How did I get here?


It is an experience most of us have had, at one time or another: you are sitting at home after a long day's work when you get a call at about 9.30 p.m. It's one of your friends. ‘Hey buddy, come and join us! We're in town having a drink. It's really fun and Joost and Mark are here too!’ To which you answer, ‘Pff, no way, man, I've had a really long day and I'm not up for it.’ To which your slightly drunk friend asks, genuinely baffled, ‘But… what are you going to do instead then?’

This question sets you thinking. What am I going to do then? Good question, hadn't thought about that. ‘I have no idea what I'm going to do,’ you answer in all honesty. ‘So you might as well come along with us, eh?! Come on, party dude, even if it's only for a little while.’ Then, for lack of a good excuse, you put on your coat and a few minutes later there you are, standing on the street in Stratum.

Next thing you know, it is 4.30 in the morning. You've completed a full-blown pub crawl, knocked back twenty glasses of lager and now, in utter amazement, you are asking yourself, How did I get here and what on earth got into me? Sounds familiar, right?

The ‘How did I get here?’ question is one that many highly educated millennials also find themselves asking a few years into their working life as they face what is known as a ‘quarter-life crisis’. As you can tell, I am talking about the cohort that's recently left university, in other words, us in a couple of years' time.

Not uncommonly, this group of millennials starting out in work is used to going along for the ride. They were used to being taken along 'in tow', and stayed until they suddenly realized where they were. Later on, trying to explain why they ended up at certain bars (read: degree or employer), they are often at a loss for words. And believe me, a good many of them are now wrestling with a quarter-life crisis.

They thought they wanted it: the job, the degree, the path in life they had chosen. But then they realized they were not where they want to be, at all. They had dreamed of studying, say, Veterinary Science but when lots were drawn for the scarce university places, they weren't one of the lucky ones. Instead they settled for Industrial Engineering. ‘There's no shortage of jobs there and you can earn good money!’ dad said.

At university they joined an impressive student team, not out of genuine interest but because it looked good on a résumé. And after graduating they joined the same traineeship as their friends, at the same company in Amsterdam. ‘I want a life like theirs!’ they thought when they heard what their friends were getting up to. Then one day, the realization dawns. You are a rookie employee, with an impressive résumé and traineeship, but absolutely not where you want to be. And you ask yourself, ‘How on earth did I get here?’

At the moment, some 40 percent of people starting work want to change their job after two years of employment. Seriously, they want to go and work for another organization. With the emphasis on ‘want to’ because not everyone manages to make the change.

How can this be? Two reasons. The first, I've described above. The second, in a nutshell, is that basically companies are focused on profitability - 'pleasing' their shareholders, and on their own agenda and often not on society. But a focus on society is often something millennials do have high on their list of priorities. Fortunately, increasingly in the commercial sector, this situation is changing.

To prevent a quarter-life crisis, it is really important that right NOW - while you are still studying and there are things you can change - you ask yourself what YOU want, what YOU enjoy, what YOU feel passionate about and what energizes YOU. Because if you make important choices based on other people's expectations, those choices will NOT make you happy. And you will find yourself in the same situation, with your impressive résumé, feeling quite unhappy.

It is no easy process, asking yourself these questions, especially in a world with a smorgasbord of appealing options. But imagine how wonderful it is to start work and feel, ‘Yes, this is what I want; this is the career ladder I want to climb.’ Start this process of self-inquiry in good time, and take responsibility for it. For yourself.

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