Feeling stressed and worried about the future is not uncommon. This feeling can arise from both small and big events and is sometimes described as one of the biggest public health problems of our time. One of the primary causes of stress is the pressure to have a successful career.
As a student, being worried and feeling stressed about the future - both in the short run and the long run - can sometimes feel more like of a permanent state of mind rather than anything else. The university environment is, for better or for worse, quite competitive and one is told very early on what to strive for in life. High levels of stress affect both your ability to concentrate and to solve problems, as well as your general well-being, negatively. Learning how to cope with career-related stress is, therefore, a more important task than you might think. Here are a few tips on how to do this.
Don’t compare yourself to others
“He got an internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she got an internship at Goldman Sachs and she got a full-time job at McKinsey”. It is easy to get stressed out when you are struggling with your thoughts on what your future career will be, or even just what you will be doing during the upcoming summer, and your fellow classmates keep telling you about their exciting new career moves. As difficult as it may sound, one of the most useful tips on how to reduce your feelings of stress is to simply stop comparing yourself to others.
If you, despite this knowledge, can’t help yourself to compare your achievements with others, remember to not always look towards the people who got the most prestigious jobs. People don’t brag about their failures on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin, but rest assured that everyone has had the exact same feeling as you have now at some point in their lives. One way to stop comparing yourself to others is to simply reduce your social media intake. There are a few helpful apps for this purpose.
Look at your CV and remember all the things you have done
We all recognize that email. Four weeks have gone by since you submitted your job application and you still haven’t heard back from the company. To be honest, you already knew that you wouldn’t get the job, but as long as you weren’t yet rejected you kept your hopes up. Getting rejected for a job can be tough, and it is easy to get stuck with negative and destructive thoughts when it happens. In these situations, try taking a look at your CV through an optimistic lens and identify all the good things you have done at such an early stage in your career (because remember, you are still a student after all).
This practice of changing your way of looking at things is sometimes referred to as “reframing”. Here are some concrete tips on how to change your perspective of thinking about different issues. If you still have difficulties getting into this mindset, try asking a close friend or a partner to look at your CV and to give you some positive reinforcement. Sometimes the message sticks longer if it comes from someone else. Here are some further tips on how to deal with rejection.
Think about previous failures and realize how trivial they seem in retrospect
When you didn’t get that summer internship you really wanted last year it probably felt like the world was coming to an end (well, almost). Looking back on it now, it probably wouldn’t make it to your list of major life events. A lot of things can happen in one year’s time, both on a personal level and career-wise, and being out of a job for one summer won’t destroy you. In fact, it might even give you the opportunity to reflect on where you’re going and enable you to make a more informed career decision next time it is time for that. After all, career-related events that feel hugely important today tend to fade away in terms of importance as time passes by. Knowing this, try to relax and remember not to exaggerate the importance of small, but seemingly big, events. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this “CV of failures” by a Princeton professor, where he summarizes his major career-related failures.
It is okay to have no idea of where you are going with you career
Sometimes it might feel like everyone around you already has everything figured out, while you’re still in the dark with no idea about what you want to do in the future. Most people, with very few exceptions, have at some point in their lives been in a situation where they don’t know where they want to go career-wise. The best thing to do if you feel unsure about what line of profession you’re interested in is just to try out as many different things as possible. Take a summer course in a topic that interests you, apply for a part-time job in a field that you know nothing about or start volunteering with something that appeals to you. All of the paths you go down won’t lead to a future career, but you will get a whole bunch of new impressions and inspiration regardless - and it might also improve your CV without you even noticing.