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  • Thomas Djerf, Alumnus, University of Minnesota

Same Dog, New Tricks - What I Learned in My First Job

An update for my fellow NMC members. It was so great meeting those of you on the trip to CA in January of 2018. I somehow managed to graduate on time, and to those of you who sang ‘Happy Birthday’ with me on the bus, I appreciate it. Takahito, if you’re reading this, “Arigato”. For everyone else, you kinda had to be there. Thank you again Bill, for making this all possible.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II). Here our would-be lovers are lamenting the rivalry between the houses of Montague and Capulet, which prevents them from being together. We know the story. It gets at a larger issue which is still applicable to us all: How we name or label ourselves, and each other.

If you grew up with siblings (I happen to have a younger sister and two younger brothers), a label you learn very quickly is “mine”, often yelled at a brother or sister who made the unforgivable mistake of playing with your *favorite* toy. School starts, coinciding with the next chapter in our lifelong practice of labeling ourselves, each other, and the world around us. With school comes one of our most important labels: “student”.

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half. I will stop trying to generalize and speak on my own experience. Some labels I have defined myself with up until this date (May 5th, 2018- graduation) are: Son, Brother (both biological and fraternity), Roommate, Boyfriend (short-lived), Athlete (3rd marathon coming up in June), RA, Tour guide, Classmate, Friend, Dining Services Employee. Employee. EMPLOYEE. I first got that label as a Counter Associate at Bruegger’s Bagels, summer after my junior year of high school, and it has been a large part of what defined me since. EMPLOYEE. It was all I could think about as I crossed the stage at commencement for my handshake and my photo-op, along with several hundred of my closest friends.

My first post-college job was everything I hoped it would be, and a huge wake-up call about the elusive “real world” that awaited us after college. I moved from the suburbs of Minneapolis to a mansion in a gated community in Indianapolis that serves as the national headquarters for my fraternity, and home base for the six of us Chapter Services Consultants. We were each tasked with visiting a section of the country and checking on whichever of the 103 chapters fell within our jurisdiction; I visited 19 each semester.

I learned: how to use Microsoft’s Office suite (quite the accomplishment for a lifelong Apple owner), how to create and manage my own schedule, and how to be alone with minimal oversight for months at a time, visiting two different cities a week. But I did not learn how to say “no” and take time for myself. I was called off the road on March 21st (3 weeks early) and learned that my one-year contract would be ending early. It’s a long story that boils down to a bad fit.

That late-March weekend unexpectedly back in Indianapolis marked the first 24 hours since early February that I had taken a break from my job. Weekends, nights, even my 23rd birthday— I worked it all, because I thought I had to. My “work-life” balance was off-balance: all work, all the time. Work consumed my identity, which is why being told my job wasn’t a good fit hurt so much. I took it very personally, even though it was “just business”.

When you let your job define you, you lose touch with the most important parts of yourself. I see so many of us define ourselves by where we work and how much money we make. For the last eight months I was just as guilty. (Working for a nonprofit, trust me, my salary was never much of a bragging point). This lie is very easy to buy into. In the end, you and I each have to name ourselves, and claim our personal, unique label(s) without letting external forces [ie employers] dictate them. A question I will be focused on while determining next steps in my career is: “What makes your heart sing?” (Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED). If anyone interviewing you doesn’t have an answer to that question, in the words of Ariana Grande: “Thank U, Next”

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