Caitlin Schanaker
August 20, 2015 11:21 am

After college life has faded away and you’re left with the buzzing memories and shocking realities of being in your mid-twenties (why does that feel so old?), it can be disheartening to feel like you’re not accomplishing what you hoped you would be career-wise. But take heart: you’re not alone.

Perhaps it’s because we all spend 20+ years imagining ourselves at this point in life, educated and adulting like pros, but it’s OK to feel like you’re falling short of your own expectations.  As an English major, I never planned on eventually taking a job in an IT department. I had grand dreams of becoming an author or an editor, and I think for a good year or two after graduation everyone I encountered just assumed I wanted to be a teacher. But over the last few years, I’ve learned a few lessons about working in an area I never thought I’d be in.

You learn things as you go

Maybe that phrase “fake it until you make it” isn’t always true, but in many ways, I’ve found it to be pretty spot on. I don’t mean you should lie; I will always encourage honesty overall, but when I first started working in this job, I constantly found myself wide-eyed and tasked with things I did not know how to do. So I Googled. I began to look up free online courses for web design and other how-tos, confident that I could handle my own education as I went along. The internet is a wealth of knowledge if you know where and how to look. It’s never too late to learn new skills, and landing a job in a new field really stimulates your ability to hop back on that learning train. If they checked my internet history they would see my million Excel How-To searches, because let’s be honest, no one really knows Excel. That thing is a labyrinth. It’s kind of great when your boss congratulates you on something you learned approximately 19 minutes ago though, so thanks, Google.

It’s totally fine to tell people that you’re still figuring it out

While Google may save your tush on many occasions, that’s not always the answer. Being a learner in a new job means there will inevitably be assignments that you honestly need help with. Don’t be afraid to let your boss or coworkers know that you’re working hard but still learning as you go. I want to always appear confident and competent, so I tend to cringe away from ever saying, “I honestly don’t know how to do this,” choosing instead to just nod my head and say “absolutely!” and panic later. Over time I’ve learned that being honest typically saves everyone time and energy, and allows you to get the hands-on help and training you may need on the job, especially within that first year. Trust your gut to know when you can wing it and when you really need to ask for help.

Don’t ever think your degree is being wasted

I think this is one of the myths that I hear most often, and it bugs me: “I’m/you’re wasting your degree.” I don’t buy that. Is a pursuit of knowledge or skill ever wasted? I may not be frolicking in the field of English Degree People, but earning that degree expanded my mind, prepared my work ethic, and provided me with the foundational skills for any and all types of work. It grew me as a human. I don’t think learning is ever wasted. It’s always important and it’s always worthwhile. It’s part of the journey of learning that lasts your entire life. Sometimes you pursue something that ends up not being necessary, but it’s not useless. Challenging yourself, adapting to new environments, and adding new skills to your reservoir will always be valuable.

It’s OK to find new work-related interests

I think one of the weirdest things about college is that you’re supposed to choose your lifelong career at age 18. Most of the people I knew back in high school were changing their minds about their future careers every other month, which is totally fine and part of the adolescent experience. But suddenly, upon graduation, they’re supposed to make this crazy leap and have their choice set in stone. Some people know what they want to do when they’re 5, but most of us teeter-totter for a while (or for decades). Once you get to college and choose a degree that you think you’ll enjoy, I don’t think that should seal your fate forever. You will learn wonderful things and have a blast, but if you end up in a career completely unrelated to what you studied, sweet! Go for it. It’s okay to change your mind, and to realize you love something outside of Communications, or Biology, or English. If you were a History major and end up being a full-time Etsy artist? Hot dog. You rock. Either way, what you’ve learned will still be part of who you are as a person and as an employee. Your education is valuable and so are you. Stretch out and grab hold of the things that inspire you, whether they’re degree-related or not.

Taking a new job does not mean you’re selling out

As much as we might wish or dream otherwise, we’re not all fortune tellers. We can’t see the future. Being young and diving into working full-time can be daunting, especially if it feels like we’re going in the opposite direction of where we wanted to end up. But sometimes that year-long stint at Olive Garden opens up some unexpected opportunities; sometimes the relationships we build while working as a receptionist can open doors to other wonderful people and places. Sometimes you find that you absolutely adore being a barista. Don’t feel like choosing a job outside of your field is a sign that you’re giving up on your dreams. We all have to work, and there’s never any shame in that. Keep working, keep dreaming. Be awesome and intentional in everything you do, and it’ll pay off. Be grateful for every opportunity. You haven’t given up just yet.

The truth is, I love my job. I didn’t expect to. Maybe some day I’ll get around to writing that book or becoming a world-class editor, but at this point my degree has been best utilized as a foundation for my work and as a propellant for my blog and other writing hobbies. Things that make me happy and feed my mind and spirit on a daily basis. I’m cool with that.

[Image via 20th Century Fox]