Help me be a professional after a life of being unprofessional
December 29, 2019 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I start year 2 of a new job in January after many, many years of freelancing and 'creative' careers. Help me fake it until I make it.

I'm 45 and have spent my whole life in weird and creative roles. I've worked hard but unconventionally. A year ago I was offered a full-time salaried role in a new company and accepted the position as it paid very well and I was tired of 'winging it'. Year one has been an incredibly steep learning curve as I adapted to corporate life. Meetings, dressing a certain way, working in teams in a structured office environment, budgets, spreadsheets etc. It's a creative role but comes with a shitload of analytical and reporting 'BS'. I've also been parachuted into the management team. I want to do well but my imposter syndrome is off the charts. What advice can you give, any advice at all, about being a positive professional after decades of not being that. As an example, I'm working on my wardrobe as I'm a jeans, tees and sneakers guy but everyone here is shoes, shirt and chinos. Motivation, routine, energy, organisation etc advice in any and all areas welcome. My MD/boss is a machine, a decade older but fitter, more capable, multifaceted etc I want to be more like him! I feel like a talented amateur just signed by a pro sports team. I know I can do this but have no clue how to raise my game. Help!
posted by Caskeum to Work & Money (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Ask A Manager has a great post on this.

Remember also that they hired you for a reason. Despite your itinerant background, they found that you had the skills and abilities that they were looking for. Don't discount that. If they did not think that you could make it in the corporate world, they would not have hired you.

Have you sought to cultivate a mentor relationship with your MD/boss? Seek their advice on how to handle various situations - the key is to seek their advice, not state that you don't know what to do. The former indicates that you are open to learning and want to succeed, the latter says that you are floundering and don't know how to help yourself.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

First, I would say to give yourself a break, because it just flat-out takes time to understand the bigger picture of what the company is doing, and where your role is in it. Your comfort will grow as you absorb that context.

Secondly, even if it isn’t in your wheelhouse and not something you’re exactly dying to dive into, take a look at the reporting and analytics if you have access to it. It will help you develop that context, start seeing patterns, and that can inform your own direction. Think of all of it as a “measure twice, cut once” philosophy. Being creative is marvelous, but coming up with a bunch of ideas and concepts that inevitably get shot down is a drag. If you KNOW what people are looking for, then you can focus your energy on that. The analytics are there to make your job easier—take advantage of them.

If you’re interested in doing some outside learning, take a dip into some industry podcasts or LinkedIn groups. Hell, ask your manager for advice. If he has skills that you want to work on for yourself, pick his brain. Integrate it into an overall development plan.

Otherwise, all of this comes down to experience. Even in large companies, we’re all sort of working on the principle of informed experimentation. We’re learning and guessing and taking shots in the dark, reading the results and then doing it again. I’m sure you’ve learned a ton in the last year, and by this time NEXT year, you’ll have learned just as much again—but you’ll be a little better at applying it. And so on.

You’re not incapable and you’re not a fraud, you’re just new and you’re learning.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:00 AM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been you. Ask the boss who you admire for advice. If he's any good at all, he'll be happy to help because it's his job and because he'll be flattered.

And if you see someone whose outfit you admire, ask them where they shop.
posted by donpardo at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2019

The best way to "fake it" is to model the behaviors of the people around you who have "made it." You mentioned a boss that you admired - observe how he acts in various situations, and model (but don't mimic) that behavior. The advice to approach this as a mentorship type relationship is spot on. There have been a few times in my life where I was very new to a role and felt like I was floundering, so I looked around for people who were good at that role and started to model how they behaved. That always gave me an anchor point that I could work from as I went from "faking it" to "making it."

It's a creative role but comes with a shitload of analytical and reporting 'BS'.
It's not BS, it's your job. If you think of it as BS that attitude will show. Analytics and reporting are critical job functions for my managers, and they have taken the time to get really, really, really good at those tasks. I'm guessing the boss you admire is also really good at analytics and reporting. You need to become really, really, really good at this too. It's easy to say, "...we should be doing this creative thing", but if you can say, "...we should be doing this creative thing because the trends and data and reports show us that's what our customers want..," you're demonstrating that you understand the needs of the business and the customers, which is what is expected of a manager.

As for organization, take a look at the things you have to do all the time, whether that's daily, weekly, monthly, or whatever, and make checklists. There are a few things I have to do every few weeks that are just fiddly enough that it would be easy to miss a few small details, so I have checklists. There are things I do every few months that are similar in fiddlyness, and again, I have checklists. I also have reminders setup on my calendar so that I don't forget the things that have to happen every Friday, and the things that have to happen every month, and every quarter. This way I don't forget things and always have what needs to be done, done.

As several others have mentioned, they hired you. They knew about your existing freelance work history and previous roles, and decided that you were the person they wanted for this job. They've even moved you into a management position. You obviously have the skills and abilities they think are an asset to the company. You can do this.
posted by ralan at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

This past summer, my company hired someone who had worked in the academic or non-profit art sectors for over 25 years. She runs a program that recruits and on-boards our most junior workforce members. She's had some bumps adjusting to corporate life but we expected that. We hired her for her experience in leading and mentoring, her ability to run a program efficiently and cost-effectively, and her incredible passion.

I've been offering some low-key coaching to her, as have other members of the staff. Why? Because we like her and admire her enthusiasm, smarts, experience, and desire to contribute. We see that what she brings to our program is unique and highly valued. Even if she doesn't always talk the corporate talk, she's a valuable contributor.

She's not an imposter. She's a newbie in our type of work environment. We knew that when we hired her. Also, I personally love the fact that she's not afraid to shake the corporate tree, speak her mind, and occasionally crash into a barrier she didn't even know was there. She's a breath of fresh air!
posted by MissPitts at 9:01 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Definitely good advice to seek out the wisdom of your boss...I joined my current company 18 months ago and all the best people in senior management would actively welcome a chance to mentor.

Regarding, the reporting stuff that you say is "BS"...also excellent point that this is your job so you should do it to the best of your ability. With that said, you have been in your role long enough that you should start to explore how this reporting information is used and what value is gained by it. It is quite possible that the work is being done for reasons of inertia rather than real value. Don't go in and radically propose changes until you really understand the lay of the land.

Which brings me to my final point. The first boss I ever had while I was still in college told me what I think is the best advice for fitting in and succeeding. It is to understand and manage other people's expectations of you and then exceed them. A corollary to that is that you should understand what excites, motivates and stymies your boss, your coworkers and your key internal customers. That helps you funnel advice, experts, articles to them. It also helps you frame your pitches and suggestions in a way that will be best received.
posted by mmascolino at 6:41 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would read a book or two that will speed up your knowledge about such environments. Just about any book my Gerald M. Weinberg will be marvelous, and you will quickly see that every problem is a people's problem. My favorite is "Understanding the Professional Programmer". Another old but still completely valid book is "The Mythical Man Month" by Fred Brooks. Even if you're not in an IT environment, these will be good reads. Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 2:19 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was sort of in your position. What helped a lot was going to industry events and community meetings. I realized I knew a lot more than I thought and it wasn't so daunting after all.
posted by xammerboy at 9:35 PM on December 30, 2019

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