The beauty of this blog is that it allows you to learn from others’ mistakes before you make them yourself. Here are 3 things I’ve done, learned the hard way, and am still learning as a young professional navigating the big, big world.
1. Your future starts NOW
Often while we are in the trenches the future seems like a distant dream. We’re young, wild, and free. Our digestive system allows us to eat junk food after 8 pm without feeling like complete trash the next day and living for the moment is all that matters. Amongst all the fun and games (deadlines and more deadlines) you need to be actively thinking and planning for your future. Where to after this job? Where do I want to end up? Do I want to emigrate? Do I want international exposure? Basically: What do I want and how am I going to get it?
Now I’m not saying you need to have it all figured out (we know what they say about best-laid plans) but I am saying vision is everything. I often see colleagues leaving job hunting to the very last minute as the doors on their training contracts close. I see people taking the very first job that comes their way because they hadn’t given thought to what they want to do when they qualify or they find themselves in a financial predicament that requires money in the bank, pronto!
Often, this can lead to you getting stuck in a sector or acquiring a skill set that is at odds with what you really want to be doing and you might find it difficult to dig yourself out of this career or lifestyle hole later. It is possible but prevention is better than cure.
Fortune favours the prepared mind.Louis Pasteur
Whilst auditing, I knew that auditing wasn’t for me, but I also knew that perhaps traditional financial accounting wasn’t for me either (approving journal entries, sigh). I specifically targeted roles in the food manufacturing industries; I LOVE food and, if I’m not eating it, I want to be costing it, counting it, or simply being surrounded by it.
If you know where you want to be, target jobs in these sectors. Don’t settle for something that isn’t even related. Want to join the world of academia? Well, you need to start thinking about that master’s degree now. Want to be a business owner? Start thinking about how you’re going to raise the capital. Thinking about going overseas? Think about where in the world suits you best, what are the travel opportunities, if it’s long term, what are the growth opportunities both personally and professionally.
Start or plan and start acquiring the resources and skills that make you the best candidate for the future you want.
2. Finances: Savings, Retirement & Lifestyle creep
I clearly recall a conversation between my partner and me during the first few months of my articles in which he told me I needed to start saving towards my retirement. I rolled my eyes and told him that, one, I couldn’t afford to save for retirement on a trainee’s salary; two, I was already saving for a wedding; and three, I can worry about that later.
YOU NEED TO BE SAVING, EVEN AS A YOUNG PROFESSIONAL.
It doesn’t have to be a huge amount. Small amounts go a long way over time but, if your situation allows it, you need to save towards your retirement and take advantage of long-term savings options – such as tax-free investments – as early as possible.
I see you sitting there saying, “oh I can’t afford it” while you check out your online shopping cart, ordering Uber Eats on payday because you work hard and you deserve to spoil yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I do this too but if you can afford this you can afford to save. Even if it’s a tiny amount at a time.
There are many resources online to help you kickstart your savings and investment journey and save some coin here and there. I’ve learned a thing or two from Rose Han, a former Wall Street trader, who runs the YouTube channel Investing with Rose.
Wealth, early retirement, and a comfortable debt-free lifestyle don’t just happen. You need to be actively creating wealth and being financially savvy. You don’t have to learn how to trade on the stock exchange or start tracking foreign currency; it’s as simple as creating a debit order on a website that allows you to invest in a unit trust of your choosing or even just starting off small and setting up a debit order into a tax-free savings account.
Why do I say a debit order into a separate account? Because I am all too familiar with notions such as, “I will save if there’s any money left over at the end of the month” (we both know there never is) and moving money into a linked savings account only to move it back later in the month because life happens neh…
If your budget is truly too tight to save (I get this – some of us are responsible for multiple households or are already in debt) pay off existing debt as soon as possible and avoid new debt at all costs unless it’s for a big-ticket item like a house.
P.S. Your own and your company’s contributions to a retirement fund are typically NOT enough to retire comfortably (or early). You need to have alternate savings.
Watch the lifestyle creep
What is Lifestyle Creep? Investopedia describes Lifestyle Creep as:
“Lifestyle creep occurs when an individual’s standard of living improves as their discretionary income rises and former luxuries become new necessities. The rise in discretionary income can happen either through an increase in income or decrease in costs”
Basically, it means you get a pay rise and now you shop at Woolies. This happened to me. My family always shopped at the local supermarkets in our neighbourhood. Woolworths* was an absolute luxury for us in South Africa and we hardly ever went there. I then got my first job and had my own income, so Woolworths became a slightly more frequent occurrence. The fruits and vegetables just seem to last longer, I convince myself. Fast forward two more years and I find myself doing the full grocery shop at Woolworths. “How did this happen?” I ask myself as I put absurdly-priced laundry detergent into the basket. The answer: lifestyle creep that I let go unchecked.
[*Woolworths is similar to a Marks and Spencer in the UK or a Whole Foods in the US]
This happens in many forms: Buying that car you can just afford because it suits your professional image, eating out a touch more often than is good for your wallet because you work hard and deserve it. In some more extreme settings, this lifestyle creep sees us having to work multiple jobs or change jobs simply to sustain a lifestyle that has spiraled out of control.
We all like owning nice things but make sure the nice things aren’t owning you. Certain bad money decisions you make now as a young professional may take you years to undo.
3. Keep a close eye on social pressure
We live in a world where social media makes the lives of others seem so glamorous yet so attainable. Our simple lives pale in comparison and the need to keep up with Joneses becomes overwhelming, to say the least.
As a young professional, the pressure to keep up appearances and advance through your career at a breakneck speed can be detrimental to your financial and mental wellbeing.
You’re human. Your face isn’t always going to be Instagram-ready. You’re not always going to walk through the door dressed in a custom suit or sleek pencil skirt in platform heels while being the smartest AND most attractive person in the room. Your house isn’t going to have its own YouTube channel. Your career path may not be working out perfectly and IT’S ALL PERFECTLY OKAY.
If you’re not careful, you might find yourself trying to fit yourself into a mould, lifestyle, or job and that isn’t you and you’re going to find yourself pretty darn unhappy about it. As a young professional, you often see people progressing faster than you and it is tempting to feel as if you need to catch up as soon as possible. You feel that promotion needs to speed up or even that you need to leave a job you’re happy with because the title doesn’t look so good on your LinkedIn profile anymore.
Pay careful attention to what makes you happy and gives you purpose, and trust your journey. You are allowed to have dreams and goals that are not the social norm or that don’t present prettily on social media. We don’t always have to progress rapidly through the ranks; you can stop and smell the roses when you’re in a role you enjoy. If you’re a woman in the workplace, you’re still perfectly worthy even if you’ve decided that breaking the glass ceiling simply isn’t for you; you haven’t let any of us down by not striving to be the next CEO.
Finally, perfection is impossible when you’re starting out in your career. Our situations might not always allow us to make the best possible choices for ourselves but having a clear vision can help us make better ones that bring us closer to the life we have always envisioned.
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