21 Things I Learned My First Year in Madison
I can’t believe it! It’s been a whole year since I moved to Madison! I feel so incredibly different than I did a year ago. I’ve started my career, I’ve made a life for myself in a city where I didn’t know anyone, I’ve experienced a lot of growing pains over the last 12 months. And even though things aren’t perfect, I’m really proud of the person this year has made me.
The world doesn’t scare me that way it did a year ago. I’m stronger, I stand up for myself more, I’m more in touch with what I want, I’m more protective of where my energy goes. It hasn’t been an easy ride. Honestly, this has probably been one of the toughest years I’ve ever had. I’ve been really lucky, but I’ve also been really scared and emotionally exhausted. I’ve had a lot of “what am I doing here” moments and that’s okay. I’m 24 – I don’t need to have all the answers. But at least I’m learning a lot, I’m trying to figure out what it is I want to do, and I’m having some fun along the way.
I’ve been reflecting on this last year a lot. I never even thought I would make it in Madison this long, to be honest. But I’m still here and I’ve learned a thing or two…
- Find your way in. I’m working in a field that I knew very little about starting out, but I’ve found my ways into my job to make it interesting. I like working with people, I like figuring out what tools can meet my customers’ needs, I like keeping up with industry news, I like writing certain kinds of documents, etc. It may take a while to gain enough knowledge to find your way in, but lean into it when you do.
- Take notes. I’ve been a life-long note taker and I find that I’m more engaged and understand things better when I write them down.
- Try to be yourself. Transitions are really hard for me and I’m hugely skeptical of institutions, so it takes me a long time to really buy in. But I’m glad I kept going and got to a point where I feel like I can be more myself at work. I felt like a newbie and an outsider for a long time and I know that was partially my own reluctance, but it’s so exhausting feeling like you have to put on a mask all day, five days a week. I’m better at my job now that I’m more relaxed and who cares if someone doesn’t like me anyway.
- Learn about the industry. I’m a big context person, so learning about our customers, our installation process, our competitors, etc. all helped me get a better grasp on what it is I really do and why it matters in the scheme of things. Things can get very theoretical very fast in big companies, so learning as much as I can has made me more invested in what I do since I know exactly how it affects other people, too.
- Find your people. I got really lucky and met my work bestie on my first day. We bounce ideas off each other, support each other’s projects, and dish about work and life. I always feel like I have my best ideas when we work together and she’s pulled me into some cool projects I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Shoutout to Kat for being the best! (I hope she reads this lol)
- Make things fun. This isn’t always possible, but I’m trying to take work less seriously when I can. Starting a meeting with an icebreaker about what kind of ghost you would be? Awesome. Sending out a Britney Spears themed email to your team? Done. Including the funniest stock photos you found on Shutterstock in your group editorial meeting? Unexpectedly hilarious. I know it sounds kind of lame, but you do what you can.
- Separate work and life. Once again, not always possible (especially when you’re having dreams about workflow analysis), but I know that, for the most part, people respect your boundaries. I turn off my email on the weekends and I’ve committed to making my apartment a work-free zone. I’m lucky because I don’t have a crazy travel schedule but I think it’s always important to take a step back when you can and remember you have this whole other world that isn’t your job.
- I’ll never pigeon hole myself again. I never thought I’d work in technology. I never identified as being a woman in STEM. But here I am doing just that. I have a really strong arts and humanities background and thought that’s all I could do. But now I know I can learn pretty much anything. This has to be the best thing I’ve gotten out of this job – if I can learn medical software, bring it on world, I can do anything.
- It’s okay to move on. If it’s really not working, it’s okay to leave. It’s so easy to get sucked in and to feel like you couldn’t possibly, but people leave jobs all the time and everything is fine. Listen to your gut – you’ll know when it’s time to go. I’m staying put for now, but always try to remember that life keeps moving and it’s can be the right thing to go along with it.
- People really are nicer here. I grew up in the Midwest, but I underestimated how nice people are in this town. I’ve never lived somewhere where it’s easier to meet people and where everyone looks out for each other. I’m always chatting with the cashier at my grocery store or making friends when I go out to the bars. I went home to Chicago last weekend and tried to chat with some people about the beer selection only to get shut down – it reminded me why I love living here.
