it's not a matter of starting right

Most fresh graduates I know are determined to start their careers right. In fact, almost all fresh graduates I know have grandeur dreams on how awesome their first job will be as an adult.

Thing is, only one in a million graduates will find that awesome first job. The others will have to settle with ordinary.

As a little child, all we ever want to do is to grow up. Growing up, in a sense, holds the key to the freedom we will have on living the life we have always dreamed of, yet never being able to reach. Being an adult is our ticket to a life free from the boundaries of our parents’ rules – we will discover the world on our terms. And that first job – that first full-time job with awesome salary after graduation will start the pace of the rest of our lives.

Of course, this is such a wrong notion, but how many of those graduates secretly believe that their first job dictates the rest of their career path? Quite a number.

We believe that by holding a great first job, our career life can only climb up the ladder, and not down. We believe that by holding a job that people see as second class, our career life will deteriorate, and it will be hard to get our heads held high and accomplish our first big break.

The starting point, we believe, is the most important thing in the race.

It is not.

Many people try to give an analogy of life. Most agree that life is like running a marathon. It’s not really about winning fast, or winning first, it’s a matter of endurance and crossing the finish line. We might not be able to start right, but it’s never been about starting right or starting wrong.

What matters most is to start.


From the public point of view, I didn’t start rightly. I graduated from the number one university in Australia and being unable to apply for a visa to stay in Melbourne, I went back home to Jakarta. My first full-time job was being a Content Writer at a nonprofit organisation. I made more money working as a waitress in Melbourne compared to this full-time job (literally).

My Mom secretly feels like this is only an experience kind of thing, not really a real work. My friends wonder at my decision to take this job. After all, shouldn’t I be shooting for higher stars?

Six months later, I threw in the towel. I exchanged my nine-to-five job with another nine-to-five job, only this time it was better pay and prestige. Working in an international consulting company makes you more confident in answering, “Where do you work?” question in every social circumstance that followed. I was found via LinkedIn and hired as a writer there.

Fast-forward another six months, and I threw in the towel once more.

My first year working after graduation, it seemed, looked like a mess.

I held short-lived jobs and half the time, I didn’t like what I do. I was struggling with stress in the middle of traffic and wondering if I really made the right choice. I wanted to quit and yet I felt like a failure, not being able to have the quality called perseverance. Yet at the same time, I didn’t feel like I fit in.

I had imagined my first job to be something that I would love to kick my blanket first thing in the morning and work to my heart’s content. My first job would be a real eye-opener, full of possibilities and blue sky and rainbows and fireworks. My first job would make me fall in love with the working world, because as they say, once you realise you can make money, you would not want to trade it with anything.

And I’m not alone. I have friends who work on their very first job and hate it. The job, so it seems, was way below their expectation, both in terms of quality and pay. And the thing with working full-time? It takes a lot hard work.

We are the first batch of generation where the majority holds college degrees and yet we are jobless for a year and scraping a living by being a barista at Starbucks. We have gotten quality education that our parents can only dream of getting and not a decent workplace wants to give us a chance. Is this the irony of working? We have spent so much money into our education and by the time we graduate, we must rely on our parents’ bank accounts once again while we crawl our ways towards adulthood.

No one tells us that working is going to be easy, but no one tells us that it’s going to be that hard either.

Months after graduation, we go out with friends or family members and they all want to hear our success tales of getting that awesome first job. The story we can tell is that we hate our job, or we aren’t doing that extraordinary, we are just living that ordinary life. All the flower bouquets and hats thrown during graduation day feels like anti-climaxes, as we downgrade our living from having assignments and deadlines to keep to trying to bring home a decent bacon.

Back when I was still a student, I saw older friends being unable to get a job for one or even two years after graduation. I naively thought, “Perhaps they are not trying hard enough,” or that, “They might have played around a lot during their university courses.” After I walked down the path myself, I finally realised how hard it is to secure a good job.

Rejection letters. Interview offers and yet not making it through afterwards.

Over time, we grow in endurance to shield those rejection letters. Once a letter starts with the word “unfortunately”, it doesn’t matter that they have such a number of high quality graduates or how we have talents and big future in front of us and they wish us all the best. It doesn’t matter. What matters is we are rejected. They don’t want us.

Get those rejection letters enough and you will feel another set of feelings: Unwanted. Perhaps we don’t have what it takes to really make it to the real world. Perhaps we are not qualified, not adequate enough in our skills to compete with the geniuses out there.

That is a lie, of course.

The truth is: Everyone will start somewhere.

This is an excerpt from my eBook Swimming with The Sharks, which will be available for download starting on May 23rd, 2014. Join my newsletter list and secure your FREE copy now!

Photo by chiarashine