One of the best parts of running a blog is getting emails from readers each week. These emails, these snippets of life from strangers, neighbors, women and men, all ages, all backgrounds; all of them touching me with their thoughts, many of them asking questions as though I would know something they don’t.
Well color me fancy pants.
Most of the questions are related to specific posts or craft projects, but by far, the question I get most often goes something like this;
Can you give me career advice? I’m 20 something and hate my current job/prospects/living situation. I’m lost. I need direction. What should I do with my life?
As flattered as I am, questions like this are an odd request because 1. I rarely talk about my work on the blog, so why would anyone reading this think I have a leg up? And 2. Despite the popular misconception that I am some sort of spangled grandmother, I’m actually 33. Now, I understand that to a 22-year-old, 33 is next to Mesozoic, but in reality, I am still in on the learning curve myself. Given that, and in light of the fact that I have had 18 jobs in the last 15 years, clearly, I have no business giving advice on this matter.
So, one night last week, I sat down and wrote down the things I wish someone would have told me back then. And then I went and asked some Facebook friends to chime in the best career advice anyone ever gave them (some quotes pulled below, link at the end). I’m hoping that between me, them, you, and What Color is Your Parachute, there is hope for us all!
1. It gets better
Scientific Fact: Most of the interesting people over 40 will tell you they hated their jobs in their twenties. This is living proof that the concept of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is not only possible, it is probable.
2. Comparing yourself to others is toxic and stupid.
The vast majority of the people who find thriving careers in their early twenties burn out by age thirty (sorry overachievers!) These folks either quit their respective industry or become stay at home parents – both of which are admirable decisions – but if you are 27 and feeling dumpy because your friends have more focus/accolades/bar money, chill out and be thankful it hasn’t hit you yet. As long as you work hard and can put a roof over your head, you are doing it right. The rest will happen in time. Good things are worth the wait.
3. Just admit it, your Mom had a point.
Your parents have probably already given you some good advice. Don’t ignore it just because they are your parents. There was a time when these people took your temperature in your butt hole, so don’t act like they don’t know what’s up.
4. Learn the meaning of exhaustion as early as possible.
Regardless of your career path, plan on working at least two jobs for a couple of years. Maybe it’s two part-time jobs, maybe it’s a full-time teaching job with a bar tending gig on the weekends, whatever. Even if you don’t need the money, plan on two jobs totaling at least 60 hours a week (minimum) outside the home. It’s good for you. It disciplines you. It humbles you. It will teach you to be efficient with your time. It will toughen you up for The 18 Year Goat Rodeo otherwise known as parenthood. You won’t know how to appreciate the luxury of one job until you have tried to juggle two (or more).
5. The first job you get out of college will not determine the rest of your life.
Choices are important but they are not prisons. Don’t freak out if you are nearing graduation and don’t have all your ducks in a row. If you have have a specific goal, awesome. If not, well, this is your chance to sample the smorgasbord. Get busy!
“You can and will have many careers through your lifetime. Don’t feel like whatever career path you take will be the only one. It takes a lot of pressure off you when you know there are many avenues ahead.” —Jonathan
Personal anecdote: at the end of college I chose a career path that I thought would bring me the most money in the shortest period of time: I worked in finance. Agricultural commodities to be specific. (I know, right? They let cat ladies in business!) To this day I hold a series 3 and series 7, which is pretty much a fancy way of saying I am licensed to count beans and trade corn options by wiggling my elbow. Impressive, no? Actually, it was awful. And I was bad at it. And I burned out just in time to make some headway on my student loans and realize that I never, ever, ever, wanted another job that would make me feel bad about myself. I didn’t care how much or little I made, I decided that as long as I could find a job to pay the rent and didn’t have to wake up at dawn with a pit in my stomach, I would find a way to be happy about it. Ten years later, I can say that was easily the best decision I ever made. That is my story. My testament. I’ll bet you know a hundred people with similar stories to tell, you just don’t know it yet.
