Entry-Level High: Those ‘Awkward Years’ Revisited
By Erin Davis
We didn’t storm into the workforce with the confidence of Kelly Cutrone. Instead, upon completion of our PR grad program, we found ourselves caught in a similar cycle of insecurity as experienced in high school. As we attempted to navigate our way through the city, apparently with marks to make and pavements to pound, it seemed any confidence we had accumulated through our university years had disappeared with the late-night pizza. Toronto was competitive. It was unforgiving. Circles were surprisingly small and there was and is, very much, a “scene” in the media world. Entering it blindly was as terrifying as the first day of high school. Just as in our teenaged years, we had to endure intimidation, experiment through trial and error and build relationships before we finally began to feel comfortable and confident in our skin, city and stilettos.
In grade nine, a walk through the ultra-exclusive “south doors,” where all the older, popular kids hung out, was almost panic inducing. You had to be on; head held high and dressed the part as you “effortlessly” strolled through the doors and surrounding courtyard like you belonged to grace that coveted exit. God forbid you were to fall. Presentations were equally as nerve-racking. Our face would turn bright red, turning so hot it felt like it would ignite in flames the second we were called to the front of the classroom, all eyes on us. Fast-forward ten years. Despite the years of post-secondary learning and living, social progress and a vague sense of direction, we found ourselves back in grade nine. Assuring us it wasn’t an adolescent “quirk,” our face remained fire engine red throughout our first networking event, as we watched the who’s who of the city’s business and entertainment worlds effortlessly network from the sidelines, unwilling to remove our coat because we suddenly hated our outfit. Our first meeting was just as awkward. Everyone intimidated us. They were older, looked the role and sounded smarter than we ever thought we would…and we most certainly couldn’t fall in front of them.
Trial and Error
A lot of “figuring out” takes place in those precious years of high school and those initial years in the workforce. Just look through those old photo albums for a reminder of all experimentation done and lessons learned in your teens. You learn what you’re good at. Just like certain classes in high school seemed like a chore, with its homework ever-so-daunting, certain jobs and career paths explored after university may too feel like a complaint-provoking chore. As we used to “drop” classes before it was too late, we know countless young professionals who have switched careers, gone back to school, or left the corporate world in favour of entrepreneurial endeavors. Today, that’s just fine. Of course, both the early days of high school and the early days of your career are filled with newbie errors and learning the ropes. In high school, those blessed with older siblings to counsel had it easier the way that those of us with career mentors did a decade later.
In high school, when reputations are fragile and gossip runs rampant, you know better than to start off on the wrong foot. Glancing at an older girl’s boyfriend, buying the same winter jacket as anyone else, or even actively seeking out the role in the school play from a respected older female, were things we wouldn’t dare. Before too long, however, we find ourselves accepted neatly into one of the typical high school social groups that need no explanation and, armed with this support system, begin to develop a bit of a backbone. You get to know kids from other schools at parties or sporting events and expand your social networks, securing new ICQ messenger (remember?!) contacts and semi-formal dates alike. The first few years of your career are no different. With an eager perma-smile, you want to please everyone, both professionally and socially and almost try too hard. Once after-work events became routine and we began to make friendly acquaintances in the industry, networking became easier and even fun as we slowly felt comfortable with these seasoned individuals who really weren’t that scary after all. With networking, of course, comes opportunity.
Owning It (Finally)
Once you start to make your own professional, creative, business and relationship gains, you only naturally stop questioning yourself and spend less time comparing yourself to your peers. Whether in the form of good grades, university acceptances, raises or promotions, with progress comes confidence. By grade 12, we sat on the benches at the south doors like we owned them, with the same purpose as we now walk into a networking event or celebrity interview that would once terrify us. In a defining moment, you come to realize that you still have a job when many young people don’t, are taking steps forward in your career, and are working and interacting among peers instead of superiors, some who may be younger than you and turn to you for advice. And why wouldn’t they? You’ve been there.
Erin Davis is the Associate Editor for NOTABLE.CA, Canada’s largest online publication for young professional adults. Read more from her here: http://notable.ca/nationwide/bio/Erin-Davis/