Learning comes in all forms. It’s your decision how you apply the learnings and still stay true to yourself

My first assignment in my newly acquired Supply Chain Trainee position consisted of me leaving my hometown state, moving somewhere I knew no one, living alone, and learning what business casual meant, among many other things. I was starting at the company headquarters where men still wore suits and ties every day and most of the women wore full suits as well. The conservative garb at work inspired a review of what I had in my closet. I determined that most of my wardrobe pieces were more on the casual end of the “business casual” spectrum; much less able to be classified as professional attire. I was in a bit of culture shock.

Outside of learning that my previous wardrobe was not going to cut it in this next phase of my professional life, my stint in this corporate world helped me learn some very important skills. There were the office suite of programs including powerpoint and excel, accompanied by a myriad of last-minute change requests. I quickly learned and memorized many shortcuts.
I also learned that it was important to smile and greet every person you passed in the hallway. I didn’t want to earn the reputation of a rude, young new girl. There were enough challenges without earning any such black marks.

My language and appearance took on a new level of importance, as though they represented the quality of my work or my technical capability.

While I seemed to be navigating my outfit choices successfully (minus the one time I dared to wear a skirt without nylons!), I was told words like “cool” and “awesome” were no longer acceptable. I was also advised to remove a couple earrings that were not “professional looking”. I admit I was taken aback by these “suggestions”. I wanted fit in and be appropriate, but I also wanted to be me.

While I was learning to adapt multiple pieces of who I was, I was I was given a list of new words and phrases I needed to add to my repertoire. I was officially introduced to the world of acronyms. In order to keep up with conversations I would quickly have to add these 3 letter phrases to my everyday lingo. Turns out this vocabulary list would only continue to grow, and I would find myself coming up with fun, secret acronyms to add to my new lexicon, just to spice things up every now and then!

All of these suggestions led to an interesting crossroad. How was I to maintain my identity and personality without offending my colleagues or getting one of those dreaded black marks? I acquiesced on the earrings because those weren’t that important to me, but my words and the way I used them were a part of who I was. I absolutely found the appropriate times to water down my delivery (ie: when giving a large presentation to the COO and business segment presidents), but I was not going to change who I was at the core. After all, isn’t being me what got me this far? Communication will always evolve, but there is an aspect of it that reflects your true personality. It’s a fine balance and one that each person must decide where and how much to conform to one’s environment.

Upon reflection, those were some of the decisions that were important to me as I determined how I wanted to stay true to who I was. I’ve definitely lost myself a few times during this manufacturing career, but fortunately I’ve had a solid group of mentors that have reminded me to trust myself and my gut. And “cool” and “awesome” did end up remaining in my vocabulary, among other words (some of which are pretty common in the manufacturing world)!

I did survive that stint in the corporate world and headed to the plant for my next rotation. It is there that I found my comfort and the connection that truly initiated my manufacturing career. This environment was more relaxed in terms of wardrobe and language…and I even found that I learned a whole new set of vocabulary and a world of new experiences.

Stay tuned for more highlights and stories from the journey