in fulfilling our mission), how we go about that can vary a great deal, and any route the big boss chooses will make some of those people mad! I sincerely thought for many years that the big boss was just “out of touch” and not aligned with my values or the needs of the population we serve. Now I don’t always agree with upper management decisions, but I understand better what all they’re taking into consideration.

    What has helped on their end is a renewed commitment to transparency and communication. What has helped in my end us learning more about the organization, the regulations we work under, similar organizations, and all our different groups (unions, committees, etc.), and of course being around long enough to now have context for today’s decisions. I guess mostly this is a lesson in humility, actually!

  31. Erin*

    #15 Work to live, don’t live to work. It helps keep things in perspective and gives a healthy work/life separation so you don’t get overly emotional.

    1. MashaKasha*

      I can relate to #15 too. My parents worked at a large manufacturing plant in a small town where everyone came to work straight out of college and stayed till retirement, people befriended each other, dated, got married, had kids, divorced, cheated on their spouses etc etc, all within the same work community. (My mom now calls her old work friend on the phone once a week, and she gives my mom the names of all the mutual work friends who passed away since the last call – they’re all in their late 70s or early 80s now.) My first workplace was the same way – large manufacturing plant where we were all like a big happy dysfunctional family that spent all of our time together both at work and outside of work. Then my family moved to the US. It’s different here. I like it better the way it is done here (“you don’t have to like them, you just have to act like you don’t want to murder them” pretty much covers it). But before I came to realize the beauty of working to live vs. living to work, I made a lot of potentially career-limiting mistakes by being close friends with the wrong coworkers, going to the wrong parties, developing work crushes, allowing a boss to hit on me and so on. As soon as it finally dawned on me how miserable it was making me to treat work as “home away from home” and my coworkers as my work family, and as soon as I made changes to my attitude, both my life and my career got so much better.

  32. Alli*

    The one about asking questions – man, I still struggle daily with this one. I got an engineering degree, then went to law school, practiced law for a few years, decided I was over that and went back to being an engineer – and now I work onsite for a client doing calculations I haven’t done since undergrad. I spend a lot of time Googling formulas and consulting books before I can get up the nerve to ask a question that I feel like I “should” know the answer to.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      That reminds me of a phrase my 4th grade teacher taught us: “See three before me.” If you can’t figure out your answer in three different attempts, then go to a higher-up! That helps me because when I go to my boss I tell her, “I tried X, Y, and Z and I still couldn’t get the tea water to boil.” It shows I did put effort into coming to a conclusion.

    2. Imaginary Number*

      I’m an engineer as well. Nobody knows everything. It’s so hard to sit in a room where everyone else seems to be talking about a Turboencabulator like it’s as common as a screwdriver and you have to force yourself to say “Uh, I’m sorry, but what actually is a turboencabulator?” Except the only thing worse is pretending like you understand their conversations and then two weeks later you still don’t know what a turboencabulator is, so it’s better to swallow your pride and ask the obvious (or not-so-obvious 9/10) question.

  33. paul*

    8 gets to the heart of what my past and current (we keep running into each other) boss said in a staff meeting.

    Being professional with someone you personally really can’t stand is NOT being fake. It is being an adult.

    5–understanding processes before you decide they suck and are stupid–could have maybe helped out a past boss that I grew to hate too. There’s a balance between thinking outside the box and being crazy.

  34. Venus Supreme*

    “Many times, being professional means doing something or acting in a way that I would have that I would have thought of as fake or disingenuous when I was in school.”

    When I first read this in the original thread, it stuck with me. It’s still sticking with me. I’ve always prided myself on “being real” and not being a phony (thanks, Holden Caulfield) while I was in school, but it’s now affecting how much I like working here. I re-frame my conversations with them as sharing facts and stories, not my opinions or personal stuff. It’s helped so much.

  35. Nonnie*

    A bit in the same vein: How To Adult just released a video about starting a new job: (the remark about catchphrases is an inside joke about the previous hosts never quite figuring out how to end the videos, though. I don’t think that advice was meant to be taken seriously..!)

