What I Learned After a Year at My Job

This morning I arrived to a box of celebratory pastries on my desk — the best kind of pastries, especially compared to the sad desk lunch I usually pack for myself. Attached was a card from my manager, congratulating me on my first full year at my job. The coolest, I know.

I hadn’t forgotten the anniversary, but I was thrilled to be on the receiving end of such thoughtfulness — a quality that is rarely a part of my morning persona, yet largely responsible for the reason I like my job. A whole year of thoughtfulness! Just wait till I add that to my LinkedIn. 

In the Russian language (which is now the official language of DC residents), age is characterized by the number of summers survived by the subject. I think that makes my professional career “one full summer” — it only sounds like three months, but hey, it’s longer than some of the other Flynns in the District right now.  

I’ve learned quite a bit since being slingshotted into adulthood last June, so I decided to reflect on the main triumphs that made my first job turn out even better than I hoped. Being on a first name basis with the clerk at my local wine store was a great place to start, but there are others below. 

Get a good planner.

This seems obvious, but it’s mostly important for the next part. I navigated college by the seat of my pants, and when I look back, I’m really not sure how I remembered to turn everything in on time.  

A full-time job cuts down on the number of places I have to show up every day, but it also means my schedule isn’t the only one that matters anymore. That calls for a kickass planner, which I bought from Day Designer. Each day gets it’s own 8.5” x 11” page, which has room to plan each hour, write out daily goals, moments of gratitude and notes for after-hours plans. 

Making myself use a planner every day doesn't just give me the satisfaction of crossing off to-dos; it proved to me how to balance productivity and self-care. If a task takes more than an hour, I haven’t broken it down enough. I changed my list from monoliths like “write article about Zika” to bite-sized chunks: researching the latest news, finding at least 5 reputable sources, constructing an outline, etc.

Pacing myself keeps me accountable to how much I’m actually getting done, and then I have a realistic idea of what time I can sign off for the day. And I always, always leave time to stress-eat a bowl of chocolate pretzels at 3 p.m.

You’re not as busy as you think.

Making friends in a new city is hard for many reasons, but it seems as if everyone in D.C. is so busy that they only have an hour to be at brunch on Sunday. Am I the only one who isn’t busy? I think other people just make themselves feel busier than they are.  

I’m seriously seeking out other people who also go home and eat a slice of cake while restarting Friends for the third time and leaving their laundry in the dryer for the third day in a row. Please comment if you're in the same boat.

Adulthood is so damn boring sometimes, but most of it is a facade of being busy — people have bills and dogs and grocery lists to write. But does that really take up your whole day? I think the answer is no; I'm still waiting for proof that I'm wrong. 

Embrace feedback.

Feedback isn’t mine to disagree with. Being defensive hasn’t ever helped me learn, and I can’t learn without input from people with more experience. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever gotten was when I turned in an article and said “hey, I feel like this sucks even though I worked really hard on it — what am I missing?” That opened up the floor for multiple opinions, and then I rewrote the entire thing. I didn't die, and neither will you.

There can always be a better thing, especially with writing. Plus, if you’re able to take feedback in a meaningful way, people are more willing to let you try your hand at new things.

Be your own friend.

I didn’t fully figure this one out until last week; it’s something I expect to work on forever. I moved here without really knowing anyone, and it was the first time I was away from my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend of 20 years (hi Lu!).

It’s not that I don’t like spending time alone, I just don’t really know how. I was nervous to go to events by myself, or sit at a bar alone. I ended up spending a lot of time at Pure Barre and the Nordstrom Rack in Pentagon City. I like doing these things, but they are the type of activities that you almost always pursue alone. I didn’t learn anything from them.  

The first time I said “table for one, please!” a part of me died inside — but why? Why did I feel so embarrassed? Was everyone looking at me? The truth is that no one was looking at me. So there I sat, on an unseasonably warm October afternoon at the Firehook Bakery on Penn Avenue, and with each bite of my garlicky pasta salad, I became more grateful that I didn’t have to share it with anyone.  

The next day after work, I confidently walked to the Smithsonian Castle and perched atop a park bench with my feet on the seat, my butt on top of the backrest — I truly looked like a lunatic — and proceeded to draw the profile view of the castle. A man sat down next to me and pestered me until I hissed at him to leave. I’m trying to be my own friend, dammit! I stayed until the grounds closed, and a police officer made me leave, but at least my drawing turned out alright.

Two days of adventure felt like two too many — I held out for the next six months again. I didn’t try doing anything spectacular on my own again until a few days ago. 

Knowing that David Sedaris was coming to town for his book launch, I dragged myself all the way up to Van Ness on Thursday afternoon, and joined the sweaty, excited, elderly crowd at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave. I didn’t know a single person there, but I felt very much at home, as a sweaty, excited, 90-year-old at heart.

I stood in line for three hours, unable to contain the excitement of meeting my personal idol, my favorite author, the voice of the books that kept me company this entire, lonely year. We talked for a few minutes, he signed my book, and I told him a quick story that made him laugh.

Holy shit, I just made David Sedaris laugh. I had reached peak-Halah, and no one from my personal life was there to witness it. I pulled out my phone after the signing, and after scrolling through my recent calls, I put it away again; I wanted to revel in my happiness on my own. I was my own personal life. 

After waiting on the corner for approximately 9 minutes, my Uber pool arrived; the other passenger reeked of beer. The driver let him out somewhere in Adams Morgan and turned up the radio just as Lean On Me started to leak through the stereo. We both hummed quietly without looking at each other, each slightly off key.

When I got home, I pulled my newest, most prized possession out of its packaging, and devoured the pages of Theft by Finding until I could open my eyes no longer.

Of course I called my parents the next day — they gave me my first Sedaris book, after all, but it felt so great to have an experience that was entirely mine.

To say that this whole year has been entirely mine would exhibit a gross misunderstanding of young adulthood and independence. I cannot overstate my appreciation for the people who have helped me reach this hallmark moment.

To my family, who welcomed me home as often as I could manage to drag my Camry down the East Coast; to my friends who FaceTime me for hours from different time zones; to my first manager, who taught me more than I can summarize but more importantly showed me a keyboard shortcut for an em dash — I’d use it in every sentence if I could; to my boyfriend, who never doubted that I would make it:

If this blog turns into a book some day, it is because of you all, for reminding me that I have something worth saying. I can’t promise you royalties, but you can come visit any time. There’s a protest here, like, every other weekend. Bring a sign. 

Halah Flynn