Your First Job Will Suck

I’m going to tell you something today that isn’t frequently expressed during commencement speeches: your first job is going to suck.

A lot of new grads receive their sheepskin and enter the workforce bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They will do exciting work from the very first day. Senior management will value their input on strategic direction. Their unique value proposition will enable them to earn twice the salary of their peers within a year. And why not? Their parents instilled a sense of exceptionalism in them from the day they were born, a sense that was further reinforced by four years of high GPA, praise from professors, and academic accolades.

But then, reality hits like an ice cold Gatorade bath. The work they are doing is “unfulfilling”. Forget about their opinions; senior management doesn’t even know their name. And the paychecks are very much in line with HR standard.

I was one of those new graduates. A rocky undergraduate experience did not deter my belief that I was special and employers would immediately notice. When they did not (because I was not special), I was frustrated and discouraged. All despite the fact that, in hindsight, I had it better than the majority of my peers.

Face it. Your first job will suck because:

You are the FNG (effin’ new guy) again. Remember going from the top of the totem pole in eighth grade to the bottom as a high school freshman? It’s exactly like that. You will be doing all of the work that more senior people do not want to do, work that they don’t want to do because it sucks.

You have no experience. Even if your boss wanted to give you exciting work, he may not be able to simply because you lack the experience or ability to do it. A lot of the work that someone with no experience can do invariably sucks.

The transition from academia to the workforce is a paradigm shift. By and large, undergraduate programs are structured environments where students are asked to solve problems that already have answers. In the real world, the answers are not in the back. Heck, no one even knows what the right question is. If life was a swimming pool, progressing through school is like a gradual slope down from the kiddie section before a sudden drop into the deep end of the working world. That sucks.

You can make it suck less by:

Having realistic expectations. Ask people a few years ahead of you (but not more, because they’ll have forgotten the suck) about what to expect in terms of promotions, salaries, job responsibilities, etc. Although exceptions exist, realize that you are probably not one of them, especially not at first.

Not buying the bullshit. Your new graduate friends are not the lead developer on the company’s keystone app, they are not having weekly one-on-one’s with the CEO, and they are not making triple the industry average. They are also taking meeting minutes, fixing bugs, and reformatting Powerpoint slides. And if they are significantly outperforming, dig into the how and see if you can emulate them.

Getting some perspective. After several 3 AM appearances in the office, I complained to my dad about how much work sucked. He gave me a quick attitude adjustment, pointing out that I worked in a climate-controlled office and was paid orders of magnitude more than he was at the same age.

Realizing that your first job is going to, in all likelihood, suck can and will increase your happiness level. After all, happiness is merely reality minus your expectations. If your expectations are more realistic, there is a greater chance that reality will match or even exceed them. You’re welcome, new graduates.

Tim Urban explains why Generation Y yuppies are unhappy, with funny pictures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.