How to survive (and thrive) in your early career
There’s nothing glamorous about a person’s early career. Seriously, I worked at McDonalds for 7 years – it remains my longest gig ever. No matter what fancy school you went to, most people end up in a couple of bad or boring jobs when they’re just out of college. You’re not alone.
These days an undergraduate degree doesn’t confer the same patina it once did. More than half the workforce is college educated, and an increasing share have graduate degrees (heaped, sometimes, on graduate degrees).
I speak to people all the time who, six months into a decades-long career, feel it is not what they bargained for. Being 22 and bursting with energy and passion is hard. The world feels slow, and you know that you’ve got so much to give.
It’s no wonder that in this competitive economy expectations are so often dashed. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how to get through your first couple of jobs if they’re not what you dreamed of.
Don’t stop learning.
Mindless office jobs or service-sector work can seem pointless to someone with a college or advanced degree. Trust me, I had moments of questioning my life while flipping burgers between semesters at Harvard Law.
But even the most menial jobs have something to teach us. Basic business concepts, management styles, and industry-specific knowledge are baked into literally every job. Even if you hate your situation, the things you’re learning might come back around later in surprising ways.
If that’s not convincing enough, you can always look to the internet for extra-curricular career development. There are tons of resources for free or inexpensive online courses, in every subject imaginable. Try Udemy or Coursera to explore furthering your education, without making a commitment to grad school.
Keeping a goal in mind and working toward it after-hours can make the daily grind more tolerable. Hang in there, and keep learning.
Look outside of work.
There is so much to life outside of work, and in your early 20s you’ve likely got the energy to take hold of it. You can volunteer, join meetups, or found your own club. Your fulfillment doesn’t have to come from work. The truth is – it may be many years until it finally does. In the meantime, how will you fill the gap?
I keep returning to this Emerson quote about a life well-lived, to remind myself that career success isn’t the only valuable thing:
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics; to appreciate beauty; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived–that is to have succeeded.”
Show up fully. Add value.
Your title isn’t VP or CEO? You can still be a leader at work. Even if all you manage is the potted plants it’s possible to become a trusted team member, expand your responsibilities, and perhaps your title too.
If you truly show up, take pleasure from the parts of work that you like, and try to make it a better place for everyone, you’ve achieved something great. While this might not always translate to a hefty raise (we are talking about bad first jobs, here), these are skills worth practicing in every role.
Know When to Move On
All this said, an equally important skill is knowing when enough is enough. It’s not a great idea to hold on to horribly stressful job situation just so your resume looks steadier. These days companies are used to seeing people switch jobs every year or two. It’s is par for the course – don’t be frightened of some early-career rambling.
If you need to make more money or if your boss is making your life hell, don’t wait to start your job search. By constantly cultivating your helpful professional network, you can make the switch more easily when it’s time to get up and go.
Reach out to them, before you know it’s time to go. They’re always there on BrightCrowd.