If you’re like many of today’s college students, your parents (or TV shows) told you repeatedly to follow your life’s passion. Then, you came of age in the shadow of startup success stories like Mark Zuckerberg, who quit college and achieved the ultimate work/life balance (and billions in wealth) before the age of thirty. And now there are figures like Cheryl Sandburg, telling us to “lean in” to those career opportunities as they arise.
Together, this creates a weird and conflicting cocktail of career advice for today’s recent college grads, as “following your passion” may not lead to a sustainable job that will keep food on your table, while “leaning in” too far can get you five years into a career that makes you absolutely miserable. Add into that the tricky transition from student to professional mode, and it can be difficult to set career goals that will keep you motivated and passionate while also recognizing the realities of the adult world.
But all is not lost. The key is to draw inspiration from each of these different philosophies and establish a structure that allows you to explore while being creative. We recommend starting with this career guide, and then following the tips below.
1. Embrace Exploration, Learning and Flux
If you’re like most people, you have a sense that you’re good at something, but you’re just not sure how your skills and talents apply within specific work roles, let alone what you will actually like to do. As you enter the work world, you’ll probably even find yourself surprised by the skills you didn’t even realize you had. But just because you’re effective at something doesn’t guarantee you’ll enjoy doing it every day.
While it’s important to commit to any job you’ve got, embrace this process of self-discovery. Sit down with HR and your manager to set regular reviews and goals, and for an introduction into the types of roles that are available at your company. Keep a weekly or monthly diary reflecting on what you’re working on and evaluating how much you like using the skills involved.
Take your reflections as data. Is making a cold calls during the day making you miserable, while connecting with the creative team during the weekly staff meeting is completely satisfying? That probably means you’re better in an internal rather than external role. Take this information to help you find new roles, whether inside your company, at a new one, or in an entirely different industry.
2. Make Long and Short Term Work/Life Balance Goals
Whether you’re headed to corporate America, a start up or a non-profit, you’re probably aware that you have to put in a lot of time up front to really rise in your career. But working for a longer term pay off shouldn’t mean having absolutely no life in the short term, or else you’re sure to burnout. Plus, what if that startup fails anyway, and you have to start over?
Again, whether it’s with HR, a career coach or just a Word document, sit down to articulate your larger career and life goals, and then determine how much you want to sacrifice to achieve them. Are you willing to put in 80-hour weeks as long as you get to go to yoga on your lunch break? Or do you want to follow the “do a great job while I’m at work” school of thought, and then leave at a reasonable hour to have a life? If you’re not careful, work will take everything over, so it’s worth setting out reasonable expectations based on your company culture and your own goals.
3. Find Ways to Make Structured Time Work for You
One of the biggest differences between your college and professional life is how structured your time will become. You may have been busy and stressed out in college, but a professional life means that work comes first during set times; you’ll have to fit your personal life in around work and keep yourself on track without any exams to motivate you.
A structured work schedule may take some time to adjust to. Train your body to get up earlier so you can get in a workout or a relaxed breakfast. Set in place regular routines that keep your grounded and sane. If you truly feel you work better at certain times of the day, talk with your boss about how to structure your office vs. work at home time. Knowing how your brain and body work best will keep you rested, motivated and ready to make the most of your career.
Britt Klontz is an online researcher with a passion for career planning. She particularly fancies to-do lists and is constantly trying out new apps to assist with her obsession of creating catalogs of information.