Working to learn versus working to earn: The Millennial dilemma

Does it mean more for you to work to learn right now or work to earn? Click To Tweet

Admittedly most of us enter the job market with high hopes and plans to make waves working 9-5 and ultimately, leaving a footprint. In the excitement of the dawning of a new day; we sometimes forget that there are tough decisions that we need to ponder. This realization usually means an inevitable transition that takes us on a joy ride.

Happy New Year!

First of all, congratulations! You get to do all of the things which you set out to achieve as soon as you graduated and you are fired up with zeal to the brim. As a result you’ve been granted the opportunity-of-a-lifetime. The universe and your grancestors have been on your side; all that’s left to do is, SLAy!

Yet, there’s a disclaimer, this job you’ve been offered does not pay enough for you to rent, pay off tertiary debt and have a social life. But, you’re probably fresh from university and in need of expertise. You’re thinking surely it won’t be long until you climb the corporate ladder, right?


Being a Motherland Mogul, you know that you cannot play with your earning potential Click To Tweet

Earning Potential

Almost all your previous stresses and worries come through like; “Oh? You thought you’d be 20-something, driving your dream car and living in your luxurious penthouse?” Ha! You thought you were so woke and resolved and then got a feel of the juice.

Being a Motherland Mogul, you know that you cannot play with your earning potential; that experience begets zeros, and recognition in your chosen field or vocation. So you need to draw up a list of priorities and take it from there. Question: Does it mean more for you to work to learn right now or work to earn?

The ramifications of either decision

Consequently, adulting comes with the unavoidable task of choices. So opting to work to earn could mean you forsake active mentorship —your job may not necessarily be in the trade or industry you may have wanted to be in. Or you may be working with individuals who are not invested in impacting any significant change within the industry because all they are about is the bottom line.

The plus side to this is the fact that you will be able to settle your student debt, send money back home and be able to start saving to purchase property or buy a car.


The reverse scenario is accepting a job to learn, truly dedicating oneself to the course of learning as many tricks of the trade and attending networking sessions to establish a strong foothold in the industry. Huge disclaimer: the remuneration may not live up to the job title and expectation of duties to be carried out. The silver lining on this cloud would be that what you gain in experience can always be made up for in monetary value at a later stage.

It is possible to have your cake and eat it when it comes to work situations Click To Tweet

The grass may not always be greener

Whether one is working to earn, or working to learn —there are both pros and cons to each scenario. The situation will vary from person to person and it is your prerogative to choose whichever works for you at a particular juncture in life. As such; you need to decide from a place of clarity and being grounded in what you wants for yourself. It is possible to have your cake and eat it; inasmuch as something may look attractive to you, it may not be all that it is cut out to be.

The world of vocation is a journey of continual learning writes @ZimK_Mvandaba Click To Tweet

Striking a balance

The world of vocation is a journey of continual learning. By asking yourself deliberate questions about the aspirations you have and what fulfillment you want from a career, you will be a step closer. There is a preparedness that goes into the decision process guiding you from university to the world of work. Asking for help is not something to shy away from.

Also, you could spend the first few years post-grad school interning or in a learnership to gain practical experience and take charge of the learning opportunities on offer. Alternatively, one could start off working to earn and building on their professional and academic portfolio simultaneously.

There is no right or wrong, just make decisions that work for you as an individual.


What they don’t tell you about your first job

So, you’ve survived unemployment like a boss, and now you’ve landed your first job. For some, this is a positive, life-affirming experience. For the rest of us, we need a support group or at the very least a few tips on how to deal. Don’t worry girl, I’ve got you!

indexThe general reason why many people do not enjoy their first job is typically because it just wasn’t what they expected. So if you are feeling like you are failing at adulting, relax, you aren’t alone. Here are a few ideas on how to tackle seven typical first job challenges, and come out strong.

1. So…is this it?

After the novelty of employment wears off, monotony can set in. You may find yourself a bit disillusioned with your job and asking yourself, is this it? The answer to this question will either prompt you to restart job hunting or help you to get your head back in the game. Either way, you can make the most of your time there. This is where you want to clarify your goals. What exactly is it that you ultimately want to do? Once you know that, decide how you can use the platform that your job provides to get closer to your goal.

