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Adjusting to the 9-to-5

Amy Bergen profile image

Amy Bergen

A portrait of a woman smiling.

The first few months post-college should be exciting, right? You’ve worked hard, earned a degree, and maybe even gotten a job—all your effort is finally paying off! But you’re also going through a major adjustment to your schedule, priorities, and lifestyle.

If, like many of us, you’ve been attending school since kindergarten, you might be understandably confused or stressed about this new phase in life. As enthusiasm gives way to reality, you’ll want a game plan for moving forward, whether you’re job searching or preparing to start a new position.

Changing your lifestyle

Depending on your area of study, college usually offers a lot more flexibility than working life. Activity meetings, classes, internships, late-night "study sessions" with friends which become more social than studious—your agenda is packed.

Once a new job kicks in, your schedule will look a lot different. You won’t have the pressure of deadlines and exams, but you’ll have new restrictions on your time. Maybe you’re not used to waking up every morning for a 9 a.m. start in the office, or your job requires evening and weekend work. And your friends may be under similar pressure.

Sleep—at least eight hours of it—is one key to success. Give your body a few weeks to adjust to an early bedtime and develop a new circadian rhythm if you were a college night owl. Don’t feel bad if you have to skip out on some late-night activities.

Another key is routine—develop a ritual that works for you. Some people find exercise is a great mood stabilizer; others develop a meditation habit or read for an hour before bed. Try some music or podcasts to keep you busy during the work commute. If you work regular hours, your week might become more "routine" than you expected, and it’s helpful to build in some habits that make you feel healthy and happy.

Keeping your confidence

Your identity is shifting from student to professional; you need to prove yourself in a new environment. With people to meet, skills to learn, and high expectations, you’re going to have a learning curve, and your self-esteem might be affected.

Go easy on yourself when you’re learning the ropes. Most organizations have their own systems and ways of doing things, so no one expects you to be an expert right away. Use the study skills you picked up in college to master a new computer program, memorize a new set of acronyms, and remember a whole new set of names.

To remind yourself how awesome you are, keep in touch with supportive college friends. You may not be able to meet in person as often, but you can encourage each other from afar via texts and emails. Maintaining a solid social network can be a great help in times of transition.

Also, get to know your new colleagues! Find out what’s important to them and ask questions about their lives. This is part of the relationship-building that ties into professional networking—interacting with people out of genuine interest, not just because they can advance your career.

Mastering your new role

School achievements often reward knowledge, while job (and job hunting) achievements emphasize skills—the ability to put this knowledge into practice. Your passion and academic promise may land you a job, but developing skill sets will help you excel.

Job seekers, for instance, will practice the skills of writing and adapting a resume and fine-tuning a cover letter. Think of job searching as a new area of expertise, one that requires as much adaptability and commitment as an academic course.

Once you’ve gotten the job, it certainly doesn’t mean it's time to stop learning. Read and absorb any training materials you receive, and keep them handy for the first few months. Communicate with your supervisor as much as possible, asking for feedback and guidance about what to prioritize.

Pay attention to how more experienced colleagues operate. You can learn from their advice, but you’ll learn just as much, if not more, from their actions. This attentiveness will also help you decide whether the organization or field is one you want to remain in long-term. Notice how your seasoned co-workers approach their jobs and how the organization functions as a whole.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Some experts suggest it takes as long as six months before a new job stops feeling overwhelming. But once you get into a rhythm, you may find the working world isn’t so bad after all.

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Amy Bergen profile image

Amy Bergen

Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.

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