How to Grow in Your Career Without Going Crazy

There’s no denying it: post-graduate life can get a little crazy. Although our four(ish) years of college offered us some semblance of routine and cohesion—the joys of class being cancelled and the stress of midterms affected all of us, no matter our major—graduation sent us all in different directions. While some of us are going into the sciences, others pursuing careers in business or the arts. Some of us might not be going into the workforce at all, but returning to school to earn a Master’s degree or PhD. But whether you’re an aspiring astrophysicist or a middle school P.E. teacher, there’s one thing on all our minds: work-life balance. Though it might seem difficult at first, growing in your career and maintaining a personal life is totally possible. Here’s how you do it.

Decide what “having it all” means to you

The first step to achieving your goals is to define them. If you’ve had your entire life planned out since you were a pre-teen, that’s great. This part is going to be easy for you. If you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, don’t stress about it! The trick is to start with the big picture and work backwards. First, think about what kind of job you want to have or which field you want to work in. Then, consider what’s important to you. Do you want a job that will allow you to travel a lot, or do you want to stay close to home and eventually raise a family? Is having the opportunity to be outdoors and get exercise a priority for you, or are you okay with spending the majority of your day in front of a computer screen? Once you have an idea for what kind of life you ultimately want to have, work backwards. Find out what resources or experience you’ll need to reach your goals and pursue them.

Don’t compare your career aspirations to those of your peers—set your own goals

Teddy Roosevelt was on to something when he claimed that comparison is the thief of joy. Most of the time, comparing yourself to others will lead to disappointment and feelings of inadequacy, not because you truly are disappointing or inadequate, but simply because your goals are different from your friends' goals. Cal Poly SLO graduate Jillian Zdepski knows this well. “After I graduated and started working, I realized I didn’t have the exact same priorities as all of my friends, and that was okay," says Jillian. "What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for them, and vice versa." Even if your friends end up working at the same company or have the same job title as you, you’re still going to have different priorities and values. The best thing you can do for yourself is set your own goals and let those dictate what you should be doing.  

Consider which jobs and companies will allow you to have the level of work-life balance you want

For better or for worse, not all jobs were created equally. While some jobs will require you to follow a typical 9-5 schedule, other jobs offer more variability and flexibility. For example, many consulting jobs will give you opportunities to travel but will likely be more time consuming, while teaching positions or jobs with a professional sports team are often seasonal. Additionally, some jobs offer flexible or remote hours. Knowing which kind of job and company is right for you can get confusing pretty quickly. Luckily, websites like Glassdoor can be helpful for researching different companies and learning about jobs you might want to apply for. They’re going to provide you with intel you wouldn’t otherwise get unless you know somebody who works at your target company or has your dream job. Be smart about using these review-based websites, though! It’s like reading comments on a site that allows students to rate professors; there’s often there’s an element of truth to what the reviewers are saying, but you’ll still have to take everything with a grain of salt.

Keep tabs on your finances

It doesn’t matter if you’re making six-figures right out of college or if you feel like you’re barely getting by on your monthly paycheck: save your money. It might sound ominous if you’re a personal finance newbie, but there are a lot of ways to be financially responsible. Budget your monthly expenses, invest in low-risk securities (or risky securities, if you’re into that sort of thing), and at the very least, try to be cognizant of what you’re spending your money on. Money definitely isn’t everything, but it’s definitely something everyone should consider, no matter what your particular goals and values might be.

Work toward your long-term goals, but don’t sacrifice your short-term well-being

Whether you’re in your ideal career situation or you feel like you can’t stand to stay at your job another day, you should always remember to keep your short-term well-being in mind. The bottom line is that if you’re not mentally and physically happy, or at least healthy, you’re not going to be an effective employee, friend or family member. This isn’t to say that you should quit your job when the going gets tough. On the contrary: don’t be afraid to take on extra projects when you can, and give everything you’ve got to earn your next promotion. It’s important to understand that feeling tired isn’t necessarily the same thing as being unwell, but the second you think like you’re really faltering, take a moment to re-evaluate where you are in life and consider if what you’re doing is really what’s right for you.

All that being said, know your limits. Nobody has unlimited time and energy, and you truly can’t spend one-hundred percent of your time in the office and one-hundred percent of your time at home. Instead of stressing out about it, follow our advice and plan for your future, taking into consideration how much of a work-life balance you want to have. After all, if you’re well prepared, you may even be more successful than those who focus solely on their career or just on their social lives.