TANGENT: Don’t even think about avoiding the work force by going straight to grad school.They call it getting your Masters because you are supposed to master the subject. How the Hell do you think you are going to master something if you don’t have relevant, first-hand experience in that field? Okay, I get it. These days a lot of people get their masters before entering the work force because they think they will start out at a higher salary. Know what would be better? GET A RELEVANT JOB to list on your grad school application, then get into a better grad school, then graduate from a better school with a better resume (Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all). And don’t give me some horsecrap about the lack of entry level jobs in your area of interest. Get an internship. Get a temp position. Want to be a doctor? Temp in a hospital billing department. Want to be a lawyer? Apply as the receptionist at a law firm. Or volunteer at a legal clinic. Or your local court horse. Hell, I don’t care if you go an work for a bail bondsman, just figure out how the system works before you go and spend five figures of tuition money* only to realize “Gee, these doctors seem miserable. Why don’t look they like this on Gray’s Anatomy?”*TANGENT ON A TANGENT: Yes, you will be paying for your own tuition. Any parents reading this who are considering paying for grad school? Don’t even think about it. You have already done more than enough. If you are in a financial position to do so, good for you, but I’m going to guess you got that way by knowing a thing or two about finances. With that in mind, let’s do some math; Sit down with your adult son or daughter and calculate the cost per class divided by hours in the classroom. For example purposes, I pulled some numbers from grad school classes at the largest state university in my area: Cost per semester $2,106 per class, divided by 39.5 hours (15 weeks of 2.5 hour classes + 2 hours estimated one-on-one individual instruction) = $53.32 an hour. Think about that. If your adult son or daughter understands they are paying $53.32 an hour to learn, don’t you think they might pay attention in class a little a little more? Don’t you think they might come away with not only a higher GPA, but just a better grasp of the subject they are trying to master? And with that, a better likelihood of landing the job of their choosing? Sure, you might have the cash and could save them from paying interest on student loans, but don’t you think their long-term prospects would improve if they had a better starting position post graduation? Okay, okay, stepping off my soap box now…
6. Think like a rich person.
Whatever they are paying you, put that number in your head and cut it in half. That number, that half number, THAT is what you are getting paid. The rest is for taxes and savings. Just pretend you never saw that other half in the first place.
7. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.
Nobody gives a crap if those hipster hogwashers looked cute on that episode of Girls last week. You can do better. Furthermore, people will treat you better if you dress nicely. It doesn’t need to look fashionable or expensive, it needs to look considerate. Bad news: You are probably going to need to invest in an iron at some point.
“Just because it’s not “your job” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it and impress everyone’s pants off!” —Stephanie.
8. All of those people who say “Do what you love! Love what you do!” – Ignore them.
Do what it takes to get it done. “Be happy and the money will follow!” is the sort of thing people from duel-income households say when they have the luxury of choice. If you are reading this, you probably don’t have that luxury. At least not yet. So here is what you need to know: Recognize that cultivating your passion and cultivating a method to make money off your passion are two different things. Did you hear that one? Read that underlined part again if that didn’t sink in all the way. If you are flat out of ideas on how to make money off your passion*, find another job until you figure it out. There are 24 hours in a day — spending 6 of them working retail isn’t going to kill your dream of becoming a professional bouzouki player. I know, I know, I know…MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU HAPPINESS… this is very true. Money isn’t everything, but money is what will keep you in a place to pursue your other passions, like food, shelter and heat. Also, let’s be honest, here — making your own money is also going to keep you from being reliant on your parents at a time when they should probably be looking out for their own retirement. Give them the respect they deserve: Lay off all non-survival-related parental mooching.
*There are going to be some folks who need help finding their passion at some point in their life. And by some people, I mean everyone. Okay, maybe not your weird aunt who was born with a natural passion for The Moody Blues and spends her life as a roadie, okay, but the rest of us need some time and contemplation. Should we talk about finding your passion in another post? Is that too new age? I can’t just bust out the Wayne Dyer in a casual convo like this, but maybe later. Okay, later.
9. That job you secretly think you’re too good for? You’re not.
Do you know how many college grads are wearing McDonald’s uniforms this very minute? Thousands. So get over yourself. If you are willing to ride a bus you need to be willing to drive a bus. If you willing to drive a car you need to be willing to work in the factory that makes the car. And it’s probably going to be sweeping or custodial work because there is no way the machinist’s union is going to let you join the assembly line with the look you are giving me right now. PS: Custodial work is surprisingly profitable. I speak from experience here.
“Never be ashamed of what you’re doing. You might be flipping burgers or hitting buttons on a cash register but if it’s honest work, hold your head high.” —Jean
10. Hard work isn’t everything.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Your younger brother just landed your dream gig and now makes in a month what you make in a year. Why does this happen all the time? WHY? Timing. Location. Luck. Working your butt off will guarantee you a place at the table, but what table that is, well, who knows? We are in charge of making independent choices but some circumstances are beyond our control. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be. Resenting somebody for their success is like resenting somebody for winning the lottery – it has nothing to do with you. Be happy for them, then get your butt back to work.
