It’s hard to believe an entire year has flown by since I walked across that stage in a static-y black gown and a cap that threatened to teeter off my head with every last step I took as part of the graduating Class of 2012. After everything that’s happened since then, I look back on that nerve-wracking day in May with the clarity of hindsight that I had no idea what was in store for me once my days of attending classes, writing papers, and dwelling in the library were over.
You live a lot life in your first year post-graduation. The “future” becomes your present, no longer the abstraction it once was, and you’re expected to effortlessly join the fray. The time for Facebook posts about procrastination ends, and before you know it, you’re looking for a real job. It’s during this first year that it hits you: your adult life is really beginning, and the decisions you make carry a magnitude much greater than deciding whether you’re going out on Thursday night or staying in to study.
It’s from these harsh realizations and eye-opening experiences that I offer some unsolicited advice to all of my successors, the Class of 2013.
First and foremost, congratulations. You’ve successfully made it through four years of attending 8 a.m. classes hungover, writing countless papers from sun down to sun up, and reading more than some people will read over the span of their entire lives. Now that you’ve endured four hours of pomp and circumstance, you’ve earned that multi-thousand dollar piece of paper, known as a degree, which will look great framed on your wall. The path that lies ahead of you is not easy—take it from someone who’s been hobbling along its beaten trail for a year now…
You’ve probably heard the rumors about the job market, and sadly, most of them are true. It’s probably easier finding Waldo to help you search for a needle in a haystack than it is to secure a job within the first 10, 20, or even 50 applications you send out. Maybe you’ll be on of the lucky ones who applies at the right place at the right time. Maybe you had some kickass internship that gives you an edge over the competition. Maybe you’ll spend six heartbreaking months filling out applications, going on interviews, and receiving rejection email after rejection email. Whatever lies in store for you, you need to keep a few job-related things in mind:
Your first job probably won’t be your dream career. Your first job is probably going to be a stepping-stone—a way to get your feet wet. Even if you have some idea of what you want to do with this vague degree of yours, when you actually get out there and start living it, you might change your mind, and that’s okay.
In your desperation to secure full time employment, don’t throw all your job wish list items out the window just so you have a job. Some sacrifices may be necessary, but if you accept the first mediocre job that’s interested in you, you’re selling yourself short. Three years from now when you’re still working there, miserable, you’ll resent yourself for not holding out for something worth the four years of work you put in at college. You deserve a decent salary. You deserve some kind of benefits. You deserve to work at a company where you have an opportunity to grow.
If you do end up taking a job in a field that you may not be all that interested in, find ways to do things there that you are interested in doing long-term. At these kinds of jobs, you need take ownership over your own experience there. If you take a secretary job and only order pens all day long, you’re only making your resume suffer. More importantly, you’re only prolonging the time it’ll take to find a position doing something you’re actually interested in, because despite holding a full-time job, the experience you’re getting isn’t relevant to anything else, unlike your career goals are to follow in the path of Pam Beesly from The Office. At any position you hold, maximize the potential you have to gain the skills you need by involving yourself wherever you can.
When you’re at this first job of yours, people may not take you seriously because you’re young. They may resent you for even being there. They might even be jealous. Ignore all of them. Don’t surrender to any kind of age apologetics. Your point of view is valuable, and you have an outlook that is significant. You bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the table. You may not have the experience that they do, and Kermit the Frog said it best, it’s not easy being green, but know this: it’s important. Harness your youth as a strength; don’t explain it away as a weakness.
If you’re one of the less lucky ones (like me!) who spent several months looking for a job, keep two things in mind: don’t lose hope and be honest with yourself. Make time to search for jobs every single day. Don’t limit your search—use every website. Check the newspaper. Use your college’s career center. Exhaust your connections, if you have them. When you go on interviews, ask yourself, are you doing your best, or are you being a dipshit? Appraise yourself honestly. When an interviewer asks if you have any questions, always ask one or two. …If you don’t know what to ask, consult Google—your fairy godmother. Don’t let the numerous rejections wound your pride. Some HR folks seem like they don’t care about you or your humanity—when you get rejections from those types, ask yourself, “Is that really the kind of place I want to work for?”
