Last Friday, February 11, 2022, marked my last day working at NWEA. I started my internship with them in the summer of 2017. After returning from a trip upon graduating from Oregon State University, I reached back out to inquire about openings for a Business Analyst position. Fortunately, I got hired as a contractor in 2018, which soon got converted to a full-time employee.

My experience at NWEA has been very positive. Although it is my very first professional job, I know this company genuinely lives by its mission, which is Partnering to help all kids learn®. I got to work on the product team in which I got to influence how we can help teachers save time with administering assessments and providing instruction to kids.

One of the best experiences at NWEA is having worked with some of the most amazing and brilliant people. During these years, I have built great relationships with my coworkers and some have even become close friends of mine.

Leaving and free

Why I Decided To Leave

Be uncomfortable

One of the most common quotes you probably heard before about staying in your comfort zone is “If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing.” It’s cliche, but it is so true. Honestly, NWEA is an amazing company to work for. Some of my family members asked why didn’t just stay and work for them? I totally could; great people culture, decent pay, generous retirement benefits, and paid-time-off.

This might sound weird, but because the company offers such great compensation, I was getting comfortable in my shoes. I was imagining myself staying because it was comfortable. Then I question myself; what would it mean for me to go to work every day if comfort is the reason I stay? I wouldn’t be working for a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment, which is what I’m seeking.

Another means to be uncomfortable is by moving to another state. I have not set foot outside of Oregon since I moved to the U.S. I’ve been wanting to live in a city that I’m not familiar with so that I’m able to learn and grow.

Portland is a great place to live and settle down. However, I’d love to explore more places before doing that. This is the perfect opportunity for a change and creates new experiences.

Pursue new opportunities and expand the network

I was ready for a change after working with a similar group on similar projects for years. It was getting difficult to find meaning in the work itself. With an explorer’s mind, I’m intrigued to find out what’s out there in the world and the new opportunities I can possibly encounter. To do that, I need a change in both my work and my physical environment.

I see great value in expanding my professional and social network, especially at an early age in my career. I’ve always been that awkward person in the professional setting (and party) who is nervous when making conversations. Now, I embrace that nervousness and turn that into genuine curiosity. I find there are always interesting things I learn through conversations with others. I’ve reached a point where I wanted to expose myself to a more diverse group and put myself out there.

With the desire for a change, I’m curious to see how other bigger companies function. How do they keep things in order when there are so many moving pieces that span across the globe? I’m curious and intrigued to find out.

The desire for new motivation

When the pandemic first hit us in March 2020, the company announced that everyone has to work from home for 2 weeks. I was that type of person who showed up at work by 8 am every day. I thought to myself: “There is no way I could last for 2 weeks working from home.” I find more enjoyment and fulfillment in being present in the office, seeing people in the hallway, and making connections in a physical environment.

And of course, that 2 weeks turned into 2 years. Never worked in a remote environment before, I was having a lot of challenges staying productive. Although I adapted to the situation eventually, the motivation and excitement that I had have diminished.

I love the work that we were doing, our mission to help all kids learn. However, after working there for 4 years, I was ready to be a part of something bigger, something more challenging and ambitious where I am surrounded by energy and passion. This is important for my well-being, purpose, and fulfillment.

My Takeaways - Notebook

My Takeaways

Every experience becomes a part of you that makes you who you are. Oftentimes, we just let an experience passes by without giving much thought to it. One of the biggest reasons why I started blogging is to concretely jot down and express these experiences so that I have an opportunity to reflect and learn from them. While doing that for myself, I hope they also provide you with some insights that would help you become more effective. Here are my takeaways from my 4 years at NWEA:

Conflict resolution skill is essential

When you can successfully guide conflict towards positive outcomes, the bond between you and your counterpart will be stronger than ever before.

Conflicts happen when there are different opinions on a particular topic. In my opinion, conflict is a good thing and it’s necessary to address different points of view and to promote innovation and creativity. If everyone agrees with each other all the time, there will be no thinking, no diversity, and no improvements. So, let’s not despise but welcome it.

Nevertheless, conflict makes people uncomfortable, and we tend to stay away from it. Think about the last conflict you have encountered in life or at work. How did you feel? How was the tension in the room? How did you handle it? Are you the assertive or the withdrawal type when a conflict happens?

It is natural to experience intense emotions during a conflict. In fact, having those emotions mean you care about that person or that particular issue, and it’s a good thing. However, in order to resolve a conflict with positive outcomes, we need to first acknowledge the emotions we’re feeling. “Am I upset now? Why?” Find your trigger and find out what it is that ignites that flame. Once you understand your emotion, then you can better manage it.

If the emotion is just so overwhelming that you think it’s impossible to control at the moment, let the counterpart know and politely walk away first. Come back later. When emotion is taking control, the rational and problem-solving part of the brain won’t be able to do its job effectively. I’m sure we all know that one emotional, impulsive purchase that we’ve made or that one thing we said that we later regret.

