Starting Out in the Work World

Embracing the Journey

Embrace the journey of starting in the working world. Welcoming the real world

After several years in the work world, Chasity Colomb is going back to school to become an engineer.

As you start out in the real world, you'll have to find a way to support yourself. But your first real job doesn't have to mark your lifelong career path.

This is something Chasity Colomb, 27, of Grand Prairie, Texas, realized firsthand. Colomb went to college and graduated five years ago with a broadcasting degree from The University of Texas at Austin. But her degree didn't help her find a job.

Colomb had bills to pay so she took a position at a rental car company. It had nothing to do with her education, and she wasn't happy. Colomb now is pursuing an engineering degree at Dallas County Community College, working part time as a DJ. And although Colomb is embarking on a different career path, she's still not sure she's making the right decisions.

“I've often heard the saying, ‘Do what you love and the money will come,’” says Colomb. “But they don't teach a college course on finding your purpose."

I've often heard the saying, 'Do what you love and the money will come,' but they don't teach a college course on finding your purpose.

Meandering Career Paths are the Norm

Colomb isn't alone. For many Americans, finding the love of their work lives is a lifelong process.

Careers no longer are like what they were for previous generations, when it was common for people to stay with the same company from their first job until their retirement. In fact, Americans ages 25-34 have only been with their companies for a median tenure of 3.2 years, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger Americans have stayed at jobs for less than that—1.3 years for those ages 20-24, and a little over 9 months for those ages 18-19.

"Researchers believe that today's young people are likely to hold multiple jobs and several different careers throughout their lives," says Carlos Viera, district chair of secondary student services for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Student Services group. "The stress of making career decisions can sometimes become overwhelming, however it helps to remember the old saying,'The journey is the destination.'"

Getting Started

There is no one way to find career happiness:

Consider Your Firsthand Knowledge

Look at your past experiences, including summer and part-time jobs.

"Turning a part-time job that you have as a high school senior into a longer-term position can be a great 'bridge' to long-term plans," says Viera. 

What have others done to find success in your first job.

Touraine Jones, who worked her way up at Wal-Mart, says she loves her career.

That's what worked for Touraine Jones, 31, who started working in retail at age 14 in her father's shop in Jamaica. Jones didn't go to college, and when she came to America in 2003, she worked several different jobs without finding her calling.

But she continued to be drawn to retail, so Jones tried for a job at a New Jersey Wal-Mart. The only available position was unloading trucks for $8.50 an hour. She took it, and before long she moved inside the store as an associate. Jones since has worked her way up to assistant manager, and says she loves her career and there's lots of room to grow. Someday she hopes to open her own shop.  

Ask Questions, All the Time

Though Colomb is still finding herself, she's learned one important lesson she said she wished she knew in high school.

"Success is intentional. It doesn't matter how smart you are if you are not knowledgeable about all the opportunities that exist for you," says Colomb. "There were many opportunities that I missed out on because I just didn't know they existed."

Success is intentional. It doesn't matter how smart you are if you are not knowledgeable about all the opportunities that exist for you.

Take Chances

Colomb says it's important to step outside of your comfort zone and meet people who are different from yourself.

"I have usually experienced my biggest opportunities when I did things that I wouldn't normally do with people who were nothing like me," says Colomb.

Know That Mistakes Are OK

Embrace trial and error as you learn about what you want for your working life.

"Don't expect perfection," says Jones. "I have associates who have college degrees, but they still don't know what they like." 


This is the time to satisfy your curiosity.

"Don't limit yourself," says Colomb. "But always stay true to yourself, because it's no fun working someone else's job."

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]