30 Things I’ve Learned From Corporate America

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Courtesy rawpixel.com

Just a few life lessons from my mistakes.

Never ask a celebrity anything other than the question that you are supposed to be asking them, because, chances are, you will forget who you are and ask them something incredibly weird just to impress them, and it will not work. Example (and this is hard to write): One time, Craig Campbell told me that his favorite artist of all time was Keith Whitley. I, for some reason, thought he said Glenn Frey – so I asked him if he was an Eagles fan. Stick to the script, Abbi, stick to the script. It’s also not appropriate to say things like “You smell like gingerbread!” to Reba McEntire.

Always accept free food. Food will not always be free, so make it count. If you don’t want to take it in front of your coworkers, you can stealthily grab a little bit later. But, honestly, everyone wants it, so just do what you want and take that croissant in the morning meeting.

Taco Bell does not count as a suitable lunch when the CEO of the company is walking by your desk. Suitable fast-food lunch options include Subway, Chick-fil-A, and anything that can’t be identified by the smell alone. I have never seen someone eating a hamburger at their desk (but, I’ve seen plenty of Jason’s Deli bags).

Bring something warm to wear. You will need layers. It will either be 50° in your office, or 85°. There is no in-between, and which temperature it will be is always a mystery. Some adopt a blanket as a permanent part of their outfit every day, so pick one you really like (because you’ll be in it 90% of the time). Here’s a meme I made about this very subject:

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Attitudes do not work well in the office, especially when that attitude is #NotMyJob. This will never, ever work for you. Chances are that things will go poorly and you won’t succeed in what you’re trying to do. This is especially important when you’re in the beginning stages of your career and are trying to get a taste for what the company is like (or, what you want to do). If you take on new responsibilities and tasks to establish yourself, you may find that there’s a strength you’ve overlooked or a connection with a mentor that you’ve made. Yes, if your plate is full, you can say no – that’s not my point. You need to be open to either doing something you may not want to or directing someone to the right place to solve the problem. Yes, it IS your job.

Do not hold your ice-cold water cup in the same hand that you shake hands with. It will not go well when you go to greet someone. We had the CEO of the company come in one day from New York for a big presentation, and, at the wine-and-cheese reception following his speech, we lined up to meet him. Sure enough, because I tend to always make these situations a little awkward, I had a glass of ice water in my shaking hand. I realized it when he was only a few people ahead of me, and desperately tried to friction-up my hand. Now, I’m sure, he just think I am especially clammy. Save yourself from this situation and carry those glasses of iced tea in your opposite hand, folks.

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It is better to be the person at the desk who always has forks and Tylenol then the person who doesn’t. I have at least one person per week that either comes to my desk for something that they could find in the chaos of my cube or is referred to my desk by someone else in the office. It doesn’t cost much to always have a few things that people need: Tylenol or Advil, a Tide-To-Go pen, plastic forks, or a lint roller. It’s a very easy way to make friends, and it’s a good reputation to have at the office. I had a colleague once who told me to not tell anyone you had forks, or everyone would be coming to your desk. On the contrary, I like having people stop by my desk for things. It keeps me from having days where I don’t speak to another human being until 11AM.

Do not bring the food for lunch that needs to be microwaved that will jeopardize the smell of the entire office. Fish is a definite no-no. Both tacos and chili smell good but will also waft through the entire office. Just be prepared to answer, “What smells so good?” a handful of times if you opt for these dishes. If you bring snacks, which, obviously I must, do not bring the ones that are so crunchy that every bite makes it sound like you are a T-Rex crushing bones at your desk. Everyone will be able to hear, especially if you’re in a quiet office.

If you have to do an important interview, step away from your open-space-cubicle floor plan. Everyone will be able to hear your interview, and any mistakes that you make. This doesn’t work out well when you’re interviewing one of your celebrity crushes. This happened once when I was on a call with Cole Swindell. The office was uncharacteristically quiet as I did the interview at my desk and then everyone CLAPPED when I hung up the phone. It was mortifying.

Going on a diet will not work for you, especially if you work in a place where free food lives all the time. There will be some sort of food to sabotage your diet every single day, and it may even be at every single meal. There was once a day when I was offered donuts, scones, muffins, pizza, Taziki’s leftovers, spiced pecans, chocolate-covered pretzels, and a slice of coconut cake, all before 4PM. The office is a difficult place to be on a diet. If these issues don’t affect your workplace, go for it kids!

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Be sure to turn your ringer off before you go to your morning meeting. If that sucker goes off and you are over at the conference table with the rest of the group, you have to explain to them why Barefoot Blue Jean Night by Jake Owen is blasting at your desk. It will be the longest minute of your life.

The more people you help, the more people will want to help you. I know that some folks are against adding smiley faces to emails. But, honestly, if you’re working with someone for a while and it’s casual (and/or, you’re being helpful), throw one of those suckers in there. I like getting smiles from people. If you have the time to help someone out with something that makes their life easier, you should do it. Do everything you can to work towards that common goal. And, as you’d expect, people are much more likely to help you out when you’re in a pickle if you’ve been kind to them with favors.

Only print out handouts when they are absolutely necessary. I have wasted almost 2 packs of paper on handouts that could’ve been PDFs in an email. You’ll need to have a paper trail of these, anyways, so be conscientious of the environment and don’t print out more than you need to. And, make sure that the printer is working before you have to print out a large document. If that ends up in the printer queue and everyone is stuck behind you, you will not be the office favorite.

