As I near the end of my 19th year of school, I realize I still have a lot to learn. This applies to my professional knowledge, of course: I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in any field, even when I complete my master of public administration.
But what I really mean is that I have a lot to learn about myself, and how my personal characteristics are used professionally, even after all these years.
Sure, I’ve gleaned some valuable personal information: I know I like to procrastinate, I know I’m competitive and I know I am motivated by others more than myself. It took years to learn those things, and even longer to learn how to harness them as tools instead of hindrances.
These challenges-turned-attributes miss something important, however: The way I interact and fit into a workplace with others.
Earlier this semester, one of my graduate classes addressed this challenge: How does someone harness their positive attributes and compensate for their challenges as part of a team?
Effort in school, from early childhood until post-doctoral work, is judged on an individual basis.
Everyone gets a single grade, based on work done individually.
Aside from the occasional group project, most of what we do in school is separate from others.
As I gain more and more traction in the professional world, I realize that isn’t the case in many workplaces. In most offices, people are expected to work together. Teams, sections and departments make up much of the professional landscape.
In newspapers, I worked in sections or on “desks” with other writers and editors. Now I work in government for the manager’s office, the public works department or the community development department.
People commonly associate themselves with others who work the same shifts or are assigned to the same projects.
Although I do some solo projects, many work-related endeavors require collaboration.
For me, this is a fairly new skill. Only in the past few years (college especially) have I gotten a taste for working with others.
Luckily, several class activities have focused on the way professionals should seek to function at work, based on their personalities. For example, I learned that I might work best in an environment with practical procedures and established methods and criteria.
I learned that although I don’t like small talk, I should try to embrace it, so I am more approachable at work.
I learned that while I might see myself as precise, thorough and analytical, others may see me as picky, worrisome or fussy.
Of course, a personality test is no substitute for years of experience and interaction. But the practical knowledge has already helped guide me in interactions at work, and even at home.
Mostly, it has helped me better understand the value of professional relationships. As we do more and more work with the assistance of technology, there continues to be value (perhaps more so) in face-to-face interactions with other people.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt for schools at every level to place more emphasis on team-building, working together and structured and required interaction.
Why? Because the only thing I regret about this newfound insight into my working life is not having it sooner.
• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.