3 Workplace Tips that You Don’t Learn in College

By Kevon Cheung in


February 13, 2017

As people seek more control over their own lives, we hear millennials complain about work all the time. Literally every few days you see or read something along that line. The reasons are, to highlight a few, 1) work is boring, 2) I don’t learn anything, 3) hours are too long and inflexible. In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber, he said “The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we’re sloppy at it, it’s because we’re sloppy inside ……. How we do our work becomes a mirror of how we are inside.” So, in the spirit of this, what are somethings that you need to know at workplace yet they don’t teach you in college?

I think most young people don’t get that we’re all in control of our lives, which means no one is expected to help you other than yourself. Maybe because work is so different from school. In school, you’re spoon-fed with information and knowledge. At work, you take the driver’s seat to do your own work.

What You Don’t Learn in College

1. Carry the Water

Seeking Wisdom is an awesome podcast I’ve been listening to, where I first heard about the concept “Carry the Water” from David and Dave. In school, you only care about your own grade. You might think that to be successful at work, it means a job well done in your own responsibilities. You’re wrong! Because that is not enough. You, as an employee of a company, also need to make your managers successful. “Their lives need to be easier because they hire you.” Dave said. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Why should they hire you if you need handholding all the time, cannot work independently, and constantly complain? They might be better off without you sucking up their time.

2. 9am-6pm, Work-Life Balance. Bullshit.

In school, we all learn how to meet the minimum requirement and submit the assignment and you could very well be getting A’s. Life is so easy, right? In Rhetoric class, they ask for a 5-page essay, I give them 5 pages. In Finance class, they ask for a financial model, I give them one Excel spreadsheet. At workplace, it is not like that. If you aim for a 9-6 schedule each day, and if you only do what people assign to you, you’re doomed to stay at where you are because you’re not adding extra value, then why do people need to give you more responsibilities and a higher pay? You might think: give me a higher pay and I’ll do more, no, it is the other way around. Nowadays, we like to say “work-life balance” and everyone wants it. I can tell you that it is all bullshit. I can tell you that no good art comes from comfortable artists!

3. Ask More, Update More

I’m not exactly sure how people worked in the past cause I was not born. I can tell you how work should be like in the present. Let’s talk about school first, you get one big shot for each class, either the final exam or presentation and your grade is based on that. We’re too used to doing things on our own and show it to people only when it is done. The “modern way of working” I say, is work with your manager instead of work for your manager. Ask good questions often, cc her in important emails so she knows what you’re up to, set up 1-on-1 to get feedback. Unless you have a terrible manager, this would be your best way of learning. Do you think that you can learn things naturally? No, you can’t. You learn from books and from people.

That being said, in my opinion, school is still an amazing place to be to build your fundamental skills. There are good things you learn there.

What You Do Learn in College

1. Make Offering Opposing View Your Habit

If you have a small class environment like Babson, then you get a lot of chance to speak, raise ideas, and discuss with other students (benefit of going to a small school). That’s great because at workplace, you need to keep using your brain juices to come up with new ideas and pitch them. Having ideas is always good, keep them flowing. Opinion is also important. If you’re the type that never has an opposing opinion, then they don’t need you in the meeting. Good managers like opposing views to challenge them. If you think offering opposing view is like a disrespect to your manager, it is either you still don’t get it or you need a better manager who appreciates this.

2. The Art of Speaking and Rejecting

One of the hardest thing at workplace is how to reject people nicely. You probably watched the movie “Yes Man”, but don’t be like him; we simply cannot say yes to everything, because not all ideas are great ideas. I think school is a great place to practice that - “Do you want to go to this party tonight?” “Can you let me copy your homework?” “Can you go out with me?” No! No! No! How do you reject people and maintain a good relationship? This is a lifelong learning and good to get some practice in a safe environment like school.

Remember, life is what you make it. You define yourself.

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