This past May marked my one-year anniversary since graduating from college. It’s funny… A year ago, I would have never imagined I’d end up where I am now.
Graduation was both a happy and stressful time for me.
On the one hand, I was finally being rewarded after overcoming countless hours spent in classroom lectures, several all-nighters studying for tests that meant the difference between passing or failing courses, and more unanswered questions than I care to remember.
On the other hand, graduation was also the final threshold to becoming a fully certified, professionally working adult, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that responsibility yet.
Now I know that some students may be having the exact same experience right now, and as much as I want to say don’t stress about it, I realize that’s easier said than done. I’m not here to sugar coat things: Life after college is hard.
You don’t have the same kind of environment that you do in college, where professors are more than willing to help you if you ask. Sometimes you’re thrown feet-first into the fire, and you have to be resourceful and figure things out for yourself because other people won’t always have the time to teach you how to do things. I certainly learned that the hard way.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was offered a job at my last internship. Even though I had been working there for a couple of months, it hadn’t hit me yet that I was actually going to be a part of the team full-time. Even as I walked into work the following Monday after my graduation, it still didn’t hit me. Then finally as I sat down at my desk and began checking my emails, it dawned on me: this was my life now. No more homework or group projects, only work, 8+ hours a day, 5 days a week.
The realization that I had finally entered the workforce gave me huge, crippling anxiety. It was like going from zero to one hundred in split second. One week I was finishing up finals and the next I was someone’s assistant.
One of the most difficult lessons I learned was that no one waits for you to catch up to the rest of the team. I basically had to hit the ground running with barely any training. And there was this unspoken expectancy that I was supposed to know what I was doing already because I had taken internships and gained some experience.
(Spoiler: Sometimes the experience you gain during an internship isn’t exactly the same as when you’re actually hired for a position.)
Despite the struggles, I was grateful for the experience because it helped me gain some perspective and understand that the job wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. And I was able to use that as a jumping off point to figure out the next steps in my career.
But sometimes life after college isn’t as straightforward. Sure, most graduates have a vague sense of what they want to do as a career, but what if that doesn’t happen? What if you graduate, and you still have no idea what you want to do? It can be insanely frustrating and also terrifying. And it’s a very real situation that a lot of recent grads face, but don’t really address out loud.
First off, don’t feel like you need to have everything figured out now. No one’s timing you. Secondly, it’s not the end of the world! Do you think Oprah knew she was going to as successful as she is now when she first graduated from college? Probably not. In fact, she was fired from her first job.
Discovering what you’re passionate about isn’t always easy, but these five things helped me to identify mine:
- Know what you like and don’t like. Liking or disliking something is a basic instinct that most people don’t think twice about. You either like or dislike the color blue. You either like or dislike grapes. But what you like says so much more about the type of work that you might end up loving than most people realize.
- Focus on your strengths. In school, what’s your strongest subject? Mine was English, so I used that as a stepping stone for the kind of career I wanted to have. Pay attention to how people compliment you. Do they often tell you they think you’re really good at this one thing over that? That’s usually a good sign.
- Go with your gut. I’m someone who tends to rely on how I’m feeling in a situation, and I usually know I’m in the right place if I’m feeling comfortable. If you’re doing something that feels right to you, it’s probably a good idea to keep doing it.
- Take chances. Sometimes you need to throw darts at the dartboard and see where they land. Taking any opportunity that you come across might not necessarily be the best method to figure things out, but at least it might help you realize which ones you definitely don’t want to do.
- Say yes. Piggy-backing off the last point, be open to opportunities in the first place. I feel like a lot of people make excuses for not wanting to do something because it doesn’t meet every criteria they’re looking for, but I think you lose out on experiences that might otherwise be great.
Growing up, I was really passionate about writing, and as you can probably tell, it’s something that’s lingered to this day. Of course, I’ve taken on a few additional passions along the way, including entertainment, media and technology.
And while I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate all of those things into the career I want, I feel like I’ve managed to find myself in a pretty good spot with a job in digital marketing. We’ll have to see if I decide to stay on this path, but at the moment, I’m feeling pretty good about it and I’m excited to see where it’s headed.
Let me know: What was your experience like after college, and what advice would you have given your newly graduated self going into the “real world”?
Real Talk Tuesday is a weekly series that explores the professional and personal struggles of career-minded twenty-somethings by focusing on real-life experiences, meaningful lessons, and giving unfiltered, unapologetically honest advice.