There are very few skills in our increasingly interconnected world that are not transferable. You aren’t there just for the job, but also for the networks, the exposure to opportunity, insight into the industry, seeing how a business is run and scaled, tapping into the experience of your co-workers (potential mentors?) and to establish your name in that space.

In addition you can work to break the monotony of each day by:

  • Volunteering to help other departments out and diversifying your experience
  • Continually setting personal goals to excite you
  • Using your evenings and weekends to do more than watch series. Pursue your other interests and invest in a side hustle

2. Maintain relationships

The one thing many of us weren’t prepared for is just how much of succeeding in your first job revolves around your ability to work with people. It goes without saying, maintain a good attitude, don’t act like you know it all and avoid office politics. Your relationship with your boss, co-workers and clients all need to be managed as they each come with their own complexities.

Have frank conversations to make sure you clearly understand the expectations that the people you work with have of you. Ensure you aren’t part of the problem by understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as a co-worker by soliciting feedback from your peers to help you uncover any blind spots.

The bottom line is you will work with great people as well as the scum of the earth, be prepared for both. Even if you decide to leave, it is important not to burn any bridges. Stay professional until your very last day.

3. Speak up, take credit

I totally agree with the saying, “Hard work speaks for itself” but that shouldn’t stop you from speaking for yourself too. Being consistently passed over for opportunities can create a lot of dissatisfaction in your first job. You want better client visits, you want to go to that conference, you want in on that project, that’s all great, but have you asked? Remember you are largely responsible for how much you will get out of your work experience and so take charge of it.

Mindfulness Coach Jeena Cho puts it this way: “If I could encourage women to do one thing, it would be to ask for what you want. Stop overthinking every simple (and not so simple) request, and just ask! Ask without apology. Ask despite your inner critic. Ask when you fear you’ll be seen as pushy…Ask when you fear you don’t deserve it. Ask when you feel you do.”

Another thing that will help all of your hard work ‘speak’ is actually being comfortable taking credit for your work. Keeping a record of your accomplishments will also help in pay negotiations and asking for promotions.

4. Skills versus titles

So, you didn’t take the time to scan through the companies’ organogram before you signed the contract. Now you realise you are stuck in a dead-end job with no chance of advancement. This may not be a total waste of your time. You may not get a fancy title but you can still ensure that your CV looks attractive.

Be deliberate about honing marketable skills. Each year many industries publish ‘hottest skills’ lists, take time to identify the skills that your job is helping you develop and indicate them clearly on your CV.

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Photo credit: #WOCinTech Chat

5. Calculate the cost of compromise

Part of the anxiety you feel in your first job is when you settle in and begin to evaluate whether the job you took was worth the compromise you made. A survey done by PWC revealed that 72% of millenials made some form of compromise to get a job.

Some of the compromises we make to get off of our relatives’ couches are probably harmless, like getting a job in a dodgy part of town or being hired by our second choice company. Others however, may have serious long term effects on the trajectory of your career. For example, not negotiating your pay could negatively affect long term earnings. Accepting a job you are overqualified for may be the most practical thing to do right now, but it may your impact career development.

The question you want to ask is, will this have any serious long term effect on my ultimate goal? This should help you get over any petty hang-ups, or leave if necessary.

6. The diversity issue

Depending on your industry, you may find yourself being the only woman or African or person of colour (or all of the above) in your workplace. This may mean you’ll need to speak up to represent a perspective your co-workers may not have thought of. Remember your delivery is just as important as the message. As Ariel Investments’ Melody Hobson explains framing the conversation by asking questions may help take the edge off.

7. Get Support to build confidence

Mentors, sponsors and peer support groups will help you navigate your uncertainties and help you keep perspective. Few people felt 100% confident in their first job, it’s a learning curve and learning from others who’ve been there before you will make the journey easier.

I hope this helps!