Drive slowly around the turns in the parking deck, because you do not want to get in an accident with one of your coworkers. That could and would be incredibly awkward. I actually have a friend who this happened to – she was hit by another coworker in the garage. Do you really want to exchange insurance information with the company’s creative director? And, news of this caliber would spread like wildfire.

The office is fueled by caffeine and craft beer. Note: Learn to like one of these things. People will look at you strangely as you gather with the staff at a local brewery and ask for the drink that tastes least like beer. Hard cider, por favor? And, as any social culture, you will be regarded as more open-minded if you talk about the number of coffees you’ve consumed or drink the wine or take a glass of champagne at the wine-and-cheese social. Now – as someone who does not drink much (see my Dear Sober Abbi blog posts), an appropriate swap for alcohol is sparkling water. Sparkling water gives you something to toast with and feels a little fancier than tap water.

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If you are an amateur baker, do not bring a pie to a place where people are literally professional bakers. This tip is definitely specific to working at a women’s lifestyle magazine, but it happened to me so frequently that I thought it important to include. My work husband is a pastry chef, and even he knew better than to broadcast that he’d brought in a dessert for people to sample. It’s intimidating (and, most of it’s in your head!). But, you can always leave an anonymous dessert by the coffee machine for people to sample.

Double-check when you’re sending an email that it is actually going to the right person. I was trying to contact one specific marketing gal, and accidentally CC’d in the whole consumer marketing group with 100+ people. I got about 15 polite emails back saying, “Sorry, try again!”

It is not acceptable to take off your shoes and walk around in bare feet, unless everyone else is gone. Airplane rules apply to the office, if I may be so bold. If you’re choosing to wear high heels to work, you’d better make sure that you can hang out in those babies until 5:30PM, or that you’ve brought a pair of flats to change into in case of emergency. When there are constantly people walking through your office, you cannot walk barefoot to the photocopy machine (and, limping in heels doesn’t look so great, either). This was a tough one for me, because I love to take off my shoes. Keep that habit at home, folks.

Keep mints instead of gum at your desk, so that you are not smacking to the dismay of everyone around you. Mints are an easy and inexpensive way to get rid of that garlic breath after lunch, and won’t bring down your professionalism. Plus, you have the added bonus of being kind and offering mints to colleagues.

If you must trip and fall and heels, be sure to do it in the stairwell instead of in front of everyone coming back from a meeting. They will feel very badly for you, and you will think about how you probably should’ve worn flats today. I wish I could say that this hasn’t happened to me, but, in fact, it’s happened to me at least three times. Once, I was giving a tour to our new intern and completely tripped down a flight of stairs. I think I made her feel more comfortable about being in the office, but, man, that was embarrassing.

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If you notice that your dress is unraveling as you’re getting ready for work, change. Do not wear that dress to work. It will become worse, and, by the end of the day, you will actually have a hole in your clothing. Not exactly flattering, especially in a professional setting. And, if you notice it in the privacy of your own home, it’ll certainly drive you crazy in the office, when you’re hyperaware of impressing your boss.

Do not come to work with chipped nail polish. This will inevitably be the day when you are asked to hand model (really!), and then you will have to go through the rigmarole of taking off your chipped black polish. It would have been easier if you had just taken off the polish like you originally planned before you binge-watched Reign on Netflix.

Bringing someone a Starbucks drink is a great way of helping them warm up to you. No pun intended. You’d be surprised at how a small gesture like picking up coffee for someone can change the tone of their entire day.

If you work in an office full of lots of skinny people, they may not appreciate your Christmas cookie haul as much as some other people would. Save the Christmas cookies for people who will appreciate them, and try bringing something a little healthier to the Christmas party, like fruit or orange juice.

Playing things out loud on your computer is incredibly taboo. It’s the equivalent of playing music or a podcast on full volume without headphones in a public place – not appreciated. Even if you are at just one volume mark on your laptop, assume everyone can hear it (because, some can). And, there will always be colleagues who do not take kindly to playing Christmas music out loud in the afternoons. They are Scrooges, but still wear headphones.

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Rewrite an email if you think that there is even the slightest chance that someone might be offended by it. This is an important one! Either establish yourself as the person that gets right to the point in emails, or be a kind, flowery person that rewrites emails a few times until you get it right. You do not need to be passive aggressive. Don’t try to convey attitude in an email; take a deep breath, and remember that it’s only a job. Kind emails, people.

If you walk into the restroom with three other people, try and do the every other stall thing. Only sociopaths come into a restroom with one other person (and five-plus stalls) and pick the stall next to the original restroom-user. And, if that person is you and I recognize your shoes, I guarantee that I will hold that negative feeling of increased peeing anxiety against you for at least the rest of the workday.

Do not share your political believes in the office. You would think that this one would be a given, but, surprisingly, it is not. Please do not share who you are voting for or why you think so-and-so is a bad candidate. This is our workplace, man. I just want to come in, do my job, and not have to think about why you decided to vote for Donald Trump. This is a definite no-no.

If someone tells you something in confidence, do not share it. To create relationships, be a person of your word. No one wants to find out that you told someone something that you weren’t supposed to, because then you’re not only a bad colleague, you’re a bad friend. And that gets around.

If you have an urge to talk about someone else in your office, keep it to yourself. This is the last point for a reason. In any environment where you’re working with different personalities, corporate structures, and dynamics, things happen that will make you unhappy or frustrated. This is, unfortunately, inevitable. And, often times, there will be certain people at the root of these issues. If you have the chance to talk trash about one of your colleagues, turn it down. It only plants bad seeds. Instead, take every situation with a grain of salt and remind yourself that it’s only a job. Don’t talk badly about your colleagues. We all have better things to spend our time on.

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Good luck!

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