Three Questions for New Grads

Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Answering these questions is important for all of us but especially for people just starting out.

Dear New Grad,

You’ve already been lectured enough so I’ll just ask you to think about three questions:

Do you want strive to be the best or for work-life balance? Unless you’re brilliant, it’s unlikely you can have both. Work-life balance advocates argue that beyond 40 hours a week, you’re not very productive. But some of my clients and friends have found that working hours 40-80 on what they’re naturally good at and trying to get better at is usually less stressful than dealing with home issues or even sports—Think of how many people get upset playing or even watching sports? Or at their romantic partner, friends, or kids?

On the other hand, some people know that even if they put in long hours, they won’t end up excellent in their career and so, for them, it’s wiser to be just decent in their career and then in hours 40+, devote time to relationships, hobbies, and unwinding, even if it involves brain-impairing alcohol or marijuana.

All that can be asked is that you make the decision consciously. At least at this point in your life, do you feel it’s wiser to put in long hours in an attempt to be the best you can be or to focus on work-life balance?

Do you want to prioritize money or feeling good? Few people get both. The most remunerative careers generally require competing with the smartest and/or hardest working and sometimes not super-ethical people. After all, most people in a capitalist society believe that money is very important, even if just buys a statusy address, car, and clothes. So careers such as lawyer, investment banker, and physician attract many highly capable and driven people. And as you’ve heard ad nauseam, you’re unlikely to be happier making more money beyond a middle-class living. Plus, remember that half of what you earn beyond a middle-class income will be wrested from you in taxes.

Most people derive more pleasure from a less remunerative career, for example, do-gooding and/or creative work. Alas, in such careers, it may be challenging to make even a bare middle-class living. That’s why the word “starving” and “artist” so often appear together.

So at least at this point, do you feel it’s wiser to choose a career likely to yield big bucks or one you’re likely to find more pleasurable?

How relational do you want to be? Most people spend a lot of time with family and friends, including marrying and having children. Many even sacrifice their career to be an elderly parent’s primary caregiver. And some people derive great net satisfaction from that.

But other people are highly relational despite feeling the time would be more satisfyingly spent in solo activities. On probing, those people have told me that their family has caused them great pain—After all, we choose our friends; our family is thrust upon us. An old Chinese saying is,”You cannot pass a home with a sign in front that says, ‘We don’t have family problems here.”

So how about you? At least at this point in your life, how relational do you want to be?

The takeaway

It’s scary to leave the halfway house of college for the independence of adulthood. Amid that fear, it’s tempting to, if only unconsciously, default to societal norms like work-life balance, go for the bucks, and be heavily relational. Some but not all  people will find those the right choices. Consciously decide what’s right for you.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at


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