Starting on the Right Foot

In the spirit of college graduation season, as Milliennials contemplate their careers and financial futures, I thought I’d share a bit of perspective that’s helped me find career contentment and at the same time, put me on a course towards financial independence. While those of you who recently earned your bachelor’s degree (congrats!) may feel pressure to find your life’s calling, as society often tells you you should, I would suggest a different approach. Instead of trying to figure out your purpose or your true career calling, I advocate a low-pressure alternative; something I call “following your thread.” More on that in a bit. In addition to focusing on your career, which is admittedly very important, I would recommend giving some attention to your finances at this point in your life. Even if your income is paltry, carving out just a small amount of time and energy in this area will pay off in spades.

As it turns out, identifying a single line of work that will lead to perfect career bliss is a tall order. As a young college student I didn’t have that hindsight. Had I known to pay attention to the classes that really interested me and followed that thread, I might have arrived at career contentment sooner. While I’m finally happy in my financial vocation, the point is that few of us discover our life’s passion in college. For the rest of us, learning to identify important career sign posts, setting ourselves up for financial success, and tuning into our intuition are much more useful.

My advice to those of you just starting off is to start tuning-in exactly where you are. If you’ve landed your first job, congrats! Now is time to dive into your work and also pay attention to what energizes you and what drags you down. I call this “following your thread”. Move towards tasks that interest and energize you and over time, reduce those duties that sap your energy. While any job will often have some unpleasant assignments, moving towards a better work mix will ultimately lead to greater career satisfaction.

Once you get the hang of following your thread – and it is a life-long process – making a commitment to excellence will take you to the next level. This may sound like a tall order, but I’ve found that it’s not my job that gives me meaning but it’s the meaning I bring to my job that matters. Granted, we’ll fail often (I do regularly), but a commitment to excellence imbues our work and everything we do with meaning and value. This flips the notion that career bliss comes from finding our passion or figuring out what we want to be when we grow up. It seems that working with what’s right in front of us at our current job, digging in, and brining our passion and commitment to our current task is actually what brings lasting career contentment, which overtime should pay off in financial rewards.

And last, but not least, I believe that setting yourself up for financial success is the bedrock of a bright future. Without stable financial footing, including saving regularly for retirement, money stress can hang over the happiest of careers and lives. A stable financial situation can free up your innate creativity, which then helps open you up to new opportunities. It’s a virtuous cycle that paves the way for a rewarding and meaningful life. Where to begin? Start small and simply. Track your expenses and set a reasonable budget that allows you to save a regular amount monthly, but with wiggle room to still have fun with friends and family. The power of compound returns will grow your money significantly over time and can better help you weather market and career downturns. Financial education is key and there are plenty of great financial planning books out there. If you’re not a do-it-yourself-er, consider contacting a fee-only independent financial planner who can help get your started.

Wishing you a bright and fruitful future!

Carrie A. Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

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