Living to Work Vs. Working to Live

Being a millennial, I often hear how we are a generation that has gotten everything quickly, almost instantly. That our satisfaction can be obtained by getting what we want, when we want it. Personally, I have found this to be somewhat true in the case of developing a career.

Thus far, in my 25 years of age, I have followed the “prescribed” steps or expectations that society set out for me: I completed high school in the top 10 of my class, went to college, graduated from college with a 3.0 GPA, got married, bought a car, bought a house, etc.

Quite literally, I graduated on a Friday in May of 2013 and began working my full-time, post-grad job the following Monday.

As with every other yearly milestone in my life, I expected something to happen as each year came to a close and a new year began. In the past, with each passing year; I received a report card or a GPA and moved onto another grade or level. In past part-time jobs that I had held, I had received annual raises along side my performance reviews.

I am not sure exactly what I expected would follow that first and then second year; but I certainly didn’t expect to feel this feeling of stagnation. Hadn’t I done everything that I was supposed to do? Where was the feeling of pride? Why wasn’t I rejoicing my first completed, full year of the “real world”?

Without a prescribed plan or goal, I wasn’t sure what I was “supposed” to do next. That was just the problem. I wasn’t “supposed” to do anything. I had already checked all of the boxes. Now was the time for living. At this first realization, I felt a spark of excitement and freedom; comparable to the one I felt when I first start at my university.

Unsure of exactly what my next steps should or would be, I did the only thing that I know how to do: work hard.

Hard work has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. One of my proudest moments was when I started my first two jobs simultaneously and my father bragged to anyone who would listen about how his daughter has not one, but two jobs. I always worked overtime when asked. I trained in any work center that help was needed. This hard work and perseverance paid off, as I mentioned, during annual performance review times. I always received a raise and each year I was even promoted. This was not the case I found at my first “real world” job.

Without raises or (school) graduations as incentives or reward, it was hard to know exactly what I was working toward. Sometimes, I am still plagued with this feeling of not quite fitting in. I worry that maybe I’m doing something wrong, under-performing or that maybe the field I am working in just isn’t the right one for me.

What I am slowly trying to grasp is that now is the time to gain experience, dabble, experiment, and learn. We know well that learning goes beyond the walls of a classroom.

Vera Wang Quote

As new adults (18–30), we need to strike a balance between gaining experience while working at (perhaps) not our dream job, while at the same time not getting “stuck” in a 9–5 grind that makes us unhappy.

While we are told that how long you work in a particular position on your resume is important when applying for a job and that most people will change their jobs or careers up to 5 to 7 times in a working lifetime, I am not sure that we can anticipate what it will feel like to be in the position of accruing those years of experience.

At first, I found these past few months mind-numbing and I felt a loss of that hard working self, but as my mentor once asked me, “How do you define yourself?” (Yea, that’s another thing, get a mentor.)

Many people choose to define themselves by their careers, with answers ranging from: teacher to firefighter to technician; but what if we chose to define ourselves not by how or what we do at work, but what we love to do. What we spend our hard earned cash on, like hiking, books, or our families.

Maybe our answers would sound more like, “I’m a hiker,” rather than, “I’m a lawyer who likes hike in my spare time,” or this, “I’m a mother,” rather than this, “I’m a computer technician.”

Especially, while we are learning more about what we want to do and where we want to go in our careers, I encourage you, as my mentor did me (really though, get a mentor), to define yourselves not by your job title, but by your passions.

Graduation speech from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

As much as I cringe at quoting a scene from The Twilight Saga, Anna Kendrick’s character Jessica makes a realistic, although cliche, speech that I think holds true not just for recent high school grads, but also for new adults. Use this time in your life to test the waters, make a change, and learn from everything while continuing to pursue your passions in or outside of work. It might feel scary or impossible, but do it anyway.

Share your post-grad career stories with me @tayloradulting on Twitter.



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