Today, I spoke to Jenny Blake, who is the author of and blogs at Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want and LifeAfterCollege.org, where she provides simple, practical tips about life, work, money, happiness and personal growth. In this interview, Jenny talks about decisions college graduates need to make to have a more fulfilling life.
How did you know what to do when you graduated college?
I got lucky in that an opportunity fell into my lap — one of my professors was starting an online political polling company and she asked if I wanted to help. I was still in school, so I took a leave of absence to move home and work there as the first employee. I did know that I wanted to be doing something exciting related to the 2004 election, and this happened to fit that criteria even though it wasn’t working directly on a presidential campaign. I recommend that soon-to-be-grads make a list (or a mind map) of everything under the sun that interests them. So often people think they need to have the answer to that question right away — start by brainstorming as many ideas as possible, then look for themes and narrow down.
How does a recent grad decide if they should start their own business, continue to graduate school or start working full-time for a company?
For me this is a question of learning, energy and readiness. Where will you get the most learning? Which of those three gives you the most energy or excitement? And finally, if you’re interested in all three — which is most compelling, and is there a way to build in the other two later on? Each of us operates on a different set of values and preferences — some thrive in an environment like graduate school, while others love learning from co-workers and peers at a large company. On the other hand, if you’re feeling ON FIRE about an idea or passion for your own company and you can see a way to monetize that passion, there’s no better time than when you’re young to take some big risks!
What are the three most important thing that a young professional should know about the workplace before entering it?
- Get comfortable with ambiguity, and with adapting to change. You will not always know EXACTLY what is expected of you, or how to complete a project. You’ve got to trust your gut and take some chances — don’t look to your manager to provide 100% guidance 100% of the time.
- Be proactive — make yourself known as a problem-solver. Ask how you can pitch-in and help your manager or team. If something is wrong, don’t just complain – start thinking about how you can fix it.
- No job is worth compromising your integrity or your sanity. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself — getting enough sleep, exercising, focusing on life outside of work. You’re in the working world for a long time — even though some jobs are very demanding, do everything you can to ensure that you’re not compromising your health or happiness.
Is it really possible to plan your life out or do you have to just let things happen?
Different people have different preferences for how much of a plan they want to follow — for me, it’s a mix of both. I like to have 2-3 big goals that I’m working toward at any given time that connect to a broader vision for my life (inspiring/helping others, travel, spending time with friends and family) — but I try not to get too regimented about how I get there. Life will often throw curve-balls, so taking a flexible approach works best for me. Besides, sometimes those curve-balls end up leading me down an even better unexpected path!
Why should a young professional think about the big picture of life and not just the details?
It’s so easy for us to get lost in the weeds of our lives — emails, errands, small stuff. My goal is to help people focus on what really matters to them — what are their top values and priorities? What kind of life do they really want? What types of people and activities bring them joy? That’s the big picture, and when you can focus on that 10,000-foot view, it makes it so much easier to help the details fall into place.
Jenny Blake is the author of and blogs at Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want and LifeAfterCollege.org, where she provides simple, practical tips about life, work, money, happiness and personal growth. Jenny’s goal is to help people focus on the BIG picture of their lives…not just the details. She is currently on a three-month leave from Google, where she has worked for five and half years. Her work at Google involves serving as a Career Development Program Manager, internal coach and manager of the Authors@Google program.