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First-Job Tips for Change-Makers

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Just landed your first job with a cool nonprofit or social enterprise? Fresh from school and a few internships? Brimming with ideas to change the world and ready to step up?

"Accept grunt work with grace. Grunt work is necessary. In my first job, I made some decisions, but I also made copies," remembers m.o. Partners Founder Kari Hayden, 32 (as she says, old enough to have some street cred without being so old to have forgotten her youthful side).

"It's challenging for a new employee fresh out of school and full of enthusiasm to make the social impact they have dreamed of, and then in their first job to get shouldered with grunt work. Grunt work builds trust internally and teaches about the nuances of how an organization works. Everyone has done grunt work," she adds.

"My piece of advice is fake it 'til you make it. In every job, no matter how old I am, a bit of me feels like an imposter, like I am not really good enough," Kari opened up for the iOnPoverty.tv cameras.

Except for the arrogant, the amateur or the unaware, Kari's doubts are universal and ageless. I am 64 (precisely twice Kari's age) and many days I too feel like an imposter. The more you learn and know, the more you know how much you don't know.

The cure, happily, is easy. Dig in. Get to the task at hand. The results will probably not be perfect. Duh. Everyone has suboptimal moments, new challenges to conquer, unfamiliar material to learn. Everyone screws up at first.

Praise and criticism are the daily dialogue of the workplace - from bosses, clients, clients, consumers, etc. Compliments are cool because they make you feel good. Criticism makes you good enough to deserve the compliments.

Kari recalls at her first job, "It did a number on my self-confidence. I did not know how to take someone's criticism to make myself better."

"If you leave your faith in the closet at work, you won't feel like a whole person. Who I am as a person, who I am as a professional and who I am as a person of faith is one and the same. I speak my faith through my actions and through the integrity of my work."

Unlike Kari, I am not a person of faith. What is important is that we all - you included -should bring our full and authentic selves to our economic justice work. What motivates us to build a better world is who we are, and who we are counts. Bring and give your full commitment.

The thrilling and scariest part of your first social justice job is your work really matters. In school, your performance affected your grades, but no one else's grades. In social change work, your work affects the organization and the people whose lives it impacts. Your happiness, success and self-esteem are important, but not as important as the mission.

As Kari sums up nicely, "Where my happiness meets a need in the world is where I belong."