Patti’s Pearls of Wisdom – Five Lessons Learned (the Hard Way) at My First Job 

Ah, the first job—a monumental step where we transition from students to active contributors to society. Reflecting on my journey, which wasn’t without its fair share of missteps (recall my stint as what could be humorously termed the world’s most challenged Hill intern), I’ve gleaned a few pearls of wisdom. Here’s what the now slightly wiser me would impart to my eager, bright-eyed self on day one:

1 – From Problem Child to Solution Savior

In my zeal to make an impression, I became the office’s unofficial problem spotter, mistakenly believing that pointing out every flaw was a quick path to recognition. It’s how all the intelligent people on TV acted. They knew when something was wrong and weren’t afraid to say it. However, I quickly learned that criticism without contribution wears thin, and I ignored the part where issues were solved. The lesson here? To be valuable, you must transform frustration into innovation! 

  • Embrace Active Listening: Understand the workflow thoroughly before offering critiques. 
  • Suggest Constructive Alternatives: Propose solutions that enhance efficiency or quality rather than merely pointing out what’s wrong. 
  • Adopt an Open Mind: Acknowledge the reasons behind established processes and be willing to adapt your ideas accordingly. 

Real-World Application: Alice notices a bottleneck in the monthly reporting process. Initially known for her criticism, she shifts her approach by researching and presenting an alternative software solution. This leads her from critic to innovator, earning respect and recognition from her team.

2 – Focused Presence Over Daydreaming

Does anyone else relate to the scenario where you should be paying attention to what your colleagues are saying only to find yourself randomly thinking about something that happened in second grade? And then when someone asks you a question you have no clue what they’ve been talking about? I’ve had moments of embarrassing silence during meetings, lost in thoughts unrelated to the discussion. But my self-diagnosed ADHD isn’t enough of an excuse. Practicing focused engagement and managing distractions effectively is the key to overcoming wandering thoughts. 

  • Tame Distractions: Create a workspace conducive to concentration by minimizing interruptions. 
  • Prioritize Ruthlessly: Break tasks into manageable pieces and tackle them with dedicated focus. 
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Motivate yourself with short breaks or small rewards after completing tasks. 

Real-World Application: Jasmine, caught off-guard in a meeting, learns to maintain focus by taking notes and minimizing distractions. Her improved engagement leads to valuable meeting contributions, enhancing her reputation as a focused and reliable team member.

3 – Valuing Formal Training

I thrived on being the first person to finish a test. It’s how I got to leave class and goof off in the library or the student government office. It was easy to take the test, but I never actually learned much. The same went for on-the-job training and my colleagues didn’t appreciate me not taking it seriously. Initially dismissive of training for “simple” tasks, I eventually realized these sessions were goldmines of efficiency tips and quality control measures. 

  • Unearth Hidden Knowledge: Training sessions are opportunities to learn best practices and company-specific protocols. 
  • Build Confidence: Mastery of tasks, even basic ones, enhances self-assurance and job satisfaction. 
  • Engage Curiously: Ask questions during training to fully understand tasks and expectations. 

Real-World Application: Bella underestimates the importance of CRM training, leading to mistakes. Upon dedicating herself to mastering the tool, she improves her performance and becomes a resource for her team, showcasing the value of embracing formal training.

4 – From Goofball to Go-Getter

I have always loved two things – making people laugh and clothes. But, it took me a long time to realize that just because I love things, it doesn’t make them appropriate in the workplace. Early on, my casual demeanor and penchant for jokes sometimes translated poorly in a professional setting. First impressions are lasting, necessitating a balance between personality and professionalism. 

  • Dress With Care: Align your wardrobe with the company’s dress code, erring on the side of professionalism. Dress for the job you want. 
  • Be Respectful and Positive: A polite, cheerful demeanor goes a long way in fostering positive workplace relationships. 
  • Demonstrate Enthusiasm: Show genuine interest in your tasks and the team’s broader goals. 

Real-World Application: Emily adjusts her approach from being the office comedian to demonstrating professionalism and enthusiasm. This balance earns her the respect and recognition of her peers, opening doors to leadership opportunities.

5 – The Power of Being Proactive

Growing up, I was often told that I had a tendency to be bossy. Eager to please, I often took it upon myself to complete work that wasn’t necessarily mine to complete. I was advised to stay in my own lane. Because of this, I thought it was best to be assigned tasks. Little did I know waiting passively for assignments is a missed opportunity for growth. Demonstrating initiative is rewarding and showcases your dedication and eagerness to contribute. I was just doing it the wrong way.  

  • Initiate Check-Ins: Regularly discuss your workload with your supervisor and express your willingness to take on more. 
  • Volunteer: Offer your help with projects that align with your skills or present learning opportunities. 
  • Observe and Act: Stay alert to the team’s needs and be ready to step in or suggest ways you can contribute. 

Real-World Application: Leah transitions from passively waiting for assignments to proactively seeking out projects and offering her assistance. Her initiative enriches her skill set and positions her as a valuable, ambitious team member ready for growth. 


Navigating the professional landscape for the first time is fraught with learning opportunities disguised as mistakes. The lessons I learned—sometimes the hard way—have been invaluable in shaping my approach to work and personal growth. Remember, every misstep is a chance to improve and evolve. Embrace these experiences, and you’ll find yourself not just surviving but thriving in the professional world. You’ve got this! 

Along with serving on the NeW advisory board, Patricia Rausch serves as the Vice President of Education at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. Leading the charge on new learning initiatives, she develops and executes career-connected educational programming and resources aimed to transform and advance the distribution workforce.



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