We’re often exhorted not to be selfish and to think about others rather than ourselves. In most areas of our lives that is laudable but when it comes to your career only one person counts, and that’s you! It’s not necessarily always easy to see this, particularly when the family which has invested in you feels entitled to a return on its investment, or when you feel “beholden” to an employer. So how can you make sure that you put yourself first?
The answer to this is going to be different depending on who is putting pressure on you. So let’s look at different possibilities.
1. Your parents.
Of course your parents care about you and in their love may well have clear ideas about what will be right for you. This will be based on their experiences. Sometimes we’re desperate for our children not to make the same mistakes as us. Sometimes we think we really got things right and want to pass on positive experiences to our children. That’s great but things change! What was right for one person twenty or thirty years ago isn’t necessarily right for you now. So how do you deal with this?
When you need to make a decision try to think about what you want, without reference to the expectations of anyone else. If you have a clear dilemma in front of you, or if the path you had mapped out no longer feels right, then stop. Think! Take advice, talk to your tutor, your careers consultant and your friends. As you talk you might find that your thoughts become clearer. If this leads you towards a path different from the one you envisaged, then research your new idea. Set yourself some goals, work out how you might achieve them and understand why you’re mapping out this new future. When you’ve done all this, talk to your parents. You’ll be much more persuasive if you have a plan. Simply telling them that you have given up on the future idea which you might all have cherished, without offering an alternative scenario, is going to be more difficult for them to understand.
This isn’t going to be a panacea for everyone. Some will still encounter anger, disappointment or incomprehension. That’s really difficult to deal with, but it’s important to remember that your future belongs to you and to nobody else. If you start off doing something because someone else wants you to do it, then you may find yourself very unhappy indeed. You do need to think about your own emotional wellbeing and health.
2. The employer who has offered you a job.
This is another difficult area. You’re going to feel loyalty to your potential future employer as well as to an actual employer. Sometimes you may find that following an internship, or for some other reason, you have received a coveted early offer of graduate employment. Fantastic – assuming that this is what you want! What if you accept the offer and change your mind? This is where it gets tricky!
You need to have the confidence to tell your prospective employer. Ethically you should do this as soon as you realise that you’ve made a mistake. Of course this is going to be a breach of contract and may be very annoying for the company. But, what employer wants the employee who doesn’t want to be there? There isn’t one! Your contract is going to have notice provisions, whereby both the employer and you can give notice to “part company” in the future if either wishes to do so. All that is happening here is that you are parting company before you start. There’s a big pool of graduate talent out there and the employer is going to be able to find someone (nearly) as good as you. Actually, given that the other person is going to want to be there and you didn’t, then the other person is going to be better!
What’s the alternative to this? It’s doing a job which isn’t really right for you. It might be leading you off in a direction you don’t want to go in, so that it is genuinely difficult in the future to change track. Once again think about your happiness and act to protect that!