College Connect: In Today’s Work Journey – Be Prepared for Detours

Posted By David Wilhite

By Philip Joens

As a student at the University of Missouri I’d often spend nights working at an on-campus dining hall—usually working in the dishroom or cooking cheese burgers on a hot and greasy grill— and say to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.”

Now, A little over two years after graduating from college, I’m finding the working world is tougher than I ever imagined as a college student.

After graduating from MU in December 2014, I eventually landed a job covering technology at the Pacific Coast Business Times in Santa Barbara, Calif. This publication is a small business journal, but as far as first jobs go, this one seemed amazing. During my first two weeks on the job two companies went public. Later I covered SpaceX rocket launches, marijuana business breakfasts and even the St. Louis Rams relocation to the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks.

In November I was laid off, and ever since I’ve been trying to find my place in the working world.

Be Prepared for Detours

My friends and I all had plans for how life would go once we graduated from college. We knew life was hard and that we were prepared to make sacrifices to achieve our career goals, but none of us really knew what that meant. Right now it may be hard to see yourself being laid off or fired one day. Things will happen, and one day you will experience the business side of your industry.

A 2016 study by the networking site LinkedIn found Millennials switch jobs an average of four times during their first four decades out of college.

LinkedIn said young people in white-collar jobs job hop the most.

“People who ended up in the Media & Entertainment, Professional Services, and Government/Education/Non-Profits industries job-hopped the most the five years after they graduated,” the study said.

LinkedIn also said women tend to job hop slightly more than men. Whether by choice or not, be prepared for rainy days, and don’t be afraid to move on from your first job.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Working at that dining hall was not my favorite thing to do. Many nights I cooked stir fry on a hot grill. When I didn’t cook, often I’d have to clean the scalding hot pans for hours at a time. The trick was to zone out enough to pass the time, but not enough to get burned. Most problems there, like cleaning, could be solved by working harder. While cleaning, I’d scrub my brush harder, run across the building faster, or work physically harder if something needed to be done fast.

Working in an office after college, I often found it challenging to solve problems other than by simply working hard. During performance evaluations my boss would often tell me, work smarter, not harder. There were days and days where I’d feel like was working hard, but wasn’t making progress on projects. What I later realized in those situations was that I needed to think clearly to think of a solution. Simply grinding harder doesn’t work in an office job. When you encounter a problem, go for a walk, get coffee or go to the bathroom. Take a few moments, even 30 seconds, to process the information instead of spinning your wheels.

Be Mentally Healthy

About seven percent of people age 12 or older experience depression according to the Centers for Disease Control.

I suffered from depression my all four years at MU. During my junior year I briefly got it treated, but stopped seeing my therapist after three sessions because I needed the hour each week to do homework.

While working in that dining hall I thought that if I could just leave there; leave Missouri and leave the Midwest, all of my problems would go away. My depression, which really I’ve battled since my parents’ divorce at age 8, would suddenly disappear.

Instead, my ghosts followed me to my seaside apartment.

Enjoy Your Current Job, Not Your Future Job

I decided I wanted to be a sports reporter in seventh grade. From that moment on, everything I did in my life, I did with the single minded goal of becoming a sports reporter for ESPN.

MU is a competitive place to say the least. The Missouri School of Journalism calls itself the best journalism school in the country. Alumnus, like myself, take pride in that. As a competitive high school senior who dreamed of working at national outlets like New York Times, or any other large publication, that sold me on the school.

That competitive mindset turned me into a zombie though. Even on my best days in Santa Barbara, I’d obsessively daydream about what I wanted to do two, five or 10 years down the line.

Because of my focus on the future, I lost sight of what made me happy on a daily basis, and how that would eventually help me achieve my dreams.

Make Mistakes

There are certain lessons we learn as young people only by making mistakes. Make them fearlessly, and learn from each one.

Within two weeks of being laid off as my newspaper downsized from three reporters to two reporters, I landed a job covering prep sports for a daily newspaper close to Los Angeles.

Frustrated with the much lower pay and the high cost of living in California, I jumped ship three weeks after starting that job when a publication in Pittsburgh offered me another tech reporting job that paid better. Shortly after hiring me though, that company’s parent company made budget cuts and indefinitely froze my hiring.

Looking back, I may say one day that decision was the biggest mistake of my career. Nothing about it felt good. Any excitement I initially had my job in Pittsburgh was tempered immediately when I saw the people I betrayed and let down.

Now please don’t for the love of God ever do what I did, but between middle school and my decision to go to Pittsburgh, my goals in life changed. Instead of wanting to be a sports reporter I wanted to write about important things like tech and renewable energy. As a seventh grader I never dreamed of doing Woodward & Bernstein like dives into investigative journalism. As I think about my current goals, that’s all I think about. After graduating, and being laid off, maybe the hardest thing to accept was that my dreams changed, and that I needed to think about what I wanted to do now.

Already my goals in life are changing again. I want to be closer to my parents in Northwestern Iowa. For the first time, I can see myself getting married and having kids one day instead of blindly pursuing my reporting career. Maybe it shouldn’t be be surprising that by age 24, 25 or 26, it’s okay to wonder what to do with your life.

LinkedIn said in its study, this is common for Millennials.

“Millennials being more interested than previous generations in trying out different jobs before settling on a career,” the study said.

Finally, I sought help for my depression, and I plan to continue seeing a therapist no matter where I end up next. Only by going through all of this did I learn that goals change as life changes, and that that is okay.

There is no textbook for being a young adult. Google Maps will not guide you through life. Enjoy the ride, and try to have fun.


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