Recently, I had a reader write in to me explaining how she felt about a situation she is currently in — one that I myself (like so many others), can identify with. She explained to me that she is experiencing an unsettling feeling of discontent — a prolonged sense of feeling off, and one that she can’t quite shake. In the email, she explained that she graduated college a few years ago, landed a job in her field, and has since then been toiling away working ~50 hours a week trying to make a name for herself. She bemoaned her loss of freedom, and expressed fear that she was slipping into a rut brought on by being overworked. Her excitement for the activities she had once passionately pursued in college no longer provide her with as much joy, and she struggles with time management. As I read through her email, I thought about how common the sentiment she was expressing is among my peers.
I’ve spoken before about the cyclical rigidness of having a 9-to-5 job and the way in which it can take a toll on fresh college grads. It’s a hard transition to navigate — you leave the very safe and structured setting of a university, where you are surrounded by peers, and are suddenly thrust into a professional setting. Although it might sound ~whiny~ to refer to this as a ‘difficult transition’ period, having a majority of your time being spent at a desk job sucks the ambition and zest for life out of people (especially new grads). I speak from my own experience when I say that I too, struggled with feeling unmotivated to do much after I came home from work at around 7:00 each night when I first began working full-time.
The reader who emailed me asked if I could provide some insights/tips on how one can stay motivated when working full-time, and prevent themselves from getting sucked into #thegrind. Below are my five bits of advice that I’ve been able to draw from my own experience, and ones that are useful for any new working professional to keep in mind.
Create New Habits.
In my senior year of college I had a very strict and predictable schedule. I ran every AM (if the weather was shitty I would hit the gym), I would spend the afternoons either in class or working at my internship in Manhattan, and I would cook nearly every meal at home. I wouldn’t drink during the week, because I simply had too much to get done and early morning classes. Life was more regimented, because it needed to be. However, once I began working full-time, all this changed. My early morning workouts became a rarity, because I simply couldn’t drag myself out of bed 2.5 hours before I had to go to work. I was drinking nearly every night of the week with friends or coworkers at happy hours, dinner meetings, or late nights at the agency.
I got down on myself that my habits had changed, but I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself. Looking back, I shouldn’t have punished myself for “slipping up”, because I was in a completely different place working full-time than I was in college. I had to learn to stop focusing on what life was like, and start focusing on how I could maximize my time with my new schedule. This meant carving out a night during the week to attend my favorite fitness class no matter how stressed I felt, eating smarter, running on Saturday and Sunday mornings when I could, and cooking more meals at home. For me, it was helpful to make big batches of healthy food on Sunday which provided me with lunch all week. I learned to prioritize my time at the office and work smarter, so I could take a half-hour lunch break to read a few chapters of a novel or take a walk. It’s important to not get down on yourself if you can’t adhere to the old habits you created for your college self. As you get older, you learn to adjust to life’s changes, and build new rituals for yourself to stay on track.
Find (Or Create) A Support System.
If you are surrounded by too many overly negative people at the office or within your social circle, it’s important that you begin to distance yourself from these unhealthy unproductive relationships. It’s essential for your mental health and career that you build out a group of ambitious, positive, and hard-working people who have dreams of their own. Having strong female relationships makes life better, and when you are surrounded by people who build you up, achieving the things you want in life becomes easier.
Take A Chance.
One of the best decisions I ever made (which turned out to be one of the most fruitful) was one that scared me the most. It sounds cliché to say, but it’s true. It’s essential that you keep your skill set evolving and your goals ambitious, so you don’t fall into a rut. I used to live very much within my comfort zone and was scared of change. But in retrospect, I can see that I desperately needed to shake up the monotonous quality life had adopted, and I needed to take a chance (even if it felt uncomfortable). Don’t be afraid of taking on new challenges or responsibilities at work for fear of getting in over your heard. By tackling big projects head on, you force yourself to learn more than you would have if you accepted only easy projects. You learn new ways to problem solve and are better for it.
Involve Yourself In A Hobby Unrelated To Your Field.
This bit of advice goes in tandem with the one above. Part of keeping your skill set sharp and not falling victim to boredom means getting involved in a hobby outside of what your 9-to-5 entails. By learning a skill, craft, or hobby that differs from what your normal tasks are you keep yourself learning and curious. Before I started working here at TFD, I kept myself learning by photographing food (mostly baked goods) I made at home. I learned how to work a DSLR camera the right way, set up a WordPress blog, and brushed up on my kitchen/cooking skills.
Create Short-Term Goals.
I’ve written about the art of setting mini goals in the past, and for me, it’s more important now more than ever. Much like new year’s resolutions, it’s easy to get lost in very long-term goals that take the course of the year to complete. Instead, focus on creating smaller goals that can be achieved by the month’s end. These small success add up and provide you with momentum to see through some of your larger-scale goals. When I started working at TFD full-time, I felt overwhelmed at first by the different working structure, but setting weekly goals for myself helped me stay focused on the big picture. Meeting goals often helps you stay positive and not feeling like you fell off some metaphorical bandwagon and are incapable of getting back on board.
The transition from college into the workforce is a tricky one to navigate at first, but it does get easier. You learn not to beat yourself up if you can no longer go running five days a week or have one more cocktail than you should (wink, wink). You learn that life is about balance. While you spend your days working hard to build yourself the professional life you’ve always dreamed of, it’s good to let loose and laugh in the evenings with your girlfriends — enjoying your new ~adult life~ and all the wonderful changes and opportunities that come with it.