Let’s face it. It’s tough out there in the “real world.” If you’re a recent graduate, you have a lot of things to deal with, like rising student loan debt, finding a full-time job that pays well, finding a job that isn’t a dead end, and figuring out how to pay all those bills.

Feeling overwhelmed is completely normal. But one thing you may not have considered is figuring out how to progress throughout your career rather than stuck doing the same thing.

Can I assume we’ve all seen Office Space and the violent printer scene? No one wants to become a lowly office drone taking their frustrations out on office supplies. So how do you make sure your career is always rising rather than stagnant? 

Start with a vision for your life and your career

This might seem like an easy step, but some people do not think ahead more than a few weeks. Force yourself to consider the future. When you imagine yourself 10 years down the road, what do you see career-wise? Try to be specific. Don’t just say you want to be a manager.

Instead, ask yourself what kind of manager do I want to be? What will be my managing style? What type of office culture do I want to be part of? Trust yourself on the answers, and each year, come back to these questions and see if you feel differently about your answers. Over time, you may find that you’ve grown and your answers have changed.

Next, make a plan on how to make your vision a reality

You may have to research online about the qualifications you might need in your career field. If you’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree, congratulations! The hard part is out of the way. But it’s OK to feel a little lost.

I find that when I feel overwhelmed, making a checklist helps relieve the stress. What’s the first thing you’ll need to do in order to get one step closer to your vision? If you want to be a manager, how do you get started on the managerial track? Be realistic with yourself here.

Work on the first step, and once you’ve accomplished it, take a moment to congratulate yourself, and then work on the next step.

Of course, there are going to be roadblocks in the way. Not everything is as easy as 1-2-3. But the key here is to always have your priorities in order, so that you don’t feel lost later on.

Once you’ve settled into a job, plan how long you’ll be there

This might seem a little dodgy as an employee, but it’s really not. You have to do what’s best for you. It’s great to find a job with amazing people, but you should never stay at a job you don’t enjoy just because you like working with the people. They might leave and then where would you be?

Come up with a reasonable time frame, and think about what exactly you want to accomplish or learn while you’re there. Maybe you have a manager willing to teach you some skills you don’t already have. Or you’d like to have a few years experience working a specific position for your resume. You aren’t being selfish for wanting to progress.

Stay up to date on your career field

Some industries change rapidly over time, while others can remain relatively the same. Figure out if there are any skills you could improve upon and take a class or get a certification to broaden your credentials.

Maybe you just need to get a little more “techy.” You don’t want to be the only one of your colleagues who doesn’t know how to use certain software. Simply reading a book about it could be a great help.

Another option is using LinkedIn. I know, I know. I can hear the groans now. But browsing LinkedIn profiles from people in your field can help you get a better sense of how they got to where they are now. I might add that LinkedIn has come a long way; it’s not just a bunch of resumes anymore.

LinkedIn Learning has online classes you can take to help advance your skill-set. You could also try the online platform Skillshare. Use the internet to your advantage and get to learning!

Make sure your jobs are always upward rather than lateral moves.

I get it. Sometimes you just need to get out of your current work environment. But when you’re looking for your next position, at the very least, try to get a pay increase. It may not be a huge difference but a little can go a long way over the course of a year. If you keep working jobs that are basically the same, it will be hard to get out of it in the long run. 

Think of your career as a fluid map. Various routes can lead to the same destination. You might find that you end up somewhere you never could have imagined for yourself. That’s awesome. But keep in mind that great opportunities aren’t just going to land in your lap, despite how movies might make it seem. Just a little bit of planning can go a long way throughout your life.

how to elevate your career as a new professional after graduating college