How to Overcome First Job Blues

How to Overcome First Job Blues

Mathilde Frot

Updated February 21, 2023 Updated February 21

A couple of years ago, I was spending each day sitting at my desk in a cramped, mouldy flat in Golders Green, where I was sharing a small kitchen and bathroom with four complete strangers. I was fresh out of college with an apparently useless master’s degree in English literature and what seemed to me at the time to be a very narrow skillset. I must have sent what felt like thousands of cover letters with no success, to the point where personalized rejection emails which mentioned my name were something to write home about.

It took me about four months to find my first job and it was hard. But what they don’t tell you about your first job: the struggle won’t end there.

Most people hate their first job. It’s normally somewhat relevant to your ideal career path but - unless you’re an engineer or a doctor - the pay will be miserable and you’ll still be miles away from doing the work you want to be. If this is you, and your first job is feeling like a catastrophic failure, don’t panic: there are things you can do to extricate yourself from this hellhole.

Don’t beat yourself up about how far you still have to go

Turn down the pressure a notch and trust that you’re not going to be in that abysmal job forever, and that with each passing day, your CV is gaining gravitas (to recruiters). You may not be performing high precision surgery or running for presidency yet, but you are still learning valuable new skills, even if you don’t actually think you are, whether it’s how to apologise for a mistake you made at work in a professional manner, how to see a project through or even just how to work closely with others. Navigating the complex web of office politics can so be hard sometimes, the smallest thing can turn into a huge thing before you know it. (Read: office mugs are sacrosanct.)

Build a mental wall around your office building and keep it there

Working 40+ hour weeks for the first time in your life can mean it’s hard to separate the office and your personal life, but it’s important you maintain a divide between the two. Don’t take work home with you if you can help it, as you don’t want to be that person who drones on and on to friends for hours about how much they hate their job. It’s fine to be a little ratty after work because of something that happened or how undervalued you felt, but don’t be ratty every day if you prize your relationships. You don’t want to let your shitty first job destroy whatever good thing you have got going for you in your personal life (if anything). Work is just something you do for money - home is what actually matters.

Don’t lose sight of your end goal and come up with an action plan

It’s easy to give up on your dream - or even just temporarily forget about it - when you’re in full-time work and it’s clearly not happening for you just yet. But don’t feel dejected and start to give up on what you really want to do. Instead, draw up a plan. Figure out what your dream job and outline a five-step plan to get there. What would you need to land that job? Would going back to school help? Would moving to a bigger city help?

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This article was originally published in November 2017 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

I'm originally French but I grew up in Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur and Geneva. When I'm not writing for QS, you'll usually find me sipping espresso(s) with a good paperback.

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