We're approaching that time of year when new college graduates look to join the workforce for the first time. Yet even for those who quickly land jobs, transitioning from college to career isn't always easy.
Just ask Jenny Blake, who jumped into the real world earlier than she expected when she took a leave of absence from UCLA in 2004 to help launch a start-up company. (She returned the following year to complete her degree.) She now works as a career coach at Google, writes a popular blog called Life After College, and recently published a book by the same name.
U.S. News talked with Blake about challenges new graduates face, searching for the elusive work-life balance, and why it makes sense to think of your career like a smartphone rather than a ladder. Excerpts:
Your book's title is Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want. But what about college graduates who don't know what they want? How should they go about figuring that out?
I found the most helpful thing was giving myself an opportunity to answer some of life's biggest questions and actually say, What do I want? What's important to me? What are my values? What activities light me up? What do I find exciting? ... Even if it's a little foggy at first, just by starting that process and putting something down on paper, I find that people start to make a lot of progress.
Start taking baby steps. I think a lot of times, [people] hold back from doing something that interests them because they're thinking about it in terms of all or nothing. I either have to go all out, quit my job, go become a full-time life coach—or nothing, just stay doing what I'm doing. For me, I was able to do both. Keeping my day job, start pursuing coach training, and blogging on the side. And it's really exciting to see the evolution of those things over time.
Sometimes new graduates feel pressure to prove themselves in the workplace. How can they make themselves—as you write in the book—indispensable?
Jump in wherever you're needed, and be proactive. The people who are most indispensable, in my mind, are the ones who are jumping at every opportunity to help ... and looking for where they're uniquely skilled. No matter what role someone's in, say you have a hidden talent for organization or Excel spreadsheets or Web design or social media. In most jobs there is an opportunity to pitch in and help in those areas—it's just a matter of making it known that a new grad has those skills and interests.
You write about the myth that life starts after the office. Why do you say employees should stop thinking that way?
Some people have the misconception that my life starts when I leave the office. It's okay if I'm miserable for eight hours a day; work-life balance is finding something cool that makes me happy right when I get home or on the weekends. My big encouragement in the book is that work is a huge part of our lives. It's five of the seven days of the week. So don't wait until you get home or until the weekend to find some balance in the day or to structure the day in a way that's going to be sustainable in the long term.
The other part of that myth-busting is that work-life balance is some state of nirvana. That once you get there, you're set, you can just brush your hands off and call it a day. It's much more fluid than that ... It's always changing, it's always evolving, and it's different on any given day. There's a piece in the book called "Own the day," which is all about, What can you do in a given day to make it your own? Instead of hitting snooze, running to work, feeling buried by email, getting stressed out, going home, how can you take proactive steps to make the day yours? For me, it might be building in yoga or reading the newspaper in the morning, [or] exercise. Things that are going to really help start me off on the right foot.