- Badger Nation is real. I went to a women’s college where we didn’t football and then grad school in Ireland where football was a little different… So moving to the most football-obsessed state ever was a pretty big change to say the least. Between the Badgers and the Packers, there’s always a game on and people are always drinking about it. I’ve woken up to “Chug! Chug! Chug!” more times than I can count. This shit is serious.
- Don’t miss the Farmers Market. I never thought of myself as a farmers market person, but the one here is huge. Everyone comes out for it decked out in their Badger red (regardless of whether or not there’s a game on) and it’s just a total event every Saturday. I always buy my veggies here in the summer and love to pick up bread, cheese, jam, and flowers, too. It’s so nice to wander around and feel like your part of the community.
- It’s safe and cheap and nice. I have to say, being able to afford to have a life outside of work is really nice. I don’t have to pinch pennies to go get a beer or go to a concert – every time I go back to Chicago I get a little shocked at the prices. It’s also a city where I feel really safe living as a young woman, which is saying a lot these days. Overall, the quality of life is so good, there’s fun restaurants and bars, lots of young people, and it feels great to be able to support myself my first year on my own. I’m not sure I could say the same if I lived somewhere else.
- Invest in friendships. I haven’t always been a good friend. In college, I was the girl who would leave my sick friend behind to go to the party. It always made me squirm when people came to my room and cried. I consistently chose guys over my friends and expected them to understand. But now that I’m older I’m learning how much more valuable my female friendships are. They are the most consistent relationships in my life and my friends’ support is the bedrock of my happiness in a lot of ways. I’m working hard at being more present with my friends and I’m trying to be more vulnerable with them, too. I wished I learned sooner.
- Cut out the Crazy Makers. When I was reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way she talks about people who are Crazy Makers: people who suck up all your energy and make you feel like you’re the one who’s crazy. I knew exactly who she meant. I’m now more protective of my energy and who I spend my time with and I’m happier for it. People who make everything about them aren’t the people are going to support and inspire you to be your best.
- Distance is okay. This is the closest I’ve lived to my family in about 5 years so, at first, I was seeing them all the time. It got to a point where I didn’t feel like I was developing my own life in Madison, so I decided to take some space and stay home for a while. I learned that even though I’m close to them I don’t have to be around them all the time – it’s important to set boundaries and it’s okay to say no to things. I’m young and want to have my own life and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Go to the party. If I ever got invited to a party and the only person I knew was the host I always went. Of course I got nervous and yes I downed a drink or two as soon as I got there, but I always made myself go and meet people. I did this a good deal in Dublin, too, and I’m always so glad I did. There are always inevitably a few awkward moments, but it’s amazing how easy it is to introduce yourself to someone or strike up a conversation around the punch bowl. It’s a muscle you have to flex regularly, but I’ve met some of my best friends in Madison this way.
- Give friendship time. Friendship is not like dating: you won’t necessarily know right away if you’re a good fit. After one date you pretty much know if you’re interested or not, but with friends sometimes it can take longer than that. You have to warm up to each other and let your guard down and do stuff together. Of course there will be people you just won’t get along with, but sometimes friendships start out awkward and become amazing. Be patient.
- Go with my gut. Learning to tap into my gut and trust my own feelings has become my most powerful tool. At this time in life it’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s expectations – what your parents think, what your friends are doing, what you thought you’d be doing by now – so learning to be honest with myself and trust my own feelings has helped me so much. I overthink a lot of things and my gut is my grounding force.
- Self care isn’t always easy. I’ve talked about this a lot on the blog, but self care doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Sometimes it means taking long luxurious baths and drinking wine, but sometimes it looks like getting my ass to the gym and saying no to going out because I need to take it easy. It’s a struggle, but it’s feels really important to become an advocate for myself.
- Life is funny. I don’t pretend to know what life will throw at me anymore. This year has made it very clear that I have no fucking clue and zero control, so I might as well make the best of what’s in front of me. It’s good to have goals, it’s good to be passionate about your work, but life is also life and we do what we can.
If you made it to the end of this post, you are the real MVP (and also probably pretty bored or you’re my mother). Seriously though, moving to Madison was a scary and sort of random decision on my part – I needed a job, I wanted to be close to home, I didn’t know what else to do – but I’m so glad that I did it. It hasn’t been easy and probably won’t get any easier and that’s okay. I’ve learned so much, grown up so much, and am being really intentional about what my next step is… stay tuned to find out!