“What are your plans after graduation?”
For college seniors and soon-to-be alumni, that question can be the bane of your existence, the one that haunts you like a horror movie chant as your final term of college ticks away. The road to post-graduation life is paved with cover letters, stress breakdowns, and existential crises. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones whose summer internship came with a job offer, maybe you have a couple prospective interviews on the horizon, or maybe you have absolutely no idea what you want to do once college is over. All of those things are okay.
Six months ago, I was you: frantically job-searching, jumping at every interview opportunity, and generally figuring out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I redesigned my resume, refreshed LinkedIn like it was the student football ticket website, and cried because I was convinced I’d be unemployed forever. The days on my countdown calendar felt like a ticking time bomb, and I wanted to scream every time I heard that dreaded question.
Flash-forward six months later, and I’m a semi-functioning employed individual living on my own in a city I love with a job I tolerate. I wouldn’t call myself a success story by any means, but I’m doing okay for now. Looking back, there’s a lot I wish I could have told myself about postgrad life, so allow me to pass it on to you.
There’s something to be said for careful planning, but there’s something to be said for impulses, too.
I ended up taking a summer internship in Los Angeles (a city I’d never been to) on impulse, and I’m glad I did. My internship didn’t lead to a job, but it did lead to me falling in love with LA, so much so that I panicked and took a $13/hr office job just so that I could stay while I figured out what my bigger goals were. Was that the wisest decision I could have made? Perhaps not. The important thing is, sometimes following an impulse can lead to something unexpected. In my case, it led to a new city my NorCal native self had never expected to be in, let alone like.
Rejection is a universal experience, learn to deal with it.
Chances are, you won’t get every position or program you apply to; I had to go through nearly a dozen interviews before finally landing my internship. That was a lot of applications, a lot of sweaty-palmed introductions, and a lot of emails that began with “we regret to inform you that…” if they got back to me at all. It’s the old “fall down seven times, stand up eight” adage: I know it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. You as a human being are not devalued. Rejection is normal, the important thing is that you keep going.
You probably won’t walk straight out of college into your dream job (and no one expects you to).
It’s easy to get caught up in the idealized image of what you want your life to be, and forget all the work and experience it takes to actually get there. Don’t base your life on someone else’s success story (“one year later, he’s running the company!”) If you’re bussing tables instead of running the board meeting, don’t panic; it takes time.
It’s all a transition.
You’re about to enter one of the biggest transitional periods in your life, so remember that most of it is only temporary. A few years from now, you’re going to be a completely different place professionally, emotionally, and possibly physically. If you’re currently living with mom and dad, you won’t be forever. The first job you take right out of college probably isn’t the one you’re going to have for the rest of your life. The first apartment you live in with the leaky faucet and the broken heater isn’t your permanent home. You probably won’t work at the first company you work at for the next 40+ years. Hell, I’m editing manuals for barely above minimum wage- what keeps me going is the knowledge that none of this is permanent.
Even the best-laid plans sometimes fail.
Feel like everyone has a plan but you? Have a plan and think you’ve got the next few years set in stone? Well, bear in mind that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I knew a couple people who scored internships that looked great on paper and were already planning how they could use it to snag a job and pave the way to world domination, only to realize three weeks in that it wasn’t what they expected. Sometimes it was because they hated their boss, sometimes it was because they realized they were in the wrong field.
To sum up, you don’t have to have it all right away (in fact, you probably won’t) and that’s okay. That’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up just because you don’t have a gold-plated job offer and a certification of adulthood (yet).
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