Debunking 7 Early-Career Myths

Debunk these seven career myths that most people believe.

The job market for anyone in their 20s is a scary place. At this stage in the game, you are trying to figure out who you are, how to support yourself, pay off college debt, build new relationships, and find a calling (or maybe just a job you like).

If this is you, don’t sweat it. You’re perfectly normal. 31 percent of recent graduates have no idea what job they want. Many start a position that isn’t in their field of study or realize quickly it’s not what they’d hoped for. 

It can be tough if you think you’re supposed to know what you’re doing. 

So let’s debunk seven of the top early career myths out there, so you can feel good about where you are headed and focus on what matters. 

Myth #1: Your job = your career

The average time a 20- or 30-something spends in a job is 2.8 years. Contrast that with the length of a career, roughly 45 years (ages 22 to the official retirement age of 67).

That means each job you’ll hold is roughly 6 percent of your career.

So if you don’t love your current job, change it. Nothing is lost. Every role gives opportunities to build knowledge, skills, and a career identity. As you make job changes, look for where you’d like to be in the long-term. Then approach every role as an opportunity to get there. 

Side note: Most people don’t plan many of the steps they take. Unexpected opportunities appear that shape the trajectory of your career in ways you’d never dream possible at the outset. 

In short, know where you’re going, but don’t be afraid of detours.

Myth #2: The “dream job”

The idea of a “dream job” is deceptive. It can make us think that we “should” be in our dream job at the outset or else we’re wasting our time. It can also lead to the impression that the right job won’t require boring, tedious, or irritating moments. 

Even Bruce Springsteen, who considers his musical career a calling, lived through a divorce, raising kids, being on the road weeks on end, the rigors of constant setup and breakdown for concerts, recording thousands of tracks. I speculate he suffered through at least a few moments of tedium.

Every job offers up difficulty. The great news? What makes a job great (or not) is actually your attitude. Attitude determines how you interpret events and as a result, impacts your feelings about those events. 

What’s more, a dream job can be made up of a thousand things. For some, it’s simply having a job that earns enough money to fund what they love. For others, it’s turning a passion into a job; or working hard, saving up, and retiring early. 

You get to decide what makes a job worth it. And that will enable you to choose your attitude about not only your job, but the life it enables.

Myth #3: I should know what I want to be

According to a 2019 survey by Indeed, 49 percent of people have made a dramatic career shift — for example, from marketing to engineering, or from teaching to finance. And among those who haven’t, 65 percent say they’re either thinking about, or have previously considered, switching.

That’s a lot of people who are still wondering what they want to be when they grow up.

In another survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only 27 percent of undergraduate degree holders are working in a job that is directly related to their college major.

The truth is, there are a lot of factors that influence a person’s job: who they know; what jobs are open; what’s happening in their life. There’s no way you can guess what will happen in 1, 5, or certainly not 20 years. 

Just be open to the journey, and make the best decision for right now.

Myth #4: Work/life balance is everything

66% of workers strongly believe they do not have work/life balance. Even before the pandemic, we are balancing time with friends and family against a daily commute, gym routines, travel, hobbies, and spiritual growth.

Let’s aim for harmony instead. Harmony starts with defining what a “good life” looks like for you. Consider what you care about: health, spirituality, work, relationships, growth, money, play, travel. Then decide what’s important to you in each domain, both right now and in the future.

It helps to think about life in seasons. If your “good life” includes getting the next promotion, you might be working a bit of overtime right now, knowing your personal life might take a hit. (Just don’t lose track of your friends for too long.) 

Also think about how you can accomplish multiple things at once. Travel with friends. Chat with family while you run errands. Listen to books on tape while you take a run. 

You’ll know you’re in harmony if you’re content with what you can accomplish in the important spaces in your life right now. 

Myth #5: Graduation means you’re done learning

Albert Einstein is attributed with saying, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” 

In a world that is changing fast, if you’re not learning, you’re not staying relevant. And you’re not adding the value you can bring to a role. 

Learning — in any capacity — wires new pathways in your brain and nervous system. In short, learning helps you function better (no matter what the topic is) — it keeps your body and brain nimble, making it easier for you to grasp new things in every area of your life. 

So take up skiing. Learn guitar. Listen to a podcast. And say “yes!” to something new at work, just to pick up a skill. You’ll be better in all your pursuits as a result.

Myth #6: That’s not my job

The corollary to “I’m done learning” is the destructive attitude behind “That’s not my job.”

Employers are looking for people who step up — for those who say, “Yes!” when asked to do something outside their comfort zone or specific job role. For one thing, you might learn something by taking on something new — and we’ve already established that’s ideal if you’re looking to grow in your career (or even just remain relevant).

So when asked to do something new, try saying, “I’m in!” — even if it’s not your job. Who knows where that experience might take you?

Myth #7: Quitting is for Losers

You’re saying yes, you’re learning, you have your mind right — and it’s still a terrible job. It may be time to quit. 

If you’re an achiever, you’ve been told your whole life that winners never quit. But as I’ve said before, the highest achievers know exactly when to quit. As soon as your job isn’t helping you grow and achieve harmony as you’ve defined it, it’s time to start looking for the best next step in your career.

Before you quit to go find yourself, however, have a clear plan. The best next thing doesn’t often happen right away — it can take a year or more. But just starting the process will boost your mental attitude (which, as we’ve learned, helps everything). 

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