When you can successfully guide conflict towards positive outcomes, the bond between you and your counterpart will be stronger than ever before. You’d feel so great that you’d forget how ugly the situation was. When both parties start apologizing for what they did or said , it’s a sign of settlement and resolution. This is why conflict resolution is such a valuable and vital skill for certain positions where the success of the role is largely dependent on how well one manages conflicts.

In the culture I grew up in, we dread conflicts. For the longest time, I stay away from conflict as far as I could. As I experience more conflicts at work, I understand that they are inevitable and the only way to better handle them is to face them.

A coworker recommended to me this book called Crucial Conversation: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. It offers a lot of great tools and practical guidance on how we can better manage conflicts when they arise. This book not only helped me to be more effective at my job but also helped improve my relationship with my family. This is that one book I will be re-reading until I master the skill. It is short, yet packed with tons of useful information. I highly recommend it.

A strong work ethic goes a long way

Having a good work ethic will serve you well because your team members will prioritize your request over others just because they like working with you and want to help you out. As you consistently show up with a good work ethic, you will earn their respect and trust.

Everyone loves working with someone with a strong work ethic. Companies look for this quality when hiring because a person’s working behavior can be contagious. Have you ever encountered a colleague who works so diligently that it makes you want to give your all in the project to ensure success? On a macro level, a good work ethic has a magical effect on the team’s morale, motivation, and success. This is one of the basic foundations of a successful company.

So, what is “work ethic” and what is considered “good”? A work ethic usually is a mindset or behavior an employee carries with them in their day-to-day tasks and interactions with others. A good work ethic encompasses positive traits such as hard work, integrity, honesty, responsibility, accountability, professionalism, discipline, collaboration, and so on.

Having a good work ethic will serve you well because your coworkers will prioritize your request over others just because they like working with you and want to help you out. As you consistently show up with a good work ethic, you will earn their respect and trust. This is extremely important because those two elements, in my opinion, are the main ingredients to a highly functioning team. Having respect and trust allows you to work more effectively with your team and also makes your work more enjoyable as you accomplish great things together.

Keep in mind that in order for others to acknowledge you as someone who has a good work ethic, consistency is key. If you are being honest on one occasion but cutting corners on the other, it’s not going to work. How you show up consistently to work will become your personal brand and it is on you to maintain it.

The importance of team collaboration

Good team collaboration not only produces quality work but also creates high team morale that motivates everyone to look forward to the next opportunity to work together.

An organization is made up of departments and teams. A self-organized, highly functional team is the start of a successful company. How well individual contributors work together is half the equation for a successful project. Nowadays, unless you’re a freelancer, anyone hardly works alone. Most work requires interaction and collaboration with others.

Have you ever had an experience where a meeting was scheduled for only an hour, but none of you wanted to stop working when the hour was up because there was good momentum going on? At the end of the day, that’s what makes a job meaningful and fulfilling; a team of highly motivated people, each doing their best to ensure the team’s success. Good team collaboration not only produces quality work but also creates high team morale that motivates everyone to look forward to the next opportunity to work together.

Having said that, a healthy rapport with the team is a prerequisite to a good collaboration. We can build rapport by trying to understand each other beyond the surface level. Ask them about their favorite food, places to travel, their pets. Be genuinely curious and try to understand their way of thinking and working in order to determine how to work best with them.

Make an effort to understand the motivation behind their actions. Invite your team to co-create the project and give them credit when they did a great job. Explicitly thank them and acknowledge their contribution to the project.

Conclusion - coffee smiley face

Conclusion

I left a great company because I wanted to stay outside of my comfort zone, pursue new opportunities, expand my network, and find new motivations. There are a few key takeaways that I will personally be carrying into my next journey:

  • Conflict resolution skill is essential – conflict is inevitable, and knowing how to manage it will serve you well.
  • A strong work ethic goes a long way – you will earn credibility, respect and trust by consistently show up with a good work ethic.
  • The importance of team collaboration – empowers the team to produce extraordinary work and boosts team morale.

Food for Thought

  • What motivates you to go to work everyday? Is that a good motivation? Are you content?
  • Where do you see yourself in 3 years? What do you need to do now to prepare for it?
  • What skills or behaviors are the most important to you in your current role? How are you mastering them?

Feel free to share in the comments below so that we can all learn from each other. 🙂

This is part 1 of the post. Read part 2: 5 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently At My First Job

3 thoughts on “Key Takeaways From My First Job After 4 Years”

  1. Thank you for your reflections and positivism about why you left your first job, key takeaway’s and aspirations. Your strong voice in this article encourages many of us to think about what motivates and why we do what we do? Keep sharing, I look forward to reading and hearing more from you.

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