Yesterday marked 1 year since I started my job. In this post, I’m going to try to summarize how it felt to transition from college to first full-time job.
I have to admit, I have a great job. Good pay, good benefits, flexible work arrangements, nice co-workers, and did I mention I have a job? I realize many new college graduates would kill to be in my shoes, so parts of this post might sound like entitled whining.
1. My identity has shifted.
I spent 18 years of my life, all the life I could remember, being a student. I was really good at being a student, too. Now, I’m in an entry-level position. I’m no longer the good student. What I learned in school makes up maybe 15-20% of the information and background needed to do my job. I’m still learning, far from being an expert. Maybe I don’t even want my job to be a core part of my identity.
I never thought going from undergrad straight to grad school sounded appealing, but I also didn’t consider that my core objective in life was to get my degree, and then after that… what? Getting a degree was a clear goal, but I will need to define what success in my career will look like, and that’s not easy.
2. My job is easier but less fun than college.
My job doesn’t have much in common with college. There aren’t grades, just a performance review once a year. If I want additional feedback, I have to ask for it. Learning new things doesn’t make the company money until you apply the knowledge in some tangible way.
Nobody really cares which school I went to or what my GPA was, because it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s liberating, but it also puts me at square one in terms of career accomplishments.
I work at a traditional company, not a scrappy start-up or a progressive Google-like workplace. I can’t pick my own schedule for whenever I choose to work, and I can’t take a 3 hour break from being productive because there’s time to procrastinate before the deadline. On the plus side, I should probably be learning to use my time efficiently and to separate work from my personal life, anyway.
Being stuck at work every weekday for over 8 hours feels like it kills part of me on the inside. Even if I had a job that I really loved and was an amazing fit for me, I still think going to work every day for that much time would be a drag.
Having to work because you need money: human problems.
3. I’m still figuring out what kind of job is right for me.
It’s very hard to know what a job that you’ve never done before will be like. College engineering courses cover broad topics and ideas that are related to what an engineer does on a daily basis, not what one actually does. I had vague expectations from my courses, the job description, and the interviewers, but my job is not really what I expected.
I wouldn’t say I hate my job, but to me it’s often boring and doesn’t feel like I’m making the kind of difference I want to make. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to do my job, of course. Besides paychecks, it still gives me experience and the chance to learn more about myself.
I think it’s very easy and common for people to choose a job that is wrong for them, partly because they don’t know what to expect and partly because people are bad at understanding themselves. Maybe I’m one of those people who chose wrong.
I suppose I thought that I could just get a “good job” and the rest of my life would fall into place. Now, I realize that starting a career is the beginning of a long period of
spending one-third of my waking life in an office self-discovery.
4. Good stuff happened too.
This post would be a bummer if I didn’t mention any of the positive changes since college. I have more time and money to spend on things I want. I can own a dog, cook good food, work out regularly, make artwork, listen to podcasts, binge watch TV shows — whatever I choose to do on weeknights and weekends. Hobbies were not as easy to have in college. Plus, I’m lucky enough to now live with my boyfriend-turned-fiancé.
Bonus: What I’m Listening to and Reading
I want to end with some media suggestions that tie into parts of this post.
I listened to this podcast recently, and the prologue really resonated with me, as I’m making big life choices. This American Life isn’t always my favorite podcast, but I enjoyed this episode very much.
I’m a big fan of Mark Manson. He’s written a lot of great articles that are insightful, down to earth, well-researched, and funny. These are two on the topic of life purpose/life passion that I’ve re-read recently.