How to survive Vacwork 101

If you have trouble coming to terms with adulthood and have done everything in your power to delay the process, fear not, I know your struggle.

I too have ducked and dived to avoid that flaming hamster wheel and its incredible speed to fast-track me into paying off a mortgage.

Last year I made (what I regard) a death-defying decision to stay another year at university instead of being chucked into a cubicle in a corporate slaughter house.

And then it happened.

I found myself on a plane to Cape Town to initiate this career-thing. Vacwork, they called it. That was what my friends use to do when I went home for the semester breaks (because that is what I thought breaks were for).

Well, the good news is, work was not the death of life itself. You can survive it, and here is how:

1. Love what you do

Before you work for a company, ask yourself, “Is this, what I want to do?”
If it is; good for you. You will learn a lot and have a great opportunity to network with people in the industry.  If not; the good news is, it will not be a complete waste of time. You will still learn a lot (about things you hate doing) and you will be closer to figuring out what it is you really want to do. And, the most valuable lesson you will learn is that it is much better to do what you love, than to spend days trying to convince yourself you like doing something that makes you miserable.

2. Be early

Don’t be punctual and don’t you dare be late! If you get there early, it shows enthusiasm. Also, it will give you time to ease yourself into the situation (for the first day at least). One more thing, do not knock-off early, unless it is a death situation. Seriously, you do not want to be THAT guy. And do not zone out in the last hour of work, it becomes a real battlefield of the mind. So here is a tip, when you start thinking about what you are going to cook for supper, stop right there and back away before it spirals out of control. Also, do not keep watching the clock; you are there to work, not to guard the time. If you find yourself doing that then consult no.1.

3. Establish connections

Those homo sapians standing at the water-cooler talking about things you talk about, are not as serious as you think. You could walk up to them and introduce yourself without worrying that they will tear the flesh from your bones. (Ok, maybe they will judge your shoes and your terrible haircut, but that is about as bad the sting of rejection can get). Besides, you are going to be working with each other so you will eventually have to speak to them. Also, when they go out for drinks on Friday, go with them. It is totally chilled to hang out with your colleagues; in fact it is encouraged for team-building and camaraderie. Be friendly, put away the frowns and slap on a smile.

4. Ask questions

So you do not want to reveal just how stupid you are. But it is better to ask, than to get something wrong and have to explain why you did not ask in the first place. It may surprise you to find that people are willing to help. Also, how do you expect to learn anything if no one is going to teach you? (And no one will teach you if they do not know that you need to be taught).  Also, you will be surrounded by seasoned professionals who have had incredible experiences and have heaps and heaps of knowledge you will find useful.  So ask them about their careers, get advice, find a mentor!  Old people know their stuff.

If you see a gap, then fill it. If there is a problem, solve it.

5. Just say yes

As a colleague of mine would put it, “it liberates you”. You will have a positive attitude if you start every morning with a decision to say yes. Yes for breakfast, yes for dresses, yes for going in early, yes for more work, yes, yes, yes. It really prepares you for whatever may come and helps you face things head-on. Also, you will learn a lot.

6. Phones away

This is not a lecture theatre where you can send DMs under the desk. Being glued to your smartphone just gives the wrong impression of you- disrespectful, self-involved, not-present. Do not do it. Trust me; you do not want to prove everything your co-workers falsely believe about GenY. Also, I know you want to Instagram your cool work-pen but there is a time and place for everything, like after-hours when no one else is in the office. And the quality of your life will not be reduced if you are not in touch with your social networks. There is a real-life social network happening right in front of you, it is called your job and you should do it.

7. Go the extra mile

Be the best you can be. If your job description is filing, then file those darn papers like it is your last day on Earth and it is the only memory people will have of you after you leave. So be good, at everything. And if one way is not working out, try figure out different ways to do the same thing. Take the initiative to develop a better system of doing things if the current one is not effective. Apply yourself, make an impact. People should feel your presence is missing when you leave (in a good way). And it is not rocket science, you could even do the dishes if the stack is piling up too high. If you see a gap, then fill it. If there is a problem, solve it. Be productive. Be efficient. And keep yourself busy. No one is going to babysit you, if you are done with what you have been assigned to do, find something else, ask for more work (It is a safe space, you can do that).

8. Dress to impress

Okay, I am not talking ball-gowns and fancy jewellery. Just look presentable. Then take it a step further and dress like you mean business. People will take you more seriously but most importantly, it will boost your confidence, which is what you will need on the first day, when you meet important people. Also, keep it real, do not wear something you hate or makes you feel uncomfortable. Still express yourself through your clothing (if that is what you are into) but do it in small doses i.e. let your profession and your personality collide.

9. Take lunch

Cafeterias are way too expensive. I paid R40 for a toasted sandwich once. It was dreadful (not the sandwich, the pain of poverty). Also, you will eat much healthier foods if you take your own. Secret: if crowds intimidate you, packed lunch is great, because cafeteria’s have crowds. And, do not think of skipping lunch, you need it to rejuvenate your mind. You will be working for up to 8 hours, in that time, things get hazy and the energy boost to keep you going.

10. Have fun

It’s vacwork! Even though you are in a real work space, this is a great opportunity for you to make mistakes and learn from them. Sometimes companies ship you off to great places so explore the city, or the island (depending on your field of work). And it is not as stressful as VARSITY! So take everything in your stride and make the most of the opportunity.  You could be offered a job when it is over!

11. Say thank you

Really, be grateful and show your appreciation.  They made the effort to accommodate you in their time and office space.  This was an invaluable opportunity for you to grow and learn.  Also, don’t sever ties.  Good manners and integrity go a long way for a budding career.

 

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