The 14 lessons I’m taking with me in 2014

keep calmWow, can you believe 2013 is over? It went by extremely fast and was full of challenges. 2013 taught me some big lessons – most of which occurred during the one month I wasn’t employed full-time. Only those closest to me know, but in late August, I was laid off. I was shocked, confused and thought I would be the last person to ever encounter such an experience; but it happens to even the best of us despite a great performance.

The next few weeks were a blur. In the matter of a month, I interviewed at some of the largest companies in Columbus. It was a chaotic mess consisting of me spilling coffee on my suit before interviews, cramming company mission statements into my brain, memorizing job descriptions so that I could ask the perfect questions and LinkedIn stalking future interviewers like I had just been dumped and was trying to see if that loser had come up with a better girlfriend.  But, what I learned during that month was invaluable – so much so, I needed to share these lessons that stretch far beyond a term of unemployment or the year 2013. I’ll share 14 in honor of 2014.

Here goes.

Relationships matter. I HATE networking. I love meeting new people, but not in forced, awkward situations where you feel obligated to make small talk about silly topics like the weather and sports. It’s like the date where all you want to do is yell, “check please” or sneak out of the bathroom window. Let’s face it, no one actually likes professional networking, but it’s a necessity. If I didn’t have a strong network to turn to, I don’t know where I would have even started after losing my job.

A mentor is essential. To this point, I have never had a true mentor. Of course, I have people in my network who are older and provide their advice, but I don’t have one person I go to for continual career guidance. When I lost my job, I felt panicked and stressed to say the least. It would have been nice to turn to one person and say, “What do I do?” I recommend any career-focused young professional to get a mentor and get one fast. I still don’t have one, but I’m actively taking applications. If you’re reading this and want to be that lucky person, let me know.

Don’t compare yourself to others. One of my very best friends was laid off at the same time. It was nice having someone to share the experience with. But, unannounced to him, it was war. I wanted a job first. He got an offer before me, and I was ticked. I had to realize things happen in their own time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or embarrassed to admit you’re unemployed. Every single person I met, I avoided the “What do you do?” question like the black plague. I didn’t want to have to say, “I’m unemployed.”  However, you never know how that person can help you. They might have a connection you’ve been dying to make. 

No one owes you anything. I know that is hard to hear if you’re a millennial. No one cares how many degrees you have, how intelligently you can speak or just how snazzy you are dressed. What people do care about is this: who you know, your ability to connect with the company’s culture and your knowledge of the company and position you’re applying for.  And maybe your qualifications. But, the majority of companies hire for personality because if you’re applying for a specific job, they know you can probably do the job since you’re applying. That’s why they’re interviewing you. What they don’t know is if you’ll mesh with the rest of the employees or if you’ll cause problems.

Always be humble. When you have a job, it’s easy to get comfortable and forget to be thankful.

Your freedom fund is important. Yeah, I had a savings and it got me through the month without a normal income, but it could have been and SHOULD have been a lot bigger. I am meeting with a financial advisor to help me save smart and invest wisely.

Work should be a part of your life. Not your whole life. If you know me at all, you know I’m a workaholic. When my job was suddenly, without warning, taken from me, I felt like a lost puppy in the rain wondering where his home was. That might be a stark analogy, but it’s true. For the first few days, I didn’t even know where to begin. Okay, I did, but it took a couple of days for me to pull up my big girl panties and muster the courage to do what I knew I had to do. The truth is, you can sit in the floor and cry all you want. But, it doesn’t change a thing. You still have to pick yourself back up and keep moving. I shouldn’t live to work. I should work to live.

Don’t give up. Enough said. Work hard. It will pay off in dividends.

Smile on even your worst days. Always search for the silver lining. It’s there. You just have to find it.

Don’t stop your whole life. I quit working out. I quit eating right and skipped meals. I quit doing almost everything. Literally, all I wanted to do was job search. But, I had to find a balance. For me, it was playing basketball on the court next to my apartment when no one else was there in the middle of the day. It was relaxing and helped me clear my head and gather my thoughts.

Take a risk. Even if the job description calls for a certain skill or quality you don’t have, apply anyway if you think you’d be a good fit. You never know if the employer just might think the same thing.

Be yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously and be transparent on interviews. Let your personality shine.

How to cook. That’s right. Without the stringent full-time schedule, I learned my way around the grocery store and kitchen. It was about time.

2014 will bring its own challenges, and I’m committed to putting these lessons into practice. I’m also committed to working harder, worrying less, reading more and loving stronger.