From Class to Cubicle: Millennials Reimagine Success


Maybe I’m too idealistic.

This is what I wonder when I hear friends, colleagues and mid-20-somethings talking at weddings an
d parties. It’s two years after college graduation, and so few spend their working hours doing something that matters to them.

We graduated with stars in our eyes, confident that the workforce held a place for us, a spot where our passions could come alive and our skills would be well-used. But I have yet to ask a college friend, “How’s the new job?” and see their face light up, thrilled to share about their work.

Among the many young professionals I know, there’s a growing discontent. It doesn’t seem like the millennial generation – born between 1980 and 2000 – is happy settling for 40 hours a week spent at a job that lacks meaningful work.

From Class to Cubicle

Sophie Beck, Brittany Seemuth prepare for the graduation ceremony.It’s not always clear in college how a chosen major will play out in the workforce. After studying nonprofit leadership and communications in college, I struggled to articulate the exact skills I’d developed in undergrad. I could analyze a film for social implications and name all the steps for forming a nonprofit strategic plan, but I didn’t see those listed as “required skills” on any job postings. My degrees felt too broad, like I could fit in anywhere or nowhere.

The truth is that the things we love to study aren’t necessarily the things that employers will be looking for later on, or the things that will pay a living wage.

Does that mean we should stop expecting that the thing we love to do is the same thing we get paid to do? I don’t think so. Inste
ad, I think it means millennial graduates should leave college expecting that an even more valuable “education” is still ahead. Perhaps college teaches us to love thinking, and the workforce teaches us to do what we love.

Personal proof: my college internship was probably the most valuable undergrad experience I could point to as an example of the skills I’d developed. Going to class taught me to think about ideas, and having an internship – and subsequent post-graduation job – taught me how those ideas could collide with my passions in a 9-to-5 job.

PencilMixed Messages

The millennial generation is also the first to grow up hearing all around us, “You can do anything.” We were awarded participation trophies and were told whatever we could dream, we could do.

I don’t want to be told that I “can do anything.” Instead, I’d rather the older, wiser people in my life point out the strengths they see in me. It often takes another person’s observations to help identify the areas where we shine, and hearing those messages can be encouraging – and useful – in helping millennials determine a career direction. At the same time, though, I want to hang on to the optimism inherent in the millennial generation.

Arches graduating staff“The thing that surprises me most about millennials is how unrelentingly, unfailingly optimistic they are as a generation,” said Shabnam Mogharabi, CEO of media production company SoulPancake.

“This is a generation with nearly $1 trillion in student debt, dealing with one of the worst job markets in recent history, and yet despite this, millennials are extremely positive about their futures,” Mogharabi said.

It’s another lesson in expectation: as millennials, we shouldn’t expect that we really can do anything, despite the mixed messages flooding in from every side. But we can expect that once we learn about ourselves – in college and even more so after graduation – we will be well-equipped to succeed.

For me, that means a new normal of working two part-time jobs that utilize different sides of my skill set, respectively engaging my passions for publishing and academia. It also means taking on side gigs like ACT tutoring that – often unintentionally – help hone in more closely on my professional interests.

We should expect that a few years post-graduation, our career might not look anything like what we thought it would. Maybe, if we take a fresh look at how we determine our professional direction, it could be even better.

Office Chair From Different Angles

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