  36. Greg*

    Didn’t get a chance to submit mine at the time, so I’ll do it now:

    “Stuff” rolls downhill. No matter how big your organization, what happens at the top will eventually have an impact on you, so pay attention. If your immediate boss is great but senior management is terrible, your boss won’t be able to protect you (or herself, for that matter). Conversely, if the company has great management, they’ll be more likely to filter out the bad bosses. If your company gets acquired and they promise nothing will change, don’t believe them. It may be true, but they would say the exact same thing if they were planning on laying off your whole division next week. Early in my career, I tended to believe I was removed from all of that stuff and could just focus on my immediate tasks. It invariably came back to bite me.

  37. JS*

    Great list.

    I think #7, “I think my biggest misconception was that I’d get regular feedback and plenty of it, and that I’d know where I stood at all times. As a corollary, I assumed that if anyone had a problem with my work, they would tell me and I would have the ability and opportunity to correct it. So if no one was actually complaining about me, I figured, ‘Hey, I’m doing great! If I wasn’t, someone would have told me”

    Is something that is not always given due to company politics, favoritism, etc. but should be an indication of an ideal work environment if you do receive it. Not that you need validation or a gold star sticker every week or after every project but if there is an issue it should be brought to your attention in a forthright manner. On that note, also having some self-reflection abilities to so you can confirm with your boss/supervisor any perceived issues or problems you may have is also necessary as-is the ability to know if something is slacking so you can fix it without needing to be told.

    It rings true especially for me as I was fired from a job after receiving a “final warning” out of nowhere, for something I was not given the chance to correct particularly because management was given false information. But it just goes to show you cant assume because no one has complained about you nor brought anything up, there isnt perceptions or issues there.

  38. Elephants Gerald*

    I related to a lot of these (maybe a few too many?), but what I most needed today was #11, about figuring out what tasks you actually like. I’ve been increasingly unhappy at my job, even though I still strongly believe in its mission and like the idea of what my title means, because I’m being asked to do more and more tasks that don’t align with what I feel good at and actually enjoy (and in fact distract from the things I think should really be my job). I keep waiting for it to magically get better, but it’s probably time to move on.

  39. Dizzy Steinway*

    Further to #3, about mistakenly thinking the higher-ups know what they’re doing and have it all together.

    There’s a little trick I use to help me convey information that someone more senior might or might not have, without seeming condescending or like I’m assuming they won’t know – so it’s helpful if they actually don’t know, and inoffensive and unremarkable if they do.

    All I do is add something like “seeing as…” or “given that…”

    So I wouldn’t say: “It’s not possible to open teapot lids using telekinesis.”

    Rather, I’d say something like: “As it’s not possible to open teapot lids using telekinesis…” or “Given that it’s not possible…”

  40. Freya UK*

    Number 15 FOREVER.

    Work has never formed any part of my identity or self-esteem, but I have invested too much (time, mentally, emotionally) before now, and ultimately ended up with it taking far more from me than it had any right to.

  41. BlueWolf*

    I sort of had a similar situation to #4 in my old job because it was a small office. I had sort of created my particular role from the ground up, so there were no existing processes in place. Although I did implement some new processes, it was never as good as I wanted it to be because I was constantly trying to put out fires or deal with “urgent” requests that would pop up. Now I’m in a new job in a larger company where there are existing structures and processes and I definitely feel less stressed.

  42. Tiffin*

    “If a process or tool doesn’t work the way an employee thinks it should, it must be broken and in need of fixing.”

    I have struggled with other people thinking this so, so frequently in 2 different jobs. It is frustrating and honestly makes me think less of the people doing it (which might not be fair, but whatever). If you come to me and ask why we do something a certain way or say you have a suggestion, fantastic. I will be happy to talk to you about it to explain and possibly implement the change if it is a good one. However, if you come to me telling me all the problems with the process or just decide you aren’t going to do it our way without any background information, I’m going to think you are arrogant; if you do this and it creates more work for me when I have to clean up your mess, it’s going to affect your performance review.

  43. Beancounter in Texas*

    I didn’t get a chance to comment when Alison invited stories, but a lesson I learned the hard way is not to make coworkers personal friends outside of work, which I thought was normal as a rookie. I did that at my first long-term job and it backfired, to the point that this “friend” got me in trouble at work. Never again.

  44. Simba*

    About number 5, about new employees believing processes are broken if they don’t make sense to them: I recently started a new job, and there are several protocols that seem arbitrary, so during training I asked my supervisor about them. I was frequently told there was no logic behind the process, and “that’s just how we have to do things.”

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