If I got a dollar for every time someone asked me “What are you going to do after you graduate?” I would be well on my way to paying off a good fraction of my student loans. Why do I hate this question? Because it implies that I should an entire life plan ready to go as soon as they hand over that diploma. But truth be told, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
For the first time in my life, I don’t know where I’m going to be six months from now, or even a year. Maybe I’ll be working in a really fancy office, or maybe I’ll be freelancing at home just to make ends meet. Sure, a lot of older 20-30 somethings don’t know where their life is headed in the next couple months either – but tell that to the person who has only known school their entire lives. It’s a whole new ball game now, and it’s pretty effin’ terrifying.
Class of 2014, this one’s for you. From one fellow graduate to another, here’s how to survive the next chapter in our lives together.
Live in the now. Sorry for starting with such a cliche, but hear me out. Since you’ve entered kindergarten, you have been socialized to constantly think about the future. Get good grades so you can go to a good high school, take these courses so you can apply to that program, intern here and hopefully get a job out of it – get my drift? We are constantly looking ahead when maybe we should stop and appreciate the moment. You have just spent approximately 17 years in the education system. The last four years of them you’ve spent working your butt off in what is probably a highly competitive program. You’ve spent many highly caffeinated late nights finishing assignments, studying for exams and catching up on readings. But those days are over my friend. You’re graduating, finally! So forget about post-graduation, for like, five minutes and take a moment to celebrate such a great achievement. Pop the champagne, you’ve deserve it!
It’s okay to take it easy for a while. Did you read the part where I said you’ve spent the last 17ish years in the education system? That’s more than half my life. So is it a crime if all I want to do for next two months is catch up on all my missed hours of sleep? NO. I understand that people want to go-go-go right after grad, and that’s perfectly fine. But I also know there’s a good fraction of you who want some “me time.” I just don’t believe new grads should be frowned upon for having that plan. It’s a pretty solid plan. Do what “taking it easy” means to you. If that’s travelling, volunteering or simply enjoying summer – do it.
Accept that everyone is on their own journey. The sooner you accept this, the better. But let me warn you now: For the next year or so, you’re going to hate social media. Suddenly it will become a unsolicited competition with your fellow graduates of who has the better life, whose traveled where and who got what job. Heck, I haven’t even graduated yet and it’s already happening. Just accept that everyone will be doing their own thing, and you will too! There is no use in mopping over the fact that Stacy got to travel Europe or that Bobby just got a job at X company (these are fictional people by the way). Just do you.
Maintain relationships with your fellow graduates. You’ve partied and worked together for the past four years, it’s such a shame to see friendships like that thrown away post-grad. Maintaining these relationships is important. Think about it, a majority of these people are going to end up getting a job in the same field as you are. Maintaining these friendships and relationships make great networking opportunities. And who knows, one of them may be your gateway to your dream job.
Make a plan. It doesn’t matter what your plan is. Whether it’s to travel, get a master’s degree, get a particular job or internship – just make a plan. Set goals for yourself and if you need to, do research and figure out what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
Learning doesn’t stop once you get your diploma. At least it shouldn’t. Get as much experience as you can get through work, volunteering and travel. Read a lot, and not just novels. Read the news and be well-versed in what’s happening in the world. And surround yourself with great thinkers. As Dell CEO Micheal Dell said at a University of Texas convocation, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people… or find a different room.” Surround yourself with people that challenge you and inspire you to achieve great things. And hopefully when you look back and do all these things, you’ll be where you want to be.
Good luck class of 2014!