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Overcoming those pesky misconceptions

Friday, May 12, 2000, 1:59 p.m.

There I was, 22 years old and ready to take the world by the horns. In less than one minute, I would be graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi with an undergraduate degree in economics/international business.

I had it all planned out. I was going to get a great job with an international company, travel the world and make big money. It was all just going to fall into place.

At 2 p.m., give or take a few minutes, I crossed that podium, switched over my tassel, and it was over. There was the world staring me in the face. No study groups, no teachers, no gas card with Dad’s name on it.

What was I supposed to do now?

‘No? What do you mean?’

First thing on the agenda was to find a job; that should be easy, I thought.

I knew that my Business Etiquette instructor had told us that it could take an average of six months to find a job, but she wasn’t talking about me.

What company would not want to hire me? I was young, freshly educated and female with absolutely no experience in my field — sounds appealing doesn’t it? I thought so, but apparently that was not the general consensus of the employers in the running for the honor of my presence.

Little did I know that this was only one of the many misconceptions I had about my transition into the workforce.

Getting on the job

According to my degree, I could only apply for jobs involving international business and nothing else would do. Right? Apparently not.

So, that was my first misconception.

Many of the people I went through college with work in a field that has nothing to do with the degree they earned. I thought my degree would guarantee me a job in that particular industry, but the only thing it guaranteed was that it would look good hanging on the wall in my office. Don’t get me wrong, it was well worth the 17 years of school, but it didn’t define the rest of my career.

Since I could not find the job that I was “guaranteed,” I finally took one as an office manager for a local doctor. He actually wanted someone with little to no experience so he could “mold me into what he wanted me to be.”

As this point I discovered my second misconception: If I did my job well, I could make everyone happy. I quickly learned that this is an impossible feat.

I was so concerned with making everyone happy that I ended up making myself miserable. I had to learn that the only person I needed to make sure was happy was the person I was working for, the boss.

I’m not saying that I quit caring what my coworkers thought or how they felt, I just had to get my priorities straight. As long as I was respectful and courteous, my coworkers knew that I was just doing my job.

Plus, as the old saying goes, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Once I got my people-pleasing skills under control, I had to learn how to delegate. All through college, I went with the instinct that if I wanted things done right, I should do them myself. This worked fine for me at the time, but I could not continue that way if I wanted to be a successful manager.

I had to determine what things I needed to do and what things could be given to someone else. This skill is still a work in progress, but so am I.

There’ve been positives, too

I don’t mean to sound as if my entire transition was full of misconceptions.

There were several things that went as expected or better.
For example, I had anticipated more responsibility than I had in school. I was given tasks and they were expected to be done.

There were no “the dog ate my homework” excuses. I liked this added responsibility. It made me feel like I was becoming an adult and a person that could stand up to a challenge and take care of myself.

I remember the first box of business cards I received. I thought, “Wow, I am somebody now!”

Getting the most out of it

Not everyone gets so excited over their first box of business cards, but I did. Not everyone had the same misconceptions that I had either. What I can say that goes for almost everybody is that they had to make some sort of personal adjustments when they entered the workforce.

I’ve had to make personal adjustments everyday, and probably will for the rest of my life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that life is a learning process and experience is my teacher.

My personal goal is to get the most out of every experience and encounter I have, and hopefully one day be able to say that I helped influence somebody else to do the same.

Brooke Jones is circulation manager of the Mississippi Business Journal. Her e-mail address is bajones@msbusiness.com.

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