Writer's Life

Between Social Butterflies and Stony Professionals

I’m only a few months away from the end of my one-year temporary lab job.  A few more months of running around labs and meetings as if I’m training for the Boston marathon. Those same few months are the barrier between having income and being broke. Naturally, this means sending out volumes of job applications and hoping that one sticks before time is up.

A chapter’s end during a story often comes with a pause to reflect on past experiences and what was learned from them.  In my case, working in a corporate laboratory has taught me many lessons. I learned how to cope with clashing priorities while under pressure from management.  I found that mammalian cells can’t take care of themselves, no matter how much you wish otherwise.  The break room has free food if you know the scheduling of lunch meetings.

…and balancing socialization and professionalism is hard.

Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment is familiar with office politics and how they can impact the workplace.  I can’t be too focused on work all the time because it could be misconstrued that I’m not a team player or too serious when unneeded.  If I focus too little, I could be perceived as a slacker or incompetent.  It becomes more complicated when cliques are formed and favoritism runs rampant.

Luckily for me, this job assignment exposes me to minimal office politics, but I still have to work around them daily.  Being on good terms with different individuals helps get important matters settled quickly, even if it is the occasional lunchtime discussion or midday coffee break.  I also offer my own time to help with anything they need done.

It seems simple when I write it, but it’s hard to not become too comfortable with my coworkers.  I am spending majority of my days working with these people and it is very easy to slip something very personal that could change perceptions in the workplace.  I could do something that is seen as unprofessional but would be appropriate in a social setting.

It’s a balancing act that I have to adjust daily.  I tend to lean towards more professional than social, but that does not always work with my coworkers.  I have learned to read situations like a bookworm plows through her latest obsession.  Some days, the atmosphere is more social while others are default professionalism.  I wouldn’t claim that I am an expert at “reading the room” but I have come a long way from when I started.

As twenty-somethings, our first steps in our “first, real adult job” are frustratingly stressful.  We expect ourselves to learn these social/professional nuances quickly but it is rarely the case that it happens that way.  We have to be patient and ready to learn from our stumbles.  Eventually, that precarious balance will be easier to handle.

What do you think? A topic you want me to cover? Leave a comment below!

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