5 things I’ve learned from my co-op (that aren’t in my job description)

Happy 2020 (even though it’s almost March)! Can you believe we made it?

I dreamed of the new decade since at least May 2019. I knew it was going to be a big year in many ways but most importantly, this was the year I would go on my first co-op. The idea of being in an office working a full time job was… daunting but also so exciting!

Now I am here, almost 2 months into my time with Acquia as the Talent Branding and Programs Specialist Co-op. I write articles and post to social media to promote my company’s brand and get people excited about applying to Acquia, as well as doing some recruiting. I’ve learned so much (and not just about how to use Google Sheets or how to run a background check).

For someone who has been a student her whole life and is just now entering the corporate world, I made plenty of mistakes, broke some habits, and learned a lot. 

Here are 5 lessons I learned from my co-op beyond my role:

“Working hard or hardly working, eh Mac?” – Shrek, Shrek 2
(source: Giphy)

1. Schedule everything – including time for yourself

Work/life balance is something I’ve heard about a lot from friends and family before starting my co-op, but it wasn’t anything that directly impacted me. While I was in classes, I could be spontaneous and spend an afternoon downtown or have a movie night with friends. Self-care and balance wasn’t difficult to maintain. However, I find it harder and harder to maintain a good balance while I’m working. It’s so tempting to come back home after work and eat, shower, go to bed, repeat indefinitely.

To combat this, I’ve started scheduling my evenings to make sure I attend clubs, see friends, and spend time taking care of my mental and physical health. I noticed my mood drastically improved, I felt more energized, and I was happier. Without even realizing it, I had overcome burnout and found a way to avoid it in the future.

2. Your sleep schedule will change (probably for the better)

I knew that I would wake up earlier for my co-op than I had to for classes but not by much. I wake up at 6:30 for classes and co-op (mostly because I set so many alarms and it takes me at least an hour to fully wake up). What I didn’t realize is that being fully functional for 8 consecutive hours is really hard when you’re used to going to bed at 1 am and taking a nap in the afternoon. I actually need those full 8 hours and that means going to bed at 10:30 or 11 pm.

It was a strange adjustment (I hadn’t gone to bed that early since middle school), but I realized begrudgingly that it was a necessary one. Writing articles every week requires a fully awake mind and to have that, I need a steady and full sleep schedule. Maybe I’ll commit to going to bed earlier while in classes, too…

3. Meal prepping is a BIG money saver

I will be the first to admit that I had never scheduled meals while I was in classes, which is probably shocking for my parents (sorry). I would get back to my dorm around 6, scrounge around the kitchen, maybe cook an egg, grab a bag of chips, and that would be my dinner. Since starting co-op, my roommates and I developed a cooking schedule in which all 4 of us are responsible for cooking dinner once a week. That includes grocery shopping. 

And honestly? I don’t think I would ever do anything differently. I LOVE cooking for my roommates. I’m learning tons of recipes, including Indian dishes my mom made when I was a kid. I feel more confident in the kitchen and gaining new skills. I feel more like an adult than ever as I become more independent and cook for myself.  

4. Failure is often a blessing in disguise – or at least not as scary as you would think

For someone who always strives for perfection (probably to a fault), there was nothing I dreaded more than failing. Making a mistake always felt like a black mark on my record and I would never recover from it. I was told often that “failure” was just another way of saying “an opportunity to learn” but I had never taken that lesson to heart.

That is, until I saw it play out. I made many mistakes since I began my co-op and I’m sure I’ll make many more before I finish. Truthfully, failure is not that scary, whether that’s having an article shot down or doing poorly on an exam. My manager told me, “Allow yourself 30 seconds of regret and move on,” and that’s what you have to do. Regret that mistake for a little bit, learn from it, and grow. 

5. Celebrate the wins

I am not good about celebrating my accomplishments; I tend to hyper-focus on the mistakes I made along the way. But I’ve learned to be proud of my achievements and take a moment to savor the rewards of my hard work. There have been times where I have worked tirelessly writing and rewriting, editing and rewording, until finally I finish with a product that gets me a pat on the back from my teammates and a fist bump from my manager. I’ve learned to compile those moments in the back of my mind and in a jar, saving them for a day when I need a reminder that I am capable of anything I set my mind to, that I was hired because they believe in me, and that I should believe in myself. 

Co-op is meant to be more than adding an experience to your resume; it’s a learning experience. Whether that’s finding a career path, learning new skills, or exploring the workforce, there’s always a lesson to learn from your co-op. And I’m certain I’ll take what I’ve learned with me as I continue in this co-op, my remaining years at Northeastern, and beyond.

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