I’ve been working in my first professional job for about six months now. I work for a marketing agency, which is an environment that I’ve found sometimes stressful, sometimes overwhelming, but always engaging and interesting.

Flexibility is a big part of the job — flexibility and the willingness to adapt to change as it happens on the fly. I have many examples that I can talk about, but I want to discuss two that are larger and more overarching. They represent my overall introduction into the realities of professional life.

Embracing Compromise to Improve Productivity

I like to think of them as compromises, not compromises between another person and myself, but between my prior expectations of what work life would be like and the actual realities of it. Any true compromise requires a concession, and these two examples are no different.

In the first, I had to concede that my preferred way of getting work done just wasn’t suited to the industry in which I found myself. In the second, I had to concede that some of my beliefs were based on insufficient evidence and were, therefore, a bit misguided.

A Preferred Way to Work Versus the Optimal Way to Work

Both in school and in previous summer jobs, I was adamantly a one-task-at-a-time person.

Multitasking seemed silly to me, a misguided attempt to do more in less time that just ended backfiring completely. Likewise, working on multiple projects at once seemed frustrating. If you’re super invested in the task at hand, why would you stop that and begin work on something else? That practice seemed unbelievably unsatisfying.

My philosophy of task management was rigid: figure out due dates for your projects, and knock them out one at a time — no bouncing around. No diversions. I cherished the predictability of doing just one thing, investing all my time and energy in that one thing, and not worrying what was next until that one thing was completed.

This was until I began working at the agency. I quickly realized a couple things:

  1. My ideal way of working was unsustainable and non-optimal given the inherently chaotic nature of the industry.
  2. If I continued to be stubborn about my way being the only way, I wasn’t going to last more than a few months.

As of now, I’m responsible for four or five clients. Each day there are numerous requests for ad-hoc support, questions and emails that need answering, meetings to be scheduled, canceled, and rescheduled. There are some tasks that take five hours and some that take five minutes, though both may be of equal importance. Projects and due dates overlap constantly. It is unavoidable, yet during my first few weeks, I tried to avoid it. I tried to stick to my one-task ideal but found that I was falling behind almost instantly. A change was needed.

I conceded a little to gain a lot.

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I settled on a variation of my one-task method. Instead of focusing on the big goal of “finish this project,” I began to set multiple, smaller-scale, more granular goals. A single task became four or five steps, and each day I’d try to finish maybe one or two of those steps before moving on to the next project that needed attention. I could invest all of my time into completing those one or two steps, then switch gears to another project without feeling like I had accomplished nothing.

Therein was the compromise; I conceded a little to gain a lot. I conceded my preferred way of working for a slightly different method. I gained a workflow that was manageable and congruent with the inherent chaos of my job.

An Idea of Professionalism Versus Reality

Before I began my first professional job, I had it in my mind that everyone would be uber serious all the time. I thought that people — both my coworkers and my clients — would be on the ball 100 percent of the time. They’d know what they wanted, and they’d know how to express it in a clear and understandable manner. They’d be realistic about deadlines and workflow. They’d be organized, punctual, and courteous at all times during meetings. Clients would be understanding of the time restraints we faced.

professional expectation versus realityAfter six months of immersion in professional life, I’ve come to find that my perception wasn’t quite accurate. But that’s not to disparage my coworkers or my clients — it’s to call them human.

I’ve had clients cancel calls and projects at the last minute. I’ve also had many calls where the client simply never showed up. I’ve had to bug clients incessantly for items that are necessary to the work we are doing for them, only to be met with total radio silence. I’ve heard clients get upset on the phone, and I’ve heard coworkers vent about it after the fact. Emotions are not always subdued in the 9-5 environment.

In my perception of professional life, I thought everyone would be perfect, level-headed, and organized. In other words, mistake-free. The reality is that people make mistakes, they get upset, and they lose track of time and deadlines — and that’s okay.

Over the past six months, I’ve realized that “professionalism” doesn’t mean being mistake-free all the time; it means gracefully recovering when you do (inevitably) make a mistake. In this compromise, I had to concede that my impression of professionalism was the result of naiveté. And my gain? In the future, I’ll be more understanding of the faults of both my clients and my colleagues. I’ll try to avoid mistakes in my day-to-day work, but I won’t be afraid of making them.

How has the reality of your line of work differed from your original expectations? Have you been as flexible as you can be? Have you made compromises when it was in your best interest?

Sometimes, you have to give a little to get a lot back. It’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to embrace something new.

Featured Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Additional Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash
When a new position doesn't meet our exact expectations, it's challenging. Sometimes a little bit of compromise goes a long way to improving our productivity and our job satisfaction.

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