Takeaways From My First Year In The Real World

Last year I graduated from Stanford after four years of Water Polo and joined iTradeNetwork as a Product Manager. My first year out of sports and into the “real world” came with some challenges, which forced me to respond using the things I learned while on a sports team. These lessons helped me solve problems and succeed in my first year out and I’d like to share them for anybody about to leave the familiarity their sport has given them for four years. 

Let’s start with time management which is the first thing that I learned the value of. At least in my job, tasks can quickly pile up and that can be overwhelming. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that coming from an academically-demanding school while also playing for a top NCAA sports program in the Stanford Water Polo team really helped me solve and prevent this feeling from occurring. With going into the workforce and no longer having practice every day, I suddenly found a lot of free-time on my hands, whether that was at work immediately after completing a task, after work when I’d go home, or on the weekends. This was really nice, but I was also coming from a background in which I didn’t really have a lot of free-time. In college, I was either in class, at practice, or studying during the hours in between. That structure became a template for prioritizing my work in an order that helped me get them done.

I try to approach my day in a way that allows me to maximize my effort. My day usually starts with me reading through my emails. Since we are a global company and deal with customers and team members from all over the world, I usually have a good amount of emails that I received overnight. After going through emails, and responding to those that need immediate attention, I prioritize my tasks to tackle the most demanding ones first. The harder tasks are almost always more important as well, so I found it was important for me not to leave that work until the last-minute so I don’t end up rushing through it and not giving it it’s full attention. The rest of the day can be filled with meetings involving various people, so it’s important for me to be organized and get through my checklist. While my day can be busy, I learned from sports to always give my best effort and be able to take the time required to be focused on my tasks. 

The second lesson from water polo that has helped me in the last year is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. There is a difference between being uncomfortable and being unprepared. At iTrade Network, it’s not uncommon for me to be given a task that I’m not totally familiar with or that is outside of my field of expertise. Like any challenge in sports, I choose to see this as an opportunity to grow my own abilities and to prove myself to my boss. I had to do this as a freshman trying to prove my value on the team and with any new skill that I was taught, but still needed to practice. Having this mentality allows me to be less nervous about it, and to actually have an excited mentality for the chance to prove myself. 

What comes with being new to something and having to learn is never being afraid to ask questions. Just as my coach was happy to answer any questions that I had, my boss is as well. They both see it as me showing interest in attempting to learn and improve my skills. When I first started my role as a product manager, I was reluctant to ask questions and that made it difficult for me to get through initial tasks. I knew that I had to change something about my attitude, and so I decided to think of it the same way that I did with sports. Asking questions is always a good thing, it reflects well on you, and for most people that you ask questions to, it shows you value their expertise and trust their judgement. This is probably the best bit of advice that I would give to myself at the start of my job, and that I would give to anyone else starting out in the workforce. 

Throughout my first year working full-time, I have found that a surprising amount of actions or mindsets that can be found in sports can be applied to the working world. I had to remind myself initially that here at iTradeNetwork, I am part of a team, just like I was at Stanford. I’m not alone. After sports, you’ll join a company and as a member of the team you’ll work towards creating the best product, helping the most people, and making the world a better overall place. So make sure you contribute to the environment and be part of the team. Manage your time, be comfortable being uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to ask questions because your future teammates will depend on you. As much as they can help you, you’re joining the team to help them as well.