Millennials and Generation Z are rewriting a working culture once based on work-hard, play-hard with scroll-hard, dream-hard. The unappealing resignation to a path that promises neither riches or fame is leading to a wave of young people either paralysed in their decision to choose a career or dissatisfied in their chosen occupation. Here’s how to make the right choice for you.
The anxiety that accompanies your first leap into the world-of-work from the bubble of student life is both an under-discussed and overwhelming transition. Choosing a career path, after years of following a predetermined rise through the ranks of education, can feel nothing short of daunting; and concerns over making the wrong choices can be no less than paralysing. The expectation that you should know which role you want to pursue as a life-long career before you’ve experienced a day within the working world (never-mind sector) should seem ludicrous. However, it’s hard to avoid the fact that making poor career decisions can result in you looking for answers, or worse, reading this article.
Undeniably, the sudden shift to professional tea-maker from harem pant connoisseur stroke political activist was always going to be a relatively damaging experience. However, for most graduates finishing University, experiencing uncertainty and dissatisfaction within the workplace is becoming more prevalent than ever. GSM London recently reported that over 85% of 18-34-year-olds feel as though they aren’t putting their professional ambitions into practice, with almost a quarter saying they’re unhappy at work. Whilst we can account for low entry-level pay and the anxiety that perhaps a Masters in Geography wasn’t worth the money, transitioning into the workplace isn’t exactly a modern phenomenon. It’s been done by generations before and our parents, rather than lending a sympathetic ear, are over the moon we’ve landed a job with great credentials. We’re supposed to be the generation that has it all; and the seemingly perfect lives of millennials and Gen-Z documented through both show-reels of clinking champagne glasses and Ibizan sunsets are certainly a testament to that. The question then is why, in comparison to this Valencia filtered non-stop Wanderlust, are more of us than ever reporting cases of anxiety and clinical depression? Are our expectations too high?
To answer that question simply, yes. The relegation from cream of the intellectual crop to excel monkey is amplified by a culture replacing work hard, play hard with scroll-hard, dream-hard. And whilst reaching for the stars is never a bad thing, if happiness is meeting one’s expectations, then is it any surprise that a generation fuelled by Insta-gratification and a sense of entitlement doesn’t enjoy starting at the bottom? Immersing ourselves daily in the lives of twenty-somethings, who seemingly have neither work nor compromise but endless wealth, ski-mini breaks and gym sponsorships, has embedded the notion that results and happiness come both easily and immediately.
What’s often forgotten is that the work and process associated with a career path and so habitually excluded from social media is often more important than the end-goal we feel compelled to decide on. Learning what you love and (more importantly) hate to do on a day-to-day basis is a process that can only be taught with every poor or not-quite-right fit. Essentially, this means that if you take a job which looks great on paper but in reality feels like a daily chore, it’s OK. You’ve already gained a better understanding now of what you want than when you were blown away by that bloated job-spec. Doing nothing for fear of making the wrong choices or becoming trapped won’t provide you with this kind of insight. Nor will expecting to walk into the job of your dreams at twenty-one and having an existential crisis when you aren’t CEO within 6 months. If you spend all of your time trying to fast-track or craft an image of your end, dream career goal with no grounding in experience, you’re going to give yourself a migraine.
Ok, so what do I do next?
If I could return to the position of a graduate I’d say scratch out everything you associate with career success. That includes money, future progression, passion and the “big-idea career” that makes your parents sweat with pride. Passion is something we’re pressured into pursuing and is held up as the benchmark of a fulfilling job. That’s great, if you know what you're passionate about. Many of us don’t have the luxury of clear-cut ambition and end up paralysed with the anxiety that we need to decide what we’ll live, breathe and die for before pursuing a career path. Even more dangerous is defining something that doesn’t always translate into an obvious job choice as passion. These people often slot into stable “back-up” jobs, those that are both unfulfilling and constantly overshadowed by the guilt and dissatisfaction that you should be pursuing your real passion. Doing this prevents you from pushing yourself to learn more about what you enjoy and thrive at.
That isn’t to say you should do a role unaligned with your current interests. Trying to mould yourself into a career based on how much money you can make or how chuffed your mum will be to talk it over during dinner parties will only lead to you feeling personally unfulfilled. Find a role that’s right for you as an individual and the money and progression will naturally follow. If you have a hard time self-assessing your interests, consider what your friends and family compliment and come to you for advice on. These are the qualities that’ll allow you to stand out and are a great starting point when looking at job specs and finding the right fit. You should and deserve to be selective with your applications based on the role, pay and benefits and the company you're applying to deserves to read something engaging and tailored to their ethos. The scatter-gun approach leads to a high volume of very average and generic applications that companies find easy to disregard, so try and stick to three at a time that really stand out to you as a person and hopefully, your future employer.
Remember that it’s rare for people to stick with their first role or even career choice. If you hate your first job, rather than writing off your ability to find something better, question why and use the answers to shape your next step. You have more than double your entire current lifetime to spend in work (sorry) and find something that’s right for you. Expecting to spend that entire time taking pictures of Margaritas and fashioning yourself as a tycoon at twenty-one is counter-productive. Getting out there and taking the precautions to find something you know you’ll enjoy and thrive at, especially whilst you’re in your early twenties, should be your only incentive when entering the job market.
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