Are you at the end or coming to the end of your university degree?
I’ve found for myself and many of my closest friends that this can be one of the most challenging transitions in your early working life. You’re coming off a brilliant few years of skipping classes in favour of napping on sunny university lawns, two x 12 week semesters a year sandwiched by endless weeks of holidays, and more uni pub crawls, after exams parties, booze cruises and uni balls that you can poke a stick at. Of course there were hard times too, mid-semester exams, end of semester exams, take home exams and the horror that is swotvac (that’s a ‘study without teaching vacation i.e. a one week period of cramming before your exams start, for our non-Aussie readers). I personally find it favourable to suppress those particular memories.
But despite how great uni is, the reason I think so many of us struggle with post-university life is that we hold these grand expectations for what ‘real life’ and our ‘grown-up jobs’ hold for us. For many, that long-lusted-after first real job represents the beginning of the rest of our lives.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising then when reality somehow doesn’t stack up to the expectations we’ve built up in our heads.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that my first full time job wasn’t what I wanted but that didn’t soften the blow. I loved the team and made some of my current best friends in that job. There were opportunities abounds – travel, overseas secondments, first rate mentors, but even so, it wasn’t the right fit. After the hours spent dreaming about this, my perfect job, and all the hours preparing for it – carefully curating my cv, summer internships, co-curricular activities at uni, volunteer work – that was a scary realisation to have. Suddenly, I no longer fit into my own career plan. I didn’t know where I fit.
Eventually I realised I had to move on – I started looking for other opportunities and found another job that was a much better fit. Even then, it took me a really long time to work out that maybe there is no forever-job. Maybe not everyone is born knowing what their purpose in life is. That for some of us, it’s about making the most of the journey.
So, if you’re in that life stage, that uni-career transition period (or another challenging career transition) and you’re starting to freak out, starting to feel unsure of your place in the world and what this means for your future, remain calm and keep reading for my advice on managing those scary post university years…
1. Have a three to five year plan…but don’t expect everything (or anything) to go to plan
Plans, like lists, are good. It’s sensible to have a decent plan in place outlining the direction you want to go. This can really help with goal creation and mapping out an actionable set of tasks that can help you get there. Think training courses, networking opportunities, internships etc.
You might be tempted to plan out further than five years but I’d caution you to slow it all down because even a three to five year plan is ultimately like trying to read your future in tea leaves.
Treat your plan as a guide and be flexible. Make sure you’re doing the right things to set yourself up for success and focus on building skills that are transferable and sought after. Even if you change directions, nothing is lost. Which brings me to point 2.
2. Treat every opportunity as a chance to learn
In life, every experience is an opportunity. You choose how you respond. If your new job isn’t what you expected or hoped it to be, yeah, you can feel crap about that. In fact, you almost certainly will. But don’t let yourself wallow in self pity for too long.
Even a ‘wrong’ turn can help you head in the right direction. It can banish the potential ‘what-ifs’ that would have plagued you if you had never even tried. So choose to learn from this opportunity because chances are you’ve developed some kick-arse skills from this job, or you’ve met some cool people, or you’ve crossed something off your list so you can focus on the next steps in your brilliant career journey.
3. Get comfortable with the discomfort
This is a line I picked up from my yoga teacher, Lizzie. She’s fantastic and I’ve learnt so much from her in the few years I’ve been practicing with her – patience, self-love, and how to get comfortable with the discomfort.
Lizzie’s way of helping us bring this to life is to have us hold this horrific toe squat for minutes at a time. It is honestly agony to my poor, tense little feet but true to Lizzie’s word, the pain is fleeting. No matter how bad it feels, we always come out the other side with THE MOST LIBERATING SENSE OF RELIEF!!
Transitioning from uni to full time work can be much the same. If you’re anything like me, you worked your arse off in uni to land the job of your dreams so it’s pretty crushing when it doesn’t work out as planned. But, the confusion, the despair – it’s not forever. You’re smart, that’s what got you this far, and it’ll take you much further. Just remember that, much like Lizzie’s dreaded toe squats, the greatest relief, the most profound realisations and the best achievements are often borne out of the most challenging of times.
4. Take control of your career
When I started my first job and was finding it a bit rocky, I caught myself complaining to my friends about how unhappy I was. The next time I’d see them, same story. I realised then – I didn’t want to be that girl who complained to anyone that would listen but did nothing to improve her situation. If I’m being honest, that was probably the biggest motivating factor in getting me to start actively looking for other opportunities.
Whatever your motivation, it’s important that you take control of your next steps even if you’re not sure where your ultimate destination is. When I resigned, I wasn’t sure what would happen next and I wondered if it was all a big mistake. It wasn’t. Calling the shots in your own career is never a mistake.
5. Careers are long and this is just the beginning
I recently read an article that said careers are marathons not sprints. If that’s true, then you haven’t even hit the 5km mark yet. Pace yourself and be patient. Working on building your skills and strong reputation as a reliable and hard worker will pay dividends for years to come. Don’t worry if you don’t have it all worked out. Very few of us get it right first time. This is just your first step on the way to something wonderful.
If you have any other tips that have helped you get through a tricky career transition, feel free to comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.