Expectations: Just Get With the Programme!

In Mark Swain’s final blog on happiness, he discusses how fast-changing times may mean resetting your expectations and managing those of people around you…
further education

Let me set your expectations for this blog. I’m neither going to tell you what to expect post-graduation, nor am I going to tell you exactly how the life of a graduate is expected to pan out. I don’t know, and nobody else does either. Personally I’m excited by the world out there for new and recent graduates. There are limitless opportunities, in terms of life choices and job prospects. But in this crazy-mad, fast-changing, hugely different world you need to reset, manage or change your own expectations and the expectations of those around you. Why? I’ll use my own story to illustrate…

With slight exaggeration, I’m basically a kid from a pit village (in other words a working-class mining community). Initially it was expected that I would leave school after A levels and start work. When I took my A levels the next stage was University. Even though my A level grades were, err, mixed (and I couldn’t get to the best Unis), great parents expected me to go as far as possible with my education. They supported me doing a degree.  It was the time when university study was free, or at least government-funded, and I even received a grant towards our living costs.  Given the grant was £2000 a year, it didn’t go far (and I had to top-up the grant by working part-time and during the holidays).  Only in my last year at Uni did my parents start having to contribute towards my studies, and back then there was no sign of the dreaded student loan.  After a lousy fresher’s year (another story), I hunkered down and graduated with a strong 2:1.  Ah yes, and debt-free.  The only debt I had was entirely self-inflicted, as I bought a flat (as soon as I found my first job, and just before a property crash) and ended up with massive negative equity.
This is when things went a little out of shape. The property crash was symptomatic of the worst economic recession of a generation. That restricted my job choices, but I still found a graduate scheme at a FTSE100 insurance business. OK, so it wasn’t the marketing job at Cadburys that I really wanted, but it was respectable and solid. Within 18 months I was in my first substantive position, and progressed quickly to manager level and into more senior roles. I still use (every day) pretty much all the business knowledge I gained in those early days.
With me so far? But here’s the rub… Good grief, it was boring. The expectation in those days was for a graduate to join a training scheme, enter a profession, and knuckle down. It wasn’t a job-for-life situation, but it seemed like a profession for life. I finally rebelled age 32, when I realised I couldn’t keep doing the same old things day after day, week after week, year after year. Those early expectations shaped me into a career of grey. It was like drawing in black and white. Fortunately I was brave enough to change career and I’m now into my third. That’s not a perfect world, but change has definitely kept me challenged and entertained.

Let’s bring this back to today – I’m hearing plenty of talk about the world graduates are facing, as if it’s somehow negative (or so completely changed from what I experienced ‘many moons ago’). It’s not bad – it’s just different. You shouldn’t expect to necessarily follow the traditional route, joining a firm, knuckling down and moving neatly up the career ladder. Moves are as likely to be sideways as often as upwards and forwards. You shouldn’t expect to have a queue of graduate recruiters bringing the very best offers straight to your door. Good jobs will be harder to find and you’ll need to work like a tireless Trojan to get what you want. You might have to kiss loads of frogs before you find your handsome Prince (metaphorically speaking). Be curious. Explore places, cultures, companies and roles. Travel and go ‘temping’. Soak up what the workplace has to offer, before roaring off in one direction. And whatever you do, just remember that the best way to predict the future is to create it’  (a quote from genius and legend Peter Drucker – world-renowned management guru).
And that brings me back to the point about other people’s expectations. What I just outlined looks like a fairly random way to go about finding your career joy, but it isn’t – it’s just different. But, understand that this approach might freak out those around you and those advising you. You need to communicate your plan, even if it isn’t concrete or conventional. Their expectations were, almost certainly, formed in the past. Manage those expectations as you modify your own. Life is about managing yourself and – at the same time – the perceptions, reactions and emotions of other people, almost in equal amounts. That’s how to really get on, in life and business – if anyone has demanding, overbearing, high-maintenance parents, family and friends, you’ll know that you spend more time managing them than you do managing yourself.
In case you are wondering, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a graduate scheme – if you can join one of the major firms, or even a small entrepreneurial one, you’re being given a great opportunity. But don’t necessarily expect that route to success. Times have changed, and we all need to forget the past. Everyone needs to get with the programme!

Read Mark Swain’s earlier blogs on Happiness:

PRIME: Personality: The Way to Find the Work You Love
How to get to know your personality, what really makes you tick, and how to use that self-awareness to find work you’ll really enjoy


PRIME: Resilience: It’s More Than Just ‘Bouncing Back’
Resilience is multi-dimensional. Find out how to build resilience to help achieve your goals.


PRIME: Image: The Ultimate Test of Self Control
Image is vital to happiness and mostly in our control.  Learn how to improve your self-image and projected image.


PRIME: Mindset: Don’t Let a Better Life Pass You Buy…
How managing your mindset can drive positive changes in your life.


See more from Mark Swain:

For Those Shrinking Violets
Top tips for introverts, and for extroverts who want to better understand the introverts you know


Mark Swain

Mark Swain

Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School


About Mark Swain

Mark Swain will be one of our regular contributors at Hello Grads.
 As Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School, he delivers high-end learning and leadership development to senior business executives – through training, events and networking.

Mark has enjoyed a career across sales, marketing and many aspects of HR, and he will be talking and writing about some pressing issues for graduates – choosing career direction, recognising what you have to offer, and making yourself stand out in a competitive jobs market.

Contact:  mark.swain@henley.ac.uk or www.meritology.me and @meritology


Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School
FInstSMM – Fellow of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management
Fellow at The Learning & Performance Institute
Lead consultant at The Chemistry Group

Education:  University of Portsmouth – Economics