“I applied for jobs in D.C., New York and San Francisco.”
“I got no response from anywhere!”
When Catherine Cheng, 24, decided to look for her first “real job,” she faced a series of disappointing answers from the many places she approached. Now working at a respectable organization in Seattle, she smiles as the memories of those days seem to take over her.
Did she go through any moments of self-doubt?
“Absolutely. It was so disheartening. I was sad for about a month,” she says.
What is it about a first job that has us all in a frenzy?
“It’s a universal struggle,” says Amrisha Ahuja, a practicing psychologist. At 28, she is the proud owner of ‘The Healing Island’ in New Delhi, India. Recognizing the problem, she says, is the first step towards healing. It’s not possible after all for us to work on a problem without knowing its origin.
The struggle associated with a first job occurs over the course of three phases.
Phase 1: The Search
This happens when someone with no prior work experience steps out in search for a job. The search for a place that provides the right financial compensation, work environment and flexibility is a big stress inducer. Peer pressure has a big role to play in this phase. People want to match up to the kind of work being done by their peers. They want to work because their peers are working. They want to earn as much, save as much and spend as much.
“There’s always peer pressure. There’s pressure to just keep up,” says Michael Levokwitz, 25, who’s been in the job market for almost 10 years.
“All my friends were buying new things and I was jealous,” remembers Vineet Kaur, 20, from India when asked about why she started looking for a job at 17. She agrees she succumbed to the peer pressure. It was really stressful, she tells us. She had to look for just the right internship so that her grades wouldn’t suffer.
“I don’t remember how I dealt with the stress I had forced into my life. I think I danced a lot,” she laughs.
Phase 2: Maintaining Healthy Self Image
The second phase, says Ahuja, begins with the new entrants at the work environment striving to create and sustain a healthy self-image. They want to have a positive impact on their bosses and colleagues. Often, they feel the weight of proving their worth, and the validity of the decision to hire them. This puts pressure on them emotionally and mentally. It makes them struggle with competency and self-doubt issues.
Levokwitz says he learnt a lot in this phase — how to dress appropriately, be on time, network, present himself and the like.
“Gratitude is a support system that never goes wrong,” smiles Ahuja.
Remember to be grateful for finding a job that nurtures your financial state and helps you explore your potential as a guaranteed way to keep the stress at bay.
She also talks about the importance of perspective.
“If you can just see a different opinion as a point of view and not as something invalidating your ideas, you will do well at your workplace,” Ahuja says.
Phase 3: Maintaining Balance
This phase occurs in the early years of one’s work life. At this stage, striking a balance between one’s work and personal life becomes difficult.
“There has to be a fine line between your work and personal life,” explains Ahuja. “You need to take care not to take your work home every time. It is just one part of your life and not all of it.”
Levokwitz agrees that it’s important to set one’s priorities straight. Still, balancing work and personal life is the nature of most of his stress, he says.
This phase usually occurs at the end of the ‘honeymoon’ period — as soon as the excitement of securing the job wears off. There is definitely the existence of a honeymoon period when it comes to the workplace, believes Meredith Stilwell, 28, who has worked on both coasts of the United States.
“You have to find mechanisms for dealing with your own stressors,” she says.
Personally, she prefers exercising or going for walks to release the stress. To maintain that crucial balance, she ensures space in her schedule to spend some time playing with her pets or hanging out with friends.
Fostering healthy relationships and maintaining personal connections at work helps as well.
“It is important to maintain healthy relationships at work, but you must keep your personal life out of your professional life,” she chimes in.
How, then, can one get through the different phases?
Consistently reminding yourself why you decided to take up a job in the first place can help, believes Saifullah Muhammad, 20, from Nepal, who just completed his term at his first job.
Keeping your eyes on the goal, and focusing on the positive aspects helps relieve the pressure to a great extent.
It is also very important to constantly remind yourself that you are bound to make errors at first. It is okay to make mistakes, says Ahuja.
Allow yourself the space to explore, she advises.
It will help you decide what you want to do next. After all, a first job contains endless possibilities to discover your true potential.
It may test you, says Ahuja, but it will definitely teach you.