Welcome to Work — Three Years in, My Advice
Photo: Marten Bjork/Unsplash
Jesus. It’s been quite a ride.
At University I don’t think we really question what’s next because there is always some sort of exam, coursework or assignment around the corner to concentrate on. University is quite good for occupying your mind. It’s quite clear what you’re trying to achieve and how to get there. And that’s what you should be focusing on. If you’re anything like me, it’ll mean you didn’t really think too far past Uni because you had your degree to get. But as third year creeps round, so does this aching feeling of ‘what next?’
This feeling can be easily shook off with coursework or Uni clubs but it’s not something to be scared of or avoided. You’re going to have to think about what’s next eventually.
Uni is the best years of your life and it’s hard to imagine a life back in your home town, back doing boring stuff and not constantly learning. In fact, it can be quite sad in some ways to let go of the way of life. Everything seems so fun and carefree at Uni. That juxtaposed with the reality of ‘real life’ and getting a ‘proper’ job seems quite, well, horrendeous.
The thing is, the change is a huge one. I won’t lie and say the adjustment is easy and that you just breeze into your job and it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Work is hard. The expectations are completely different and you need to up your game pretty quickly. The good news is that you are about to start earning some dollar, which is normally the complete contrast to your Uni days; but in order to do so, people are going to expect something of you.
So what have I learnt? Well I’ve been out of Uni for three years now and my god it’s been quite a journey. I wanted to share what I have learnt or moreover, what I am learning about life after Uni.
#1 It takes some time to adjust
“Of course there is no formula for success except, perhaps, an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.” — Arthur Rubinstein
Look, work is totally different from Uni. It’s different in every single way. There is no structure of progress i.e. you don’t have classes and then get tested on stuff. Sometimes you will get given things you have no clue about and you have to talk about them on the fly. Sometimes you’ll be told the wrong information and tell other people the wrong stuff too. There is no clear progression path in work. In Uni it’s quite clear what you need to do to get the top grades. At work it’s not so clear, you need to take into account human feelings which you’ve never really had to contend with yet… well not in the work sense. Things like empathising if your boss is stressed and figuring out when is the best time to present your piece of work. There is almost a third dimension of work which is human emotion. You have to wrestle with that — and it is hard work. The routine is totally different. I remember at Uni I would get pissed off if I had to go to a 9am lecture. I thought it was way too early to be doing anything. Which is so funny because my life now starts with a 5:30am wake up call… oh how times have changed.
Give yourself the time to adjust.
It is difficult. It most likely will be a total culture shock and that’s okay. You don’t need to be high flying and presenting to the big bosses on day one. Take your time, understand if you’re struggling and learn what you do to cope.
I think being kind to yourself in the early days of your first job is so, so, so important. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. There is so much change going on, the last thing you need to put a mountain of pressure on and have huge expectations of yourself.
Day by day you’ll learn and adjust to work. And that’s fine. Take it day by day.
#2 It’s hard to get out of the mindset of next, next, next
At Uni there is always another thing. The next assignment, lecture, deadline, exam. In work… there isn’t another next. Well not in the same sense. There is clear structure in Uni which keeps your head clearly focus on what is next. You give in your assignment and the next day you’ll probably have a class on your new topic. There is a churn and a clear path of what is next. In work that isn’t the case. If you want to you can stay exactly where you are for the next twenty years. Providing you’re doing a decent job of course.
This for me, was a bit of a struggle. The weight of trying to figure out your own career path with no set structure is a little unnerving. It hits you all of a sudden that you could change your career tomorrow and you’re not going to get an ‘F’ for it. You can do exactly what you want and it won’t be a failure. The ball is firmly in your court and you have to decide what to do with it. There no tutor hanging over you checking your progress.
You are your own teacher in many senses.
It’s hard to get out of the mindset of churning out work. Of course you will have work and you’ll have to deliver stuff but its the idea that the stuff that you are delivering is business as usual. It’s the stuff that keeps the wheels turning. It’s not as simple as ‘deliver five presentations’ and that’s a prerequisite for promotion. I think it’s probably so hard because you don’t get to see the mark sheet. There is no black and white of what makes success. You’ve got to figure that out for yourself.
And added to that. Someone’s idea of success could be the same thing that is your idea of failure. What I mean by that is, if you cast your mind back to Uni, everyone is in agreement that an A* is the best grade. Getting a first is better than a 2:1. But in work, you could get your boss’s job and it be your idea of a complete failure.
You need to work out what success looks like for you.
#3 Figure yourself out
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” — Ralph Ellison
That leads me nicely onto this point. This is a hard one to get your head around. When I first started work I really didn’t know what this even meant. Self-aware wasn’t even in my dictionary. Being self-aware is the most important attribute to develop in your early days at work (in my opinion). It’s absolutely pivotal to knowing what you want to do and where you want to be.
I would spend days getting frustrated and worked up that I didn’t have a clear view of what type of role I wanted. I would get home totally deflated that I was doing a job that I wasn’t particularly passionate about and I felt like I wasn’t getting any further in fulfilling my life’s potential.
To really know yourself. It takes time. You need to experience stuff you aren’t thrilled with to understand how you work through it. Knowing what you don’t want to do is just as good as knowing what you do want to do.
Those people who have know since the age of three that they wanted to be a vet are few and far between. And don’t get me wrong — I’m sort of jealous of them. But the reality is, most people don’t have a flipping clue. And how would they?! You’ve never done half the jobs you’ve heard of so how would you know it’s your ‘dream job’. That’s the beauty of testing it out and learning. As long as you are earning enough to keep a roof over your head… learn away.
The best investment in your time is to figure yourself out. Again, it’s only my opinion. However, from my experience, learning who you are, what your values are, what excites you and what frustrates you are some of the best life lessons. You can use that to structure a career path that suits you and that will optimise your happiness.
#4 Be patient it will come
“He that can have patience can have what he will.” — Benjamin Franklin
In the time after Uni I think you grow up a lot. If I think back to the first day I started my job to where I am now it’s chalk and cheese.
The world we live in today is very instant. It’s instant messaging, instant pictures, instant shopping. Whatever you want you can get with a few clicks. And that makes us a little less patient when we’re trying to figure out our career path and it doesn’t happen in two clicks. The truth is, with work it’s not as simple as filling out a questionnaire and hey presto, go and be a doctor and you’ll live a fulfilled, happy work life. It’s hard to figure out what you want to do and who you want to be. It takes time.
And sometimes the time can feel like it’s wasted and you’re getting nowhere. Or you’re sure you’re falling behind and it’s not fair that the girl you went to University with is managing a team of four hundred, has got a nice house and a shiny car. That stuff is all bollocks. We all go at our own pace and find our own way.
If you focus of being self-aware and being patient that things will come, I find that is the most simple way to achieve happiness in work.
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” — Dale Carnegie