Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tips on how to motivate yourself after leaving college or university

As many college and university graduates would know, one of the hardest things to do once you leave the educational system is to motivate yourself and to find your direction.  The 'go getter' attitude that you normally start working with rarely lasts longer than the first year of work and then the malaise often sets in.  I have experienced this myself, seen it with almost all of my friends and had comments from readers of this blog about it too.

The good news is that this does not have to be the case - but unlike school, college or university you need to choose your own direction and provide your own motivation to succeed in the work environment.  Below are some tips on how you can start taking control of your work life, how to set some goals and how to keep yourself motivated.

Why do graduates get disillusioned so fast after entering the workforce?

In my opinion, graduates get disillusioned very quickly after entering the workforce for several reasons

  1. There is no clear 'end game'
    • In the education system you know what you are working towards.  You know that if you work hard and get good marks in school you will get into the right university and if you work hard and get good marks in university then you have your pick at graduate positions
    • Unless your organisation is very hierarchical (like an Investment Bank or a Law Firm) where there are constant clear 'next steps' the lack of direction is really confusing for many graduates.  They no longer know what they are working towards
  2. They are not getting the constant feedback they are used to
    • In the education system you are constantly getting both explicit and implied feedback.  This is through educator comments and more importantly through marks
    • For high achievers, not getting anything in the workplace (annual reviews really are a joke most of the time) is quite a disconcerting feeling - you do not know how you are doing
    • Not knowing how you are doing and whether you are actually doing the right thing is a major reason a lot of people feel 'lost' in the workplace
  3. The external motivation is almost completely removed
    • Related to the point above the education system provides a lot of external pressures and motivations for you to work hard and succeed
    • In school the teachers push you very hard and your motivation is almost never internal.  In college it is much more internal however there is still implied pressure through the constant grading of papers / exams and the need to work towards the 'end goal' mentioned above
    • In the work place motivation is almost always completely internal.  Most workplaces that take a lot of graduates often start placing external pressure at the start because they know this is an issue however this drops off very quickly and graduates need to completely motivate themselves which is a very new feeling and often is hard to get the hang of
  4. The feeling that you are not completely in control of your own destiny
    • In the education system it really is a very personalised risk / reward system.  If you work hard then your results reflect this.  There is a very direct link.
    • In the workplace it is a lot more subjective.  You need other people to recognise what you are doing in order to get ahead
    • Unfortunately this is the nature of working in organisations however the disconnect between your effort and the perceived end benefit can be very disconcerting until you get used to the idea
I'm sure there are other reasons.  If you have any please post them below - I'd love to have a discussion around it.

How can graduates and new employees address these issues and get their mojo back?

In order to get your mojo and lost motivation back there are some things that YOU can do.  It is all about internalising those things which have been provided to you in the past. It is about realising that you are now the architect of your destiny.  A lot of people are very uncomfortable with this - they seek out mentors because they want someone else to guide them.  I think getting advice is fine however if a mentor is used to abdicate personal decision making and responsibility then I think it does more harm than good.

Here are some very definite things that you can do in order to get your motivation back
  1. Work out what you want your end game to be
    • It does not need to be financial or money or career related.  It is about where you want to be in the long run
    • My personal objectives are very clear on this blog.  I know what I want my end game to be financially BUT I also have personal objectives that I want to achieve in my life
    • These are not fixed objectives and change as I mature
  2. Work backwards from your end objective to what you need to do today
    • Staying in a tough job becomes easier if you can see that it gets you to the 'next step' in your life plan
    • At the same time if your current job is not going to get you where you need to go, it provides direction around what type of job you need to get and what experience you need in order to achieve what you want to do
  3. You need to be providing your own feedback while taking advice from others
    • No one is going to provide you feedback and advice unless you ask for it
    • Keeping in mind your objectives ask for advice on how you can get to the next stage in your plan
    • Ask for feedback on how you are doing and be constantly self assessing to see whether you are getting to where you want to be
  4. You need to motivate yourself - this is your life and your life plan
    • This is one of the hardest things to get used to.  Once you get used to the idea however that you are responsible for your own outcomes and you know what you want your outcomes to be the motivation seems to come much easier
  5. Realise what you can and can't change
    • You can change how you act and react and how hard you work and what sort of relationships you have in the work place
    • You cant change the nature of people who work together.  If you work in a truly toxic workplace then it is probably not helping your end objective but if you think you can get ahead in organisations without learning interpersonal skills then you're going to be constantly disappointed.
Once I started doing the above things I found that a lot of my lost motivation and mojo started to come back.  I am not quite as motivated as I would like to be but it is constantly improving and I'm working on it all the time.

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