10 goals for your first 5,000 hours on the job

In the first couple of years in your just-out-of-school gig, you can bide time and eke by, or you can build a foundation for your future. Well?

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The reality is that few people keep their first jobs for long. The average person stays in a job around 4.5 years these days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but this number is lower for younger people—only 13 percent of 30- to 34-year olds have been with their current employer for 10 years, the bureau reports. The more common story is that people find other opportunities, travel, go to graduate school, and so forth.

So, let’s say you’ll stay at that first job for two years. Let’s say you’re also planning on devoting a lot of time to work—maybe 50 hours per week (far more than the average worker puts in). That gives you roughly 2,500 hours per year, or 5,000 work hours over your two-year tenure.

That’s a lot of time, but it’s also a finite amount of time, and easy to let slip through your fingers. The weekly two-hour meeting that you sleepwalk through will eat up 200 of those 5,000 hours, with little to show for it.

So a better approach is to ask yourself what you hope to do with those 5,000 hours. What would you like to learn? Whom would you like to meet? What can you do to position yourself well for the next 40 years of your career?

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