Are you a recent, or soon-to-be graduate? Guest blogging today is Helena, BA Geography graduate, all about the experience of being a graduate in 2020, and how to build resilience during uncertain times.
My name is Helena. I graduated from King’s last summer with a BA in Geography. Graduating amidst a global pandemic has brought its fair share of challenges. From not having the opportunity to formally mark this achievement with friends, to facing an uncertain job market and socio-economic context, I’ve struggled at times to stay hopeful and feel like I’ve achieved anything worthwhile. However, reflecting on the past 12 months, I realise that this year has been surprising in many ways. Positively surprising.
In this blog, I’ll be sharing a few things I’ve learned over the past year – namely how I’ve built resilience. While this won’t offer a silver bullet solution to navigating early careers, my hope is that it will resonate with recent and soon-to-be graduates.
Recognise what you have achieved
Throughout the year, alongside by full-time job, I’ve completed many seemingly unrelated and random things – from helping an elderly family friend set up a bird protection association, to undertaking a Youth Mental Health First Aid certification and following an online Introduction to Psychology course. I’ve also been part of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion working group for an organisation I worked for in the past and, in late January, I was offered the wonderful opportunity to join the King’s Sustainability Team as an Engagement Assistant.
It’s easy to feel like you haven’t accomplished much. Even more so this year, after numerous lockdowns and a sense of ‘physical stagnation’. However, dwelling on what you haven’t achieved won’t help you move forward. It also completely undermines your successes. Remember that even if things seem irrelevant at the time, everything can be relevant if you make it. So, own your achievements and build a positive narrative around them – employers will recognise this!
Make the most of the opportunities you have
I’ve spent the past 8 months working for a health insurance company in France. To be completely honest, when I was offered the role, I felt disappointed that this was “all” I could find. The role was largely administrative office work and not something I ever pictured myself doing. However, I’ve gained infinitely more from this experience than I ever could have imagined. I was learning and challenging myself everyday – from the steep learning curve I faced as I quickly familiarised myself with the French health system, to picking up the phone and communicating with clients in a language that felt unfamiliar after a few years away from France.
Despite the initial disappointment, I worked hard to learn, develop my skills and grow within the role. This didn’t go unnoticed; I was quickly asked to assist my manager in training senior colleagues in specific skills, and discovered that I absolutely loved the relational, interpersonal aspects of training. The moral of this short story is that while I was never passionate about my job, I left with a better understanding of the type of work I enjoy, as well as greater confidence in my skills and abilities. Say yes to the opportunities you’re given – you never know where they’ll lead and even if it’s just a short stint, you’re guaranteed to learn something new.
Most career paths aren’t linear
Over the past month, I’ve received advice from a family friend, a past boss and a well-known leadership researcher. The former put it as “finding your path is much like developing a recipe for your favourite meal – it’s about reflecting on all your experiences, good or bad, and choosing which ingredients to keep and which aren’t to your taste”. My boss (for whom I guided expedition-style canoe trips) likened asking a young graduate what they want to do with their life to asking someone who’s never been on a multi-day canoe trip what kind of trip they’d like to go on and where they’d like to go – you have to start somewhere and see where it takes you.
Something that I found really reassuring was hearing about the career journey of someone I admire: on her podcast, Unlocking Us, Brené Brown shared how she started her bachelor’s degree at age 17 and finished at 29. In-between, she quit, hitchhiked through Europe, waited tables and worked at a call centre. She then went on to pursue a master’s and PhD, and become world-renown for her work. Don’t feel bad about not knowing “where” you’re going or how exactly you’re going to get there. Reflect on your experiences. Make a list of what you liked, what you disliked, what challenged you, what you learned. And just keep moving forward.
Your worth is not your job title
I’d like to touch upon something that isn’t always acknowledged. While it’s natural to have big goals or to want a job that has purpose and meaning, I come away from this past year having learned that my worth is not tied to my job title. I’ve found this to be extremely liberating. Indeed, if we can detach ourselves from such pressures and expectations, we become available and open to learn from every opportunity – which ultimately sets you up for success in achieving those initial goals.
Finally, the majority of the opportunities I’ve had this past year have come about through my network, hence the importance of building connections! For example, during my time at King’s, I got involved with sustainability by volunteering, joining a student group committee and attending events. If anything, this could only have helped my application to become an engagement assistant.
Building resilience is really important, but it’s hard sometimes to know how to start. Join us on our #MyNextSteps webinar about building resilience in your early career journey, and how to harbour a positive growth mindset during job search. Book your place now via King’s CareerConnect!