Each year, college graduates mull over whether to follow their heart or head when searching for a first job. Among the factors to consider - financial stability, practicality, opportunity, family and peer pressure - personal fulfillment is one that often gets pushed to the side. In her blog, Banking to Baking, Elena McGahey discusses how she managed to make fulfillment a priority. 

"There is so much to learn and I was writing it down so I thought I might as well share it," McGahey said. The name of the blog hints at only a small portion of McGahey’s still unfolding journey.

McGahey graduated from Columbia University in 2017 and immediately began a career in banking - a common post-graduation track for Columbia students. The job didn't excite her, but senior year pressure made McGahey feel as though she needed to find a job and have it all figured out - and fast. The stress of constantly being on call, working long hours (she once worked a 22-hour day!), and having her boss quit soon after she arrived all created heightened anxiety. After a year and a half, McGahey quit to support her mental health. 

With newfound freedom, McGahey asked herself, "What have I always wanted to do?" She thought back on a bakery internship she held when she was 16 - she had enjoyed everything about it: the satisfaction of baking itself, the joy she felt watching customers happily eat her baked goods, even the atmosphere in the bakery made her smile. But having little baking experience since, McGahey was nervous about pursuing her passion. It wasn't a cake walk finding her first job, but she was eventually hired for a pastry food-prep internship. She didn't know it then, but two months later, she would score a coveted baking job at Neighbor Bakehouse in San Francisco.

McGahey writes her blog to let other students know that the path considered “typical” by many isn't right for most.

"People have done everything, you just have to go looking," McGahey says. In her own experience, McGahey found that her elders had the answers she sought. She recounts that her parents were "great resources" for transition advice and support. 

For soon-to-be-grads looking toward the future, McGahey suggests pondering three things:

1. What kind of lifestyle do I want?

2. What are my interests?

3. How can I balance pursuing a lifestyle that will make me comfortable and happy while still following my passions?

McGahey understands that "you need to make sure you have money to sustain yourself" and the lifestyle you want. This might mean "[Accepting] a job that will pay the bills until you can land in the right place."

In college, students feel weighed down by the idea that a set path exists and they need to do everything to get on it. Yet, as McGahey points out, "It's not unheard of to move jobs if you're unhappy." Essentially, quitting your job doesn't mean you're doomed. McGahey promises it's all about "being thoughtful about long-term decisions." Your lifelong career could start right after graduation, but it's more likely that you will need a few trial runs to find something you love to do.

Before the interview ended, I asked McGahey for any final sprinkles of advice. She replied, "You're not stuck," urging post-grads to take time in their 20s to explore their interests. Even jobs that don’t seem practical help develop life skills and establish balance early on in a career path.

To wrap up, of course, I had to ask McGahey the most pressing question of them all: What is your favorite baked good? In this regard, McGahey actually follows the path most taken: "Chocolate chip cookies!"

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