Getting your first job can be compared to the experience of falling in love.
Did you almost spill your coffee as you read that? Think about it: there are many parallels to the
universal experiences of starting your first job and the phases of falling in love.
Phase One: The Fantasy
Falling in love, much like dreaming about your first job, is filled with a mix of emotions, uncertainty
and expectation. Your first job promises you the entry into the adult world, giving you the hope of
money, respect and fulfilment.
You’ve heard so much about this essential rite of passage that it borders on obsession. “What kind of
job will I be offered?” “What kind company will I work for?” “What kind of salary will I be able to
So, when you finally hear the words “you’re hired”, it feels like the moment when your crush finally
agrees to go on a date. You’re elated! Your mind is all over the place. You can’t wait to tell your
friends and family the great news!
You keep dreaming about what your salary is going to be like and what you will be able to do once
you get that first paycheque. What will your colleagues be like, you wonder? You cross your fingers,
hoping that your manager will be awesome.
You are nervous, excited, scared, hopeful – all at once!
Phase Two: The Honeymoon
Preparing for the first day at work is like getting ready for that nerve-wracking first date. You ask your
friends what you should wear, what you should say, how you should act. You have butterflies in your
stomach. You can’t sleep the night before.
As you step into the reception, it almost feels like there should be champagne and confetti falling
from the ceiling. You’re definitely celebrating on the inside. Sadly, though, no one offers you
champagne – but they do show you where the coffee station or kitchen is and where the bathrooms
You are taken around the office for awkward introductions to the smiling strangers that are now your
colleagues. The first week is pretty much an extension of the surreal first day, where you try to
remember everyone’s names and what they do. And then there is the all important aspect of getting
your head around what you’ve been hired to do.
Finally, it’s payday!
As you study your payslip to figure out the difference between gross and net salary, you feel a sense
of pride at being able earning your own money. This will enable you to start planning the next stage
of your life and possibly contribute to the family if you are still living with your parents.
Phase Three: The Bubble Pops
Month two on the job is a bit easier than month one.
By now, you might have a better understanding of what is expected of you, although you might not
have access to the right support structure to help you learn the ropes. Any notion of work being
‘easy’ is vanishing.
You are getting paid to solve problems. You are being stretched to create solutions even though
much of the workflow to accomplish your tasks is often out of your control. There are some
additional challenges you may not have anticipated, such as personality clashes with some of your
colleagues, or worse, your manager.
Just like in a relationship, the things that you used to get excited about begins to frustrate you.
Payday means that you need to take care of the bills, budget and plan wisely, otherwise you get that
‘empty wallet’ syndrome by the middle of the month.
You’re beginning to understand the various expectations your employer has, which includes:
1. Show up on time
2. Do your job
3. Get along with your colleagues
4. Make things better
5. Be solutions orientated
6. Handle your personal issues
7. Help the company grow
8. Communicate effectively
9. Be an asset, not a liability
10. Be productive
The working world is not child’s play and you realise that there is a lot more to learn that you
Phase Four: The Commitment
You are essentially in a transactional relationship with your employer. You have signed a legal
document stating that you will perform a role within an organisation in return for financial
One of the root causes of frustration we feel in life is expecting work, or a relationship, to give us a
sense of meaning or fulfilment. Working at a job, just like being in a relationship, gives you the
opportunity to assess what is really important to you, what you like and don’t like – and especially
the areas where you need to grow.
Accepting the truth that you still have a lot to learn will help you prepare for the lifelong journey
ahead. Your first year of work creates a foundation of experience that will shape the approach to
your professional life.
If you’re struggling to adjust to the workload or realise that you need to improve the way that you
work with others, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find mentors in colleagues, friends or family
members that are willing to share some of their time and experience with you. If you can’t find
someone in your immediate circles to help you, watch YouTube videos, take online courses and read
blog related to your specific challenges.
Work never gets easier – but you can make the choice to get better, year on year.
Cheryl Benadie is an iconoclastic first generation professional on a mission to inspire hope and foster wholeness to unlock true potential.
As a survivor of various forms of abuse, her life is testament to the fact that you can heal and live, love and work from a place of wholeness.
Her decade in higher education fundraising has made her an advocate for the holistic development of first generation students who become the first in their families to transition into white collar work.
She launched Whole Person Academy to help both entrepreneurs and employees rediscover the joy of work and to thrive in the 4IR.