What to do when your first job culture shock has you stuck

What to do when your first job culture shock has you stuck

For recent graduates who have now spent a year or two in the workplace, it might feel like winter is here to stay – for the rest of their lives – as the culture shock of the working world starts to kick in.

It is not uncommon for those starting to get used to the realities of adulting to feel trapped, anxious and sometimes even terrified at the prospect that their current status quo is what they can expect year in and year out until they retire, an expert says.

“We know that many millennials starting out in their first jobs often feel a sense of disillusionment, particularly where their expectations of what the working world and their job would be like doesn’t match reality. Anyone who finds themselves in this position should address the situation without delay,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

“If a change of course is called for, it is better that this is done in one’s twenties rather than later in life. And sometimes, even smaller changes can have a lasting, positive impact.”

Payne says young graduates who are already feeling stuck at work – potentially because they think they made a wrong choice about career, or because their careers appear to be going nowhere – should determine the following:


If you studied law, did you do so because you imagined you would become a high-flying, court-arguing legal eagle? And now you find yourself spending your days in a small, stuffy office reading endlessly?

If you find there is a massive gap between your imagined career and the actual one, you need to determine whether the gap between the two is likely to close in future, or whether the thought of continuing in this field whatsoever is too much to bear.

Should the latter be the case, wide-skilling or re-skilling should be considered, says Payne.

“It is not unusual these days for people to change careers a few times throughout their lives, and it is possible that the first qualification can be suitably supplemented to a degree that the graduate can either move into a completely new and different field, or move into a different part of the existing career,” she says.


If your job isn’t motivating you, it is possible to re-energise and self-motivate to move on professionally on the same career path.

“It’s important to remember that people spend most of their waking hours at work. Hence it is important to feel a sense of fulfilment, but that arises from your internal conversation about your work.  Is it a calling, which very few people experience, or do you view your work as the vehicle that allows you to live the rest of your life? The central point is to think about the role that your job plays in your life,” says Payne.


“Most careers require ‘soft skills’ which don’t necessarily come naturally, but when cultivated help you work effectively and mostly amicably with others. The reality is that you will – no matter where you are or what you do – encounter people you don’t naturally get along with. Realising this early on, and working as much on your emotional intelligence as you did on getting your qualification, can dramatically improve your prospects and job satisfaction,” says Payne.

“There is no shame in saying your first choice was not the right choice, and no matter what your first qualification was, it will never be wasted.”

Payne says with the end of year approaching, young workers – and anyone else feeling stuck, for that matter – should use the summer months to find where their interest and passion lies, and then implement their new course of action in the new year.

“Commit to ending the year with a clear understanding of which new skill or competency interests you. Start reading up on it, and see how you can match your current career to slowly incorporating or moving in that direction.

“Once you are clear on the field you want to pursue, you should investigate your options in terms of what courses or qualifications you can pursue in the new year. Very importantly, you should ensure that the institution of your choice offers not only theory, but that it has a strong work-integrated learning component built into the curriculum. That way, the gap between expectation and reality is diminished even before you enter the new field.”


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