“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.” ― George Monbiot
11. A bad boss can make you a better person.
First off, there is a difference between a bad boss and an abusive boss. What you need to understand is that most everyone in Western civilization will have at least one bad boss in their life, and, for better or worse, it’s a good thing. Sorta. There are bully bosses, lazy bosses, nepotistic bosses, erratic bosses…all of them bad for your self esteem, bad for morale, bad for productivity…and all of them will require you to adapt in a different way, and that, that right there, the adapting, is one of the most valuable life skills you were ever get. You can’t pay for that stuff. It’s that critical. You know how your self-righteous cousin is always saying “Everyone should be made to wait tables for a few months when they are 18 so they understand what it is like to be yelled at all day!” (Your cousin was right on that one, btw)…well, having a bad boss is like that. But worse. And longer. Here is the upswing—reporting to a bad boss is one of the most effective ways to identify what it will take you to be a good boss, should you go down that path.*
*Note: Just because you are good at your job and accomplished or whatever doesn’t mean you need to be in charge of other people. Having subordinates is a major responsibility, not to mention a distraction. Even in boring old corporate America, some of the richest, most successful people make a conscious decision to have no direct reports below them because managing those people is just one more thing to take away time from whatever it is they do best. If are the type of person who daydreams about being THE BOSS, you might want to take a personal inventory before taking on that role in real life. You can be a perfectly nice person but still be a horrible boss.
12. Know your worth.
Never be ashamed to ask for more money. In fact, you should make a point to do it as often as possible. So long as your request is based on demonstrated experience (and not: “Why does Tiffany get more than ME?!”), there is a good chance you’ll get that raise. Or at least they’ll meet you part-way. Or, at the very least, they’ll start thinking of you as someone who is worthy of additional pay and responsibility. This is a hard one for a lot of people, women in particular. So ladies, in the great words of Kool and The Gang: Get Down On It.
“One of the reasons women still average lower pay for the same jobs as men is because we are far less likely to feel OK and deal with the nerves of asking for more (ideally more than you actually want because then you’ll probably land on what you want). Ever since I learned that, I have felt it almost a responsibility to do my part to combat that factor. “ —Abbey
Personal anecdote: I once had to leave a job over this very issue. Long story short: my superior left, responsibilities shifted, I took over the bulk of that person’s job, short of their title and salary. I was sure a promotion was inevitable, but when time passed and that didn’t happen, I got up the balls to request they bump my pay. I said, Blah blah blah…Meet me half way. They said, Blah blah blah…No. So I left. It was complicated, sad and mortifying. For the first year after that I felt like I had egg all over face. Why didn’t they see me as an asset? Didn’t they understand how hard I worked for them? Was I really that easy to replace? The fact is yes, they did replace me. They replaced me with a man with less experience and paid him more (*insert howls of feminist outrage*). The thing is, I don’t know how well it worked out for them but it worked out great for me. I found somewhere else that valued my work, offered new opportunities to learn, and more importantly, I didn’t have to go to work each day and report to people who flat out told me “You are worth less than that.” There is one thing you can’t put a price on: self respect.
13. Be the first person to help. Always.
Does somebody on the team need to work late Tuesday? Take out the garbage? Park on the far side of the parking lot? Be the first person volunteer, then, and this is the important part – never mention it again. All of those opportunities to be a helper will add up into something bigger, it just takes time. Don’t act like you don’t have time – you’re twenty something – if anyone has time, it’s you.
Side bar: There is a difference between being helpful and being a doormat. Know the difference.
Personal side bar: Never look down on helpers. In times of crisis, they are what the world needs most.
So that’s it! That’s what I know. Take it, leave it, throw it back in my face. Someone will read this and surely say “But I had a different experience!” and that is the beauty of life: We are all different. We all decide what comes next. It’s your path to chose, I can’t chose for you. All I can do is reassure you that great things lay ahead for anyone willing to buckle down and humble up.
You see that glove? That’s a gauntlet. And I just threw it down. That means I challenged you.
I challenge you to do set your standards higher.
I challenge you to look at work as a privilege, not an obligation.
I challenge you to go forth and kick ass.
Feel free to click over to my Facebook Page to see some of the words of wisodm others have already shared on this subject. Or better yet, chime in the comments below. What was the best career advice anyone ever gave you?