Work/Life Balance

9 Ways To Keep Your Sh*t Together When You Start Working Full-Time

By | Tuesday, August 09, 2016


Transitioning from part-time work, the freelancing lifestyle, or college and moving into a full-time job can make anyone nervous and worried. I’ve tried to think through my own transition process and, after some time, I’ve finally come up with this list of things that I think will help you be more well-prepared and make better decisions if you’re about to enter (or are already in) this situation.

1. Upgrade your wardrobe and manners

Moving from lecture halls or the coffee counter to an office desk means changing from jeans and t-shirts to suits and ties. It also means changing your manner of speaking and behavior. All those cute mini-skirts that flatter your legs will have to wait till weekends now, as your weekdays will be spent convincing people you’re capable and professional, not fun and sexy (even though you still totally are!)

The best way to go about overhauling your professional wardrobe: research the firm’s dress code before you start and go for the smartest, most proper look to make an impression that you take your job seriously on the first day. From there, see how people dress at your office and copy them. Make sure everything fits you well and that your shirts are always ironed. Also, this upgrade takes time; it’s not cheap! Go for basics first and try to use the simple pieces (button-downs, for example) you already have.

2. Manage your money

Managing money is an essential skill for all stages of life (and we should have learned this as soon as we moved out of our parents’ houses to live on our own at university while metamorphosing into a fully-formed adult…right?!? JK, it’s a lifelong process). When you work full-time, it’s even more crucial to manage your money well. You have to cover or avoid more work-related expenses (bringing paper-bag lunches instead of eating at the corporate cafeteria) and think concretely about saving for your future (fill out that 401K paperwork), and pay back your student loans (automate those paycheck transfers).

If you don’t have a budget and plan carefully where to best invest your cash in, it’s very easy to overspend and go deeper into debt. If this goes on over a long period of time, it’s an one-way ticket straight into depression. No kidding. So, do keep records of your spending and open a savings account ASAP.

3. Make new friends

Making friends is easy when you’re a student. You can meet new people any time you want, such as at lecture halls, societies, student events, parties, etc. Chances are that you and that person sitting next to you in the library actually have a bunch of mutual friends and a simple “hey” is enough for a new friendship to begin. Same goes for the camaraderie of a service job; nothing like dealing with difficult customers side by side for eight hours at a time to bond quickly with your coworkers.

But when you work full-time as an adult, the story is different. At offices, people have their professional side on and tend to be more guarded and cynical. Meeting new people is treated as networking instead of making friends. And even if you successfully make friends at work, these people will be classified as “work friends” until they prove they’re worthy of being upgraded to “friend friends.”

Warning: it’s not going to be easy to strike up natural conversation. But do try for it; ask an office-mate if she wants to grab lunch together. You should be extra attentive if you manage to establish a real connection with her at this stage. Be genuine, open, and make an effort.

4. Keep in touch with friends

If making new friends is difficult, keeping in touch with old friends is another level of hard work. You and your friends no longer live two doors away from each other; friendships can’t be conveniently strengthened with heart-to-hearts over a few rounds of shots and a few slices of late-night pizza anymore.

You actually need to make effort to meet up with each other; planning a get-together often takes place weeks before the gathering, since both parties now have their own busy schedules. If you don’t actively keep each other updated on your lives and maintain the friendship, you might find yourself saying “we used to be close, but not anymore.” Prioritize the tried-and-true people in your life and make an effort to plan ahead for them.

5. Take care of your online presence

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will no longer have any evidence of you drinking, saying random, stupid sh*t (even if your comments are funny as f*ck). Your social media accounts will all be PG-rated and absolutely employer-friendly.

And now, every time you post something, think twice: “What would my colleagues think if they see this?” “Would this opinion get me fired?” “How do I cultivate a set of photos that make me appear hard-working and smart?” Also, you might want to Google your name and make sure the result is clean before someone else does and it’s too late to salvage your reputation at the office.

6. Change your sleeping pattern

When you’re in university, you proudly call yourself nocturnal and even have a team of nocturnal friends (whom you suspect are actually vampires). They’re always there for you when you can’t sleep or suddenly want pizza and beer. Now that you work full-time and have to show up fresh and professional at 9 o’clock in the morning every weekday, you just can’t afford the vampire lifestyle anymore. The same goes for freelancing and service job schedules; you’re used to staying up until midnight closing the store and then reversing gear and pulling a 6am opening shift later that week; your sleep schedule isn’t regular.

Changing your sleeping pattern is not easy. If you function five hours ahead of the country you live in (like me), going to bed before 11pm and waking up before 7am just doesn’t feel right. Changing this pattern feels like becoming a whole new person. You’ll need at least a week of this regimen before you start your first work day. Take it slow: adjust to the new schedule and ensure you have a good eight-hour sleep under your belt to deliver your best at the office.

7. Choose your own path

From kindergarten to high school to university, each educational stage of life has a fixed duration. The only thing you need to decide is which school to go to and which course to take, not how long you are going to stay in any particular stage (assuming that you are studying hard enough to move up one grade level per year). You already know what each course has to offer and how the qualifications of an academic degree will benefit you.

When you’re in the working world, you don’t have such clear guides. You will have to make your own judgements about whether this job is right for you, how long you should commit to it, when and how to advance your career once you decide to leave. How much you learn from a job also depends entirely on you. If you don’t take action, you can get stuck at one place until the next layoff. Be aware, assertive, and decisive about your responsibility to determine your path.

8. Have fun

You probably still remember the classic advice that a recent college graduate told you when you were still in school: make the most of your student life because you won’t have this much free time and flexibility until you’re retired. What that senior meant is this: by the time you get off work from your full-time job, you will be too exhausted to do anything except make dinner, shower, and maybe watch some TV before it’s time to sleep. When weekends roll around, it’s possible that all you’ll do is catch up on sleep and *sigh* prepare for next week.

Don’t get trapped by that sense of resignation. It’s important to find time for fun and keep up with your hobbies. Working full-time and becoming an adult doesn’t mean you have to stop being a kid at heart. I don’t deny that this will sometimes be quite tricky. You will probably need to plan out your fun activities well in advance and work extra hard to meet the demands of your job and leave your weekends free. Consciously label “fun and hobbies” as a priority in your life. Work hard, play hard, remember?

9. Stay true to yourself

Your life will change, more or less, when you change your environment. You will be surrounded by new people and develop new kinds of relationships. You will see yourself differently as you’re challenged by different situations and exposed to different influences. And you will definitely have more responsibilities and less time for yourself outside of work.

It’s easy to lose yourself in your job and follow the stream mindlessly if you neglect other aspects of your life and forget to keep doing the things that make you You. Check in with yourself: What are your values? What are your priorities? What drives you? Why are you doing what you do? Keep these questions in mind even if you don’t have the answers to all of them. They will help guide you and remind you of who you are, even if they don’t provide cut-and-dry answers.

Ellen Nguyen is Vietnamese millennial girl currently residing in the UK. She writes honestly and openly about a variety of topics including love, sex, relationships and self-improvement at — you can also connect with her on Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

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