June 2014 marks my 1-year anniversary as a working professional, a transition chapter in my life I call “the slingshot year.” College graduation lifted me from the soft pillow of the educational system and slung me into the concrete wall of Corporate America.
For me, June also marks my first year of 9-5 and no sleeping in on the weekday, my first year of trying to find cheap, professional clothes for a child-sized adult (a lot harder than it sounds), and my first year of actually learning things. That’s right: I’m implying you don’t learn much in college. At least, you don’t learn what you need to know to smoothly transition into the business world.
College’s inability to prepare you is a problem: there’s this concept in psychology called “cognitive schema” where your brain creates a framework or foundation that helps you organize and interpret new information. If you don’t have that framework in place, you get “cognitive load” when your brain overloads with information that it can’t connect to a framework. This results in a whole lot of stress and a whole lot of not learning new concepts quickly.
I experienced this during the first 10 MONTHS of my slingshot year. Luckily, I landed my first big-kid job at Leggett & Platt as a Technical Writer in the IT department. It wasn’t easy at first.
I have a degree in Professional Writing and there was a major communication gap between me and the IT professionals that have been working here for 10+ years. At times, they were like “get it to GUI” (acronym for Graphical User Interface pronounced like a single word) and I was like “you want what to be gooey?” But the people here are patient, encouraging, and willing to mentor you when you need some extra help. Because of L&P, I finally have my cognitive schema built so I can move forward in my career and the opportunities ahead.
If you’re in your slingshot year or about to embark on one, keep your chin up and keep building that framework. I promise it gets better. If you’re currently looking, I also shamelessly suggest you look into a job at Leggett & Platt. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have survived this year without the people here.
5 Tips to combat cognitive load
1. Ask questions ‘til it clicks. Even if the question seems so obvious to everybody else. Don’t worry about looking dumb in front of your boss. The CEO puts his pants on the same way you do. Plus, your questions will let your boss know you want to learn and are engaged in your conversations.
2. Eavesdrop. Ok, don’t actually eavesdrop on private conversations, but do listen in on the work conversations going on around you. Think of your open office plan or your cubicle as an opportunity for constant, one-room-schoolhouse learning.
3. Take a notepad with you everywhere. Don’t let your lack of schema overwhelm you and cause you to lose focus in meetings. Jot as much as you can down in your notebook so you can remember to look up business terms, acronyms, and concepts later. Make sure to research the industry and your company as well. These things will help you build that schema.
4. Make friends at work. Friends are more willing to help or mentor you. Duh.
5. Relax. Take up yoga or join a roller derby team. Make time for social activities, volunteering, or people-watching at the laundry mat. Just do anything you enjoy. This will balance the craziness that is the slingshot year and keep you stress-free.
About the Author
I’m a kinesthetic creative. This of course is just my fancy way of saying I get my brightest ideas while moving, like when I’m hiking on trails or pacing my office. It’s probably why I prefer a pen or marker to the keyboard when I begin sketching out technical concepts for end-users at work. As a Systems Analyst/Technical Writer for Leggett & Platt’s IT department, my ability to re-draw (or write) an idea from a different perspective allows me to get inside the technical mind and successfully translate a message for the masses. It takes a type of creativity that people don’t get to experience every day. The projects I’m involved in are always changing and that’s what keeps me engaged.