I was reaching for the crisps at a party back in 2011 when I heard the dreaded question. “What do you do, again?” Looking blankly at the unfamiliar face, I had no idea how to answer. That summer I had left university and about fifteen years of structured learning had abruptly come to an end. It felt like I’d been sprinting flat out on a treadmill that had suddenly come to a halt, flinging me off unceremoniously. Six months and several dozen applications later I was still had no job and felt aimless. That was why the question was so hard. Nowadays, what you do seems to define who you are, and at that party I was uncategorised, miscellaneous, none of the above.
Dozens of studies have come out in recent years on millennials at work, and they all point to the fact that what we do for a living is really important to us. In our jobs we want to lead, have an impact, and make a positive difference. While our parents and grandparents were more likely to leave the office and go home to separate lives, we want to socialise with our colleagues, blurring the lines between work and play. Unlike them too, we’re less willing to soldier on in a job we despise. With more options and fewer reservations about jumping ship, two thirds of us express a desire to leave our jobs by 2020. The studies show our jobs are mixed up in our morals, values, friendships and sense of self-worth, essential building blocks of our identities.
The fact that our job titles are now an extension of ourselves is making us millennials picky when it comes to our careers. I should know. As one of those picky people I have dabbled in PR, teaching, tech start-ups, being an aid worker and now freelance journalism, all in the name of achieving career nirvana. Many of my friends also have CVs as long as their dissertations because they can’t settle on a job that makes them happy. So I asked a bunch of them: is being obsessed with landing the perfect job a good thing, or does ambition have a down side?
It quickly became clear that caring so much causes anxiety when we don’t stroll out of university and into that perfect job immediately. Unless you’re one of those rare, lucky (annoying) people, getting anywhere requires time, hard work, and the resilience to face a ton of rejection. My clever mate Laura went to Oxford and Cambridge, graduating with a stellar CV but no clear plan about what to do next. “Looking for that golden first job was stressful” she says. “I took an unpaid internship, worried about money and lacked clear direction”. For Holly, 28, the pressure of making the right career choices makes it hard to make any decisions at all. “I feel paralyzed by the pressure. Finding a job that makes me feel happy, and like I’ve made a positive difference is big and intimidating”.
But according to Shrina, 28, it’s worth persevering and making sacrifices to find that perfect job. Having spent a few years working as a corporate lawyer, she took a fifty percent pay cut to move into the music industry. “I didn’t care about what I was doing, and my social life was non-existent. The pay cut was worth it to move into a sector I love”.
Your own boss?
It turns out many passionate and driven millennials are realising that if employers fail to live up to their standards, they’d be better off working for themselves. In fact, more than seventy percent of us would like to be our own boss at some point. My friend Liss, 33, was working all hours of the day as a lawyer at a top firm and decided enough was enough. “I thought how successful my own project would be if I funneled all my energy into it”. She founded Iris Lillian, a platform showcasing fashion and inspirational women, and just two months into the venture, the hard work has paid off and she’s bagged some A List interviews.
Don’t be afraid to be demanding!
Ultimately, two things became clear to me from the people I spoke to. The time after graduating can be scary and full of rejection. But those who persevere and have faith in themselves are more likely to succeed and be happier five years down the line. I wish I could explain this to the self-conscious 22-year-old me at that party. If that sounds like you now – chin up, keep chasing your dreams! If you’re 25 or 35 the advice still holds true! Don’t be afraid to be demanding. Employers increasingly understand that in order to keep us interested, we need to be fulfilled, or they risk losing us. We just need to remember that getting that perfect job can take time. In the grand scheme of things, everything will work out in the end.