I am just the mom, so my advice is not always taken. Having never been one to take a lot of advice from my own parents, I get that. Never the less, I do have the gift of hindsight. With the bulk of my working life now behind me, I actually know a few things about finding jobs, holding jobs, and seeking fulfillment in a career.
Now my own daughters are about to embark on their career journeys. Our youngest has declared a double major at an academically rigorous university and has a challenging plan for post-grad studies that are still almost two years down the road. Our oldest, at 23, has completed her master’s degree and is job hunting for the first time in her life. It’s a scary time for her, but it can also be a time for amazing exploration. Both of these young women have worked summer jobs and earned a little money during their college years, but that is not the same thing as launching a career. So here’s my advice:
- Always be on the lookout for opportunities, and while you’re searching them out do something; anything. Answer phones. Sort mail. Wait tables. Wash cars. Sell shoes. But do not sit around waiting for something to happen to you. And don’t allow your joblessness now to become a habit or a pattern; it will only lead to unhappiness and a lack of self-worth.
- Keep your head in the game. Stay focused on what you really want and don’t let it slip away just because you may be earning your keep in some other way. Earning money is not the same as building a career or a life. Build on your passions and chart a career path then keep walking on that path. If your passion shifts to something else, chart a new path later on.
- You need to earn your freedom. Chances are that you want a certain lifestyle and that it will cost you something – usually money. That is a harsh reality of life. But there is also no better feeling than knowing that you have earned your own life; that you are entitled to a great apartment or a fun evening out or a decent car because you have worked hard to get it. There is enormous life-long satisfaction in paying your own way in the world. Your dad and I were not handed anything in life, so all that we have in our modest home and lifestyle is a reflection of what we have earned and the choices we made about how and where we would raise our family.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people: people who have a similar moral compass, who are passionate about things like you are, and people you trust. You will feed each others hopes and have a great support system to keep you moving in the right direction. If you hang with movers and doers, you are likely to become one. If you hang with the slackers, you are also likely to become one.
- Just as school has always been for you, your career life is a continuum. You will learn things from your first job that will carry you into your second and third. You will learn what you like and dislike about particular types of work and types of people. You will learn more about what you want out of life itself. When you stop learning and stop caring, it’s time to move on.
- Don’t let someone else’s definition of success define you. Success is whatever makes you feel useful and productive. Success can be felt in the achievement of small goals as well as big ones. It’s not always about the money, but success is almost always directly the result of hard work and very rarely the result of good luck. You have already gained educational successes and now it’s time to use your brains in different ways. Going forward you will be judged on your qualities as a person, your ability to get things done, and how you get along with others.
- Don’t waste a lot of time looking back. If you make a mistake, consider it a learning experience and move on. If you take a job and it turns out to be the wrong choice or in the wrong city, it’s not the end of the world. Very few people end their careers in the same place they began; physically, mentally, or emotionally. Changing jobs is very common. What you find right now may help pay your bills and show you that you have potential to do something different or better later on.
- Take some risk. I am not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind and set yourself adrift. But there will be no better time in your life for risk-taking. Chances are that you will never again be as unencumbered as you are right now. You do not have a mortgage, a spouse, or children. You don’t have a pet or a car payment. Granted, you have some college loan debt, but so does almost everyone else your age. But you will never have more freedom than you do right now. You have the freedom to go anywhere in pursuit of something that satisfies you – a lifestyle or a career. By all means, weigh your options carefully, but taking a risk can be very rewarding.
- You don’t find yourself, you create yourself. You already know this because I’ve said it numerous times and will say it again. Finding yourself implies that you are somehow lost and that sets you up for perpetually looking for something. On the other hand, creating yourself puts you in the mindset of perpetually building something. This is not just semantics. It really speaks to the issues of determination and perseverance. It sets a very different tone for your life and the choices you make.
- Who you are now is not necessarily an indicator of who you will become. Your experiences will shape you in ways that you may not even begin to understand right now. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. You don’t want your entire life to be planned out right now. You just need a short-term plan that will get you some little piece of satisfaction. You found it in your school work, and you will find it in your career and your life. If I was a betting person, I would bet heavily on you.
Dad and I are here to help. You can lean on us when you need us. But mostly, we’ll just be watching and waiting for the next moment when you will make us proud. You’ve done it many times already, and we’re expecting more great things from you to come. No pressure – just encouragement, and lots of love.