Queen shares why your early career needs a “free fall”

Guest Writer: Queen Stevenson

This coming May, it will be two years since I graduated college. Wrapping my head around that is difficult, as I can just about remember what it was like to hammer through a last minute paper, or scramble to get to my dining center before it closed and I went hungry for the night.

In the almost two years since, I’ve worked in communications in-house at my alma mater’s Provost Office, spent a year doing PR and issues/crisis management at a leading healthcare marketing firm, and transitioned to a New York-based marketing communications fellowship housed under Fortune 50 telco leader, Verizon and its agency partners.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, writing, spreadsheet making, PowerPoint creating, researching, speaking, client communicating, and more researching. Also, a good deal of thinking. It’s not uncommon for entry-level hopefuls like me to be peppered with questions about their career long game — and like many of my peers, even if I do have an elevator pitch ready, I sometimes still feel queasy inside when I hear “So, where do you see yourself in five to ten years?”

My family and friends tell me they’re proud of me for the strides I’ve made since earning my degree. Some days, I take a deep breath and let myself feel proud of me, too. But if I’m going to be honest, I completely feel like I’m in free fall. I’m a huge fan of timelines, action items and next steps, but even all the checkboxes in the world can’t remedy the nagging suspicion that my professional momentum feels precarious at times. I’d define free fall in this case as just that — not fully believing that you’re making all the right moves towards your eventual goal, and/or the progress you’ve already made could slip through your fingers.

That’s the thing about being in a free fall — the psychological descent is agnostic of time and space and sometimes reason. High performers can remind themselves over and over again that they’ve done amazing things and there are more to come, but anxiety about your overall trajectory can taint your outlook. I’d bargain to say this is even more present for entry-level professionals.

However, I’m here to contend that such free fall can actually be a positive thing. If I’ve learned anything in the past couple years, it’s that perspective can be your best friend or your worst enemy. So in that vein, my personal free fall ignites me with a fresh sense of urgency not only every time I step into my place of work, but also when I leave for the day — what networking mixers can I leverage? Can I shoot a relevant note of thanks or article with implications to a contact? Are there news stories I should know, opinions about industry developments I should be thoughtfully forming? How can I better myself even when I’m not in the office? Because that’s where the true magic happens.

Additionally, the free fall I’m experiencing in my career pushes me to be a lot more present in my personal relationships. The harder my work gets, the more I lean into my family and friends, who unfailingly remind me of who I am. High performers need healing, deeply rooted relationships to affirm their worth outside of work productivity. Because we so often measure our value by how many hours we bill, new business pitches we land, or any other relative metric, our self-identity becomes painfully skewed. Good relationships help you find your way back to yourself. Since I’ve moved to New York, many phone calls, FaceTimes and texts from loved ones have helped piece me back together after a challenging residential and professional transition. And I’m grateful for each note of encouragement.

To conclude, at times I still internally feel like a college student: anxious, overcaffeinated and intellectually curious. And like anyone breathing, I’ll make mistakes. I’m still growing. But I’m learning that what I see as my career in “free fall” is actually my career falling into place — that moments, mistakes, and moves are lining up exactly as they should. No one noteworthy ever got to their peak by following a straight line to success. And by tapping into our hunger to grow professionally in and outside the office, and touching base with our network of people who know us best and impact us positively, us entry-level folks will get to exactly where we need to be.