Friday, May 18, 2012

FIRST JOB out of college: what you do vs. who you are

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Where are you going to college? What are you majoring in? What do you want to do with your life? What do you do? When are you getting married? When are you buying a house? When are you having kids? 
The typical party questions. The ones we get sick of answering, and yet always find ourselves asking.

Because it's just part of our social construct. It's a safe way to move a conversation forward.

But, more often than not, they cause us great anxiety when we don't feel confident in our answers. They make us worry about what other people think. They make us worry that we are not where we should be in any given stage of life.

And I never felt this pressure more than when I was looking for my first job out of college. 

For the first time, I was supposed to be able to answer the question: what do you do? And I felt like my entire identity was wrapped up in the answer.

I had been in school my entire life. I was always a student. It was pretty easy to answer the early questions (especially once I figured out my major). I felt confident in my identity as a student - you are going places, you are learning, you are smart.

And now, it was time to get a job that said: college paid off, you are making money, you are successful. 

I couldn't find that job. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I had failed. 

And then I read two simple things that transformed my perspective:

1- "People always ask 'what do you do,' how many people ask you 'who do you want to be?'"

This came from one of the quarter-life crisis books and it reminded me that no matter what job I had, I could still be myself. I could still do my best, give my all, and continue to learn. I was not my job, I would never be my job, and I would be much better off focusing on being the kind of person I wanted to be, contributing, learning, and not being so caught up in how other people perceived me based on my job. 

2 - "Live the Adventure"

This came from the biography How to Be Like Walt by Pat Williams. I highly recommend reading biographies of people you like and find someone who really inspires you. Walt Disney is one of those people who inspires me because of his ability to dream big, risk everything, and maintain a childlike whimsy. 

This quote reminded me that finding a job was an adventure. I looked at Walt's life and it was fraught with failure, tragedy, risk, and disapointment. He didn't wake up one morning and build Disney World. His first job was not running a billion-dollar business; his first job was a huge failure. 

Your job is not who you are. Your job will change a lot over the course of your lifetime. Who you are may change too. But it's important to keep things in perspective, remembering that you can make a great contribution in any job. It is an adventure. And like any adventure, it will be scary, hard at times. You will get lost. 

But the great part is, when you realize it's just an adventure, it becomes sort of exciting. You have the zest and motivation to keep going, to blaze new trails, to learn from those who have gone before, and to endure. 

So don't put too much stock in what you do. Never feel like you have to be embarrassed at a party when someone asks what you do. State it proudly, and talk about what you love about it most (even if you hate most of it). 

And remember that your job says a lot less about you than you think. When people ask you what you do, they are really just trying to make conversation. Try to move that conversation to other things, and realize that a job is just a job. It changes. It moves. It pays the bills. But you can take who you are with you to any profession, and let the adventure grow you. 

Subscribe to the FIRST JOB summer series here to get each new post the second it goes live, as well as exclusive tips/links just for subscribers! =)

1 comment:

  1. I love this sage advice for folks just getting off the starting blocks. I doubt I'm the only person who asks folks "What do you want to be when you grow up" - though maybe I'm the only one who's still asking it of people approaching retirement. ;-)


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