By Elle Marcus
I received a lot of advice in the first few years of my career. For the most part, it was beneficial — coming from older co-workers who had seen at all.
But between the good, there was a lot of bad advice.
I learned how to sift through the advice as I navigated my early 20s. Just like many recent college grads, I was lost and trying to figure out what to do with my life. It’s common to experience some level of depression. You’re out of your comfortable community.
You may be in a different city than most of your friends. You spend 8+ hours a day indoors instead of walking from class to class. It’s up to you to decide when to grocery shop, if you should eat healthy, if you should make the time to work out, if you should go to that happy hour, or if you should get more sleep.
There’s a plethora of good advice out there to help you navigate your 20s. But here I’d like to share the pointers I received that I’m glad I didn’t take.
1. You should never leave a job before one year
If you have an ongoing pattern of leaving jobs under a year, then I would say yeah, don’t do it.
That’s kind of a red flag. But sometimes you’ll be at a bad place or have a bad manager, and there’s nothing you can do except leave. Set yourself up for success: be clear with yourself as to why you’re leaving and figure out what move you can make next that will be more permanent.
When I started going on job interviews 8–10 months into my first job, no one and I mean NO ONE cared that I was leaving in under a year. Of course, they asked why I was leaving. “I’m not doing what I want to do, and I’m not able to transition within my company.”
They would just nod casually, say “sure makes sense,” and move on.
Disclaimer: This was my first job out of college. It is expected that a young professional doesn’t have a bearing on what they want to do, so this is a reasonable explanation. Use caution and be mindful when answering, “why do you want to leave your current role?”
2. Don’t get a job right out of college if you can’t find something you like.
This is the most situation-dependent advice on this page. It depends on your financial situation and many other factors. But, in my opinion, you need to get a job. You need to do something, anything.
If you can’t find something related to your major, start working anywhere. Start making money. You’re an adult now. You probably have loans.
Those loans will not stop because you couldn’t find a job you loved. Financial freedom is a wonderful thing and can open up a lot of opportunities.
Not only that, getting a job and establishing a working routine can help you understand life. You’ll understand the corporate world (or whatever world you’re working in).
Even if you hate what you do, you’re going to learn meeting etiquette, email etiquette, how to communicate, how to deal with office politics, how to budget and manage money, how to stay organized. You’ll also meet other people along the way that can mentor and guide you.
And if you genuinely don’t like the job, see my first point of advice above.
“Financial freedom is a wonderful thing and can open up a lot of opportunities.”
In the end, there’s an excellent chance that even if you do get a first job that seems like a dream job, it’s not going to be what you want to do. You will however, learn so many life skills in the first job, that it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect.
3. Don’t take a pay cut.
This was the dumbest advice ever. If it will get you to where you want to go, absolutely take the pay cut. Who cares what you’re making when you’re 22. There will be a lot of people that care and a lot of people that will want to judge you. Many people think that life is a race in your 20s.
Who’s the first to score that promotion, get married, have kids. The only comparison you should be making is your present self to your past self. The argument behind this advice is that once you take a pay cut, you’re going to have to work your way up again to make a higher salary.
If you’re taking a pay cut, it’s because you care about that role or are excited about that job. That enthusiasm will shine through, and you’ll work hard.
Voila, that’s how you get a raise. Or you could stay at your previous high paying salary job, be miserable, and have a hard time scoring promotions because you find it hard to put in good work.
Everything in life doesn’t have to go up continually. That said, know your worth and don’t let companies low ball you, especially if you are a woman or person of color.
Usually, if you ask for a higher salary (within reason), the worst they can do is say no. I did, however, have a job offer revoked once because I asked for a higher salary. I think I dodged a bullet on that one, though.
“Everything in life doesn’t have to constantly go up.”
4. Buy a house as soon as you can. You’re throwing away your money renting.
Do you know what you want to do with your life? Do you know for sure that this is the city you want to live in? Are you confident that your company is in a sound place and you will keep that job? Buying a house will automatically ground you. It’s a long, stressful process. When it comes time to sell, get ready for an even longer, more stressful process.
Make sure it’s what you want.
Rent and mortgage aren’t the only expenses you should compare when considering a house. Think about that chunk of change you’ll need when you need a roof repair.
Or when your dishwasher craps out. A house usually means more space. More space means more furniture and more stuff to fill the house. You now have to spend time and money on yard work, remodeling, repairs. A home can be a beautiful thing, but don’t feel pressured into owning one.
5. Money equals success.
Traveling around the world with no savings and finding odd jobs because you like to travel is important to some people. Being able to have as much money as possible to buy a nice condo downtown is important to others.
Figure out what’s important to you. Some people value money. (Hint: these are usually the same people urging you not to take a pay cut.) It’s an easy way to show that you have done well.
But success can mean so many other things. It can mean happiness. It can mean fulfillment. It can mean reaching your goals. Success comes in many shapes and forms. Don’t let someone else define what success is to you.
Bonus — Follow Your Gut
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If logic is telling you you should do it, but you’re getting a faint funny feeling that you shouldn’t, don’t do it.
On the contrary, learn to recognize the difference between you don’t “feel” like doing it, and you “shouldn’t” do it. The more you follow your gut, the more you’ll be able to make better choices and craft the lifestyle you want.
Life is confusing. Your 20s are complicated. I’m still only halfway done, but so far, I can tell you that being patient and following your instincts are the best things you can do for yourself.
Don’t work yourself to death, but don’t be complacent either. Everything is about finding a balance. And if you’re already working to figure it out now, you’re off to a pretty good start.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1500 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.” He is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council. “No BS JobSearch Advice Radio” was recently named a Top 10 podcast for job search. JobSearchTV.com was also recently named a Top 10 YouTube channel for job search.
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