You’re a young man with a good head on your shoulders, or so you’ve been told. For about 20 years of your life, you’ve been going through the motions. You’ve got some decent grades from school that propelled you into university, which is something that you were a little nervous about, but you were able to pick a degree that interested you.
You take a couple weeks to get used to the change in environment. It feels the same as what you’ve known, but also a little different. Before you know it, you’ve adjusted, and now your mind is full of nothing but assessment due dates and absurd amounts of holidays.
Three or four years feel more like one as they blow by. You’ve managed to get your way through assignments, study groups, exam blocks, internships, and independent projects.
Until suddenly… it’s in your hand. Your degree.
The physical manifestation of all that time and effort you can never confidently quantify.
And you feel… you don’t really know how to feel.
It’s as if life up until this point has been a straight line, and now there’s a sudden and abrupt lack of direction.
You have the energy; you just don’t know where to put it.
It’s not as if you don’t have options; you’ve got plenty, in fact. That’s the part that kind of scares you. A large group of decisions that could hugely impact your life, and no real way to distinguish which is the proper one for you.
You gaze around you, at the other smiling faces in the crowd. They’ve probably got a good idea; they’ve probably had a good idea for a while. Since high school, or maybe even earlier.
And then the voice starts. “You’re behind, you’re running late. Every one of these people has a head start on you, and a good chunk of them are your direct competition.”
Your mind races, and you’re in a flurry. With all the anxiety in the world stemming from one, burning, fundamental question of your current existence.
And as I’m writing this, I still don’t think I truly have a concrete answer for myself.
But the insight I have developed since that time has been just how wrong some of the major stigmas are that surround young men starting their professional careers.
A “man’s” job
Beginning with the basics, the pull that most young men must work in ‘masculine’ positions is obviously foolish, especially if it locks you out of a career you were considering. There’s no shame in pursuing a career as a nurse rather than a doctor, for example. And while we have made huge leaps as a society to shatter the gendered lens that people view occupations in, I can tell you that it still very much exists. If you feel a pull towards a position, then pursue it. Don’t wait for the approval of society or those around you.
You should have it all figured out
Something that I wish I’d known myself at the time, is it’s ok not to have a concrete idea of where to go. Still, I sit in that career limbo, of pursuing something I’m interested in but unsure that I’ll stick with it forever. And that’s ok! Career paths are as flexible as anything, and something that calms my anxiety is telling myself that it’s not wasted time if I change careers.
With every job comes transferrable skills and experience that you’ll use for the rest of your life and your professional career. As well as clarity! I’m far more aware of potential career paths than I would be if I hadn’t changed positions when I did. And reducing the uncertainty around the subject has helped me come to terms with the situation a little easier.
Money, money, money
Here’s something that everyone needs to hear: money should not be what drives your career. Yes, it’s an important aspect to the decision. And yes, it’s what fuels our society and funds our lives. But if you have the luxury, make sure that your career is fulfilling beyond just monetarily. For years the stigma has survived that a man’s worth is determined by his pay. Online influencers will appeal to younger men urging them to “commit themselves to the grind” and pursue wealth to such an extreme degree that the other aspects of their lives are neglected. You are worth more than the money in your wallet.
If you want a family, it’s your responsibility
Many young men are told that their job must be or lead to a well-paying position, to properly support a family and bring them up in a comfortable environment. This mentality shifts the lens of the grind-based mindset from an entirely selfish motive to appeal to men with more traditional values in mind. From my experience, the mindset becomes entirely self-destructive. And with letting said values become your sole motivation, you neglect your mental state and set yourself up for burnout.
What you can do
The trick to maintaining mental health and to combat these stigmas is to always keep your work/life balance in mind. Ensure you always make time for yourself and your mates. Make sure work isn’t consuming you, indulge in one of your hobbies when you get the chance. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day if you feel like you need it. And if you haven’t in a while, do something creative, get out of the house. New experiences will always keep things feeling fresh.
Why we’re talking about this
This week is Men’s Health Week, and I think it’s important to take the time to shed a light on what proves to be one of the toughest battles for blokes throughout their life. Mental health and negative stigmas are both problems that are combatted by open communication and awareness. Check up on the men in your life and remind your mates that they aren’t invincible, both physically and mentally. Spread the message that your career doesn’t define you and that no one is going through their struggles on their own.
Making a living is not the same thing as making a life, and prioritising your mental health isn’t a sign of weakness or an admission of defeat.
Allow yourself to live with enjoyment, let passion become your motivation.
As a young man who’s recently started his professional career, that’s my advice.
You are not alone.