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The Real World Workplace: When Reality Bites
By Christine Hassler
Author of The 20 Something Manifesto

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from college, successfully completed the resume shuffle and interview dance, and now are knee deep into your first job in the “real world.” Fancy laptop bag in hand, new work outfit laundered, you feel the essence of carpe diem pulsing through your blood. That is until reality does indeed start to bite.

All of a sudden the job you thought you wanted has you questioning your entire well-planned career path. You start watching the clock on the wall ticking down to closing time like a hawk watching its prey. The passion you expected to feel is non-existent. You may find yourself forging ahead on the path you have convinced yourself to follow, not taking the time to evaluate your own passions.

Or maybe you have found a niche for yourself, but aren’t getting the recognition, respect, or responsibilities you think you deserve? The nuts-and-bolts of working your way up the ladder remain daunting, and you question the playing field that you are in.

Or the job that you were so excited about has you so completely exhausted, mentally and physically, that you can barely bring yourself to face another work day. You aren’t living the rocking twenty-something “Friends-esque” life you expected to have because you barely have time to sleep much less meet friends for an over-priced coffee. You wonder if all the stress is worth it.

So here you are – a grown person, free to be whoever you want, do what you want, but maybe a tiny bit of you feels trapped and overwhelmed by all these new obligations and decisions. How do you cope?

First, whenever you are facing workplace doubt, know that you are NORMAL and admit to your doubts. Did you really think you were supposed to know exactly what you wanted to do with your life when someone in a robe handed you a diploma. Eliminate that expectation all together and allow yourself time to think, question, and simply say “I don’t know.” Those three little words may bruise your ego, but it isn’t a weakness to seek guidance and to take the time to figure out what matters most to you before you make your next move.

It is a difficult transition from college to the workforce, but don’t be afraid to take some chances and find a job that works for you instead of vice versa. The right fit, or the first step on the right path, usually doesn’t happen on the first try. People hold an average of 8.6 jobs between the ages of 18 and 32.

If a fulfilling career is what you want, then be fearless, analyze and use your strengths, and channel these insightful words from John F. Kennedy, “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain.”

Helpful Tips for the Twenty-Something Work World

Scenario 1: You’re not happy at your job, it’s monopolizing your time and you’re losing sight of yourself. Triple shots of espresso and good chocolate aren’t even helping you get through the day.

1) It’s easy to get bogged down with getting settled into a new job and forget yourself. Think about what you used to do when you had more time, the small things that made you happy, and try to incorporate some back into your life. It’s essential to create habits of work/life balance in your twenties otherwise you are headed toward early hair loss and premature wrinkles.
2) Maybe your job is overwhelming even after you have settled into the routine. Don’t be afraid to discuss your workload with your boss. It could be a simple matter of communication. Asking what the most important tasks are, making sure to finish what is crucial, and feeling alright about leaving the rest for another day. While you want to be seen as hard-working and efficient, a boss will appreciate your honesty and willingness to strategize to get the work done.
3) Think about the career path you truly want and if this job will lead you where you want to go. Commit to conducting at least five informational interviews with people in five different professions to get a sense of other paths you could explore.

Scenario 2: You have a job you like, working towards a career you feel you want, but want a raise or a promotion. You daydream about a business card with your name and new title in some fancy font.

1) Reality Check! You can’t expect to be thought of as your company’s saving grace in your first few weeks or months on the job. Think about how long you’ve been at the company, how well you are doing at your job, and if you’ve been looking for ways to take on new responsibility. An employee deserving of a raise or promotion doesn’t just do his or her job well, but looks to the next step, embracing every opportunity to shine. Entitlement gets you nowhere.
2) Look at your coworkers. Watch how they work, how they communicate, how they attain goals and meet expectations, and how they interact in various situations. Assess who seems to be successful and effective. Notice which employees get the most attention and/or responsibility from upper level management.
3) Make a list of the reasons you deserve a raise/promotion, and any new ideas you have to take on more responsibility and/or make work more efficient. Know salaries for similar positions in cities with comparable costs of living. Have an exact figure in mind that you intend to ask for. Be reasonable, not greedy, and be honest with yourself and with your employer. Then set a time to meet with your boss. Get on his or her schedule by saying you'd like to have an appointment for a review and to discuss your growth at the company. Being your own advocate is a skill integral to your success.

Scenario 3: You hate your job. It seems your work is taking over your life, your mind, your sanity. Sometimes you imagine making a voodoo doll of your boss.

1) No job is worth your health or your sanity. There’s a big difference between paying your dues and just plain paying.
2) Is it the work you hate or the environment? Do you like the everyday duties, but cringe at being around your boss or coworkers? If so, maybe you have the right gig, but the wrong company. Start searching for similar positions at other companies.
3) If you don’t like the work or the company, that is great news. Sometimes the path to figuring out what we want is a process of elimination. Make a list of other things you like to do, careers you have considered. Narrow down your choices, and compare them with your current skill set. Start looking for a job or applying to schools or programs that will lead you to where you want to be.
4) Leaving a secure job can be frightening. It isn’t always possible to line up a new job before you leave the old one. Study your finances and see where you stand. Can you wait on buying a new computer or taking that weekend trip with friends if it means you won’t have to be at your job another week?
5) Make a “pros and cons” list for staying versus leaving. Sometimes we get so caught up in our thoughts that it clarifies our real desires to see them on paper.

Go with your instinct and your heart. Even if sometimes you feel like you’re treading water, know the lifeline is in trusting yourself, and knowing you have the strength to take the steps towards a personally and professionally rewarding career.
Based on the book 20 Something Manifesto. Copyright 2008 by Christine Hassler. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

Christine Hassler left her successful job as a Hollywood agent at twenty-five to pursue a life she could be passionate about. In 2005, she wrote the first guide book exclusively for young women, entitled Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction. As a life coach, she specializes in relationships, career, and self-identity with a counseling emphasis. As a professional speaker, Christine leads seminars and workshops for audiences around the country. She has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, and PBS. She lives in Los Angeles. Her website is



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