While you’re pursuing employment, you might start thinking about some of your lofty post-college loft dreams you’d like to make a reality. Maybe you’ve already finalized the interior design of your Carrie Bradshaw-esque apartment or your neon beer sign-laden bachelor pad. Before you run out and sign a lease, let me suggest an alterative to seriously consider: living at home for few years. If your folks are amenable and your family isn’t Jerry Spring material, stay home and save up some money. I know it means sharing a bathroom and it may cramp your style, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Having your own apartment with your BFF as a roommate is a fun situation, sure. But you know what else is fun? Being able to plunk down a solid down payment on a house if/when you’re ready so your monthly mortgage payment isn’t astronomical. Paying rent means throwing money away on a monthly basis, because you’re not building up any equity living in your two-bedroom apartment. Don’t try to defend it by saying it gives you good credit–that’s what credit cards are for. Living at home may not be as “fun” or “ideal,” but ten years from now when your finances aren’t tighter than a size small skirt over Kim Kardashian’s ass, you’ll be thankful. Building up your nest egg doesn’t have to mean sacrificing all your fun and your freedom—but you need to remember fun and freedom don’t come cheap.
As you’re living your somewhat lackluster post-graduate life you may become more reliant on social media to keep up with your friends. Courtesy of Instagram, you may notice one of your college buds scored some awesome job at a great company that affords them rose gold Michael Kors watches. One of them might have leased an awesome Dodge Charger they can barely afford. Facebook may inform you that bitch from your biology class sophomore year got engaged to an engineer who bestowed upon her the most disgustingly sparkly princess cut Tiffany’s ring you’ve ever seen. In the midst of all their accomplishments, it’ll be hard, but remember this: don’t live on anyone’s timeline but your own.
Don’t be ashamed of your respectably-salaried job. Don’t feel embarrassed when you’re cruising around in the same car you’ve had for several years. …Still hate the bitch from biology class who got engaged to the engineer, but don’t feel pressure to get engaged tomorrow and do not force your temporarily-skewed expectations onto anyone else. You need to live your own life, and honestly, there’s always going to be someone who’s life makes your own look banal, or worse: ordinary. The more you evaluate your life in terms of everyone else’s, the more likely you are to miss out on appreciating all the wonderful things you have going on for yourself. Don’t miss out on your own milestones—big or small, Facebook-worthy or not—by focusing on everyone else’s accomplishments.
Finally, don’t let your inner critic get to you. In this first year post-college you’re going to learn a lot about the real world and about yourself, and there are going to be countless moments where you doubt yourself. There will be times when you’re going to make a choice and later wonder if it was the right one. You’re going to feel overwhelmed. You’re going to feel lost. You’re going to feel like adulthood is too hard. You’re going to miss “the way things used to be.”
As hard as it is, don’t let “the past” hog up too much of your nostalgic sensibilities. You’re going on to do great things, but getting to those great things will sometimes require weathering some shitty things first. You will make some wrong choices. You will be overwhelmed. You will be lost. Adulthood is hard. Just remember every moment before, especially in college, when you futilely thought, “I can’t do this.” You got through it then, and whatever’s posing a similar problem now, you’ll get through that, too. It may not be easy. It may cause fear or tears, but you’ll kick its ass in the end.
So, dear graduates, as you make this foray into the real world, remember there’s no right way to live this life, but at the end of the day, there are always these three constants:
Don’t be afraid to take what you deserve.
Don’t take shit from anyone.
Don’t give up.
From one former graduate to another, I wish you the best of luck in this important year in your lives.
…And I’m glad I found a job by now so I don’t have to compete with you.