It all started with an erroneous car-sharing service debit that hit my bank account last week. After a few emails with the company, it turns out, my cousin in Texas still had my debit card on her app from a cousin’s trip we took over two years ago. It was a simple mistake. We got it squared away, and she paid me back immediately. We took the opportunity to catch up as cousins do, and check in on each other. We swapped updates via text message, briefing each other on the highlights.
The Importance of Thinking Ahead
My cousin is in grad school while working and supporting herself. She is smart, bright and what most would call a go-getter. She recently got hired to manage an office in her field of study. The position is more admin, less what she is actually studying to do, so she’s not particularly excited, but — bills. It will offer her experience that might come in handy when she opens her own practice someday.
I broke my own rule of not giving advice unless specifically asked and offered her this: “start plotting your exit.” I further advised that she be strategic and calculating about her timeframes like I wish I had been in the onset of my full-time work life. “It will keep you from looking up and wondering where the time went all while hating it, or becoming complacent and losing focus of your dreams… Have an exit strategy before you even start. And make it happen,” I texted.
After grad school, when I started working full-time, a lot of what I did was about survival. What pays my bills now? I took jobs because they were offered, and seemed pretty cool, not because I really wanted them. I used to say in interviews, “I work to live. Not live to work.” What I meant by that was, if you pay me, I will come in and do what you ask and then spend my evenings, weekends and vacations doing what I really enjoy. It sounded good and made sense to me then. Now it makes me cringe. I didn’t expect much out of my jobs, and set the stage not to receive much in return. The problem with that logic is, time waits for no one. And I am far too creative and easily bored to have kept that up for long.
Start Plotting Your Exit Before Day One
When you do the math and realize you have been at a place for two, three, four years, and have nothing to show for it, besides a steady paycheck and insurance, basically the essentials, your instinct is to get out of there and find something else. But life can be cyclical if you are not careful and you will start all over again, just with a new name on your pay stub.
I implore people, especially those just starting out with this full-time work life, have an exit strategy before you even start. I believe in leaving myself open and being flexible, of course, but whether it’s a job to pay the bills or a career you’re really passionate about, set some goals that don’t just involve promotions and climbing the org chart ladder. Ask yourself how long you want to stay and start thinking of your next steps beyond your current position. Re-evaluate your timeline as necessary and know when to keep things moving. Being loyal to your employer is nice, but being loyal to yourself (and your dreams) is a lot more rewarding. Just my two cents…