“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” — Jerzy Gregorek
What I wish I knew before graduating college
It happens once every year. Parents full of tears and hope for their children; professors, college administrators, faculty, and staff watch as young and hopeful students ascend from their 4-5 year journey from academia into the professional world.
With a promise of new opportunities and fulfilling their dreams and aspirations, graduates look forward to their future adult lives. However, as they are thrusted into the market and entrusted to be responsible young adults – some look to the future with unease. An anxiety creeps in as a realization occurs, “I am no longer a student. I’m an adult now.”
I never self-identified with the term millennial until I graduated college. Being placed into a category that’s often looked down upon didn’t jibe well with me. Now that it has been two years since I’ve graduated, I’ve had more time to think about why so many people my age are suffering from huge amounts of stress and angst.
Having taken the time to discuss the issue of life after college with recent grads, I’ve found that the general sentiment the majority of us feel is, none of us really know what we’re doing when we are starting our careers.
This realization is reassuring only in the fact that we are all going through this struggle together, regardless of the varying degrees of internal strife we may feel. Some get past this hurdle faster than others, some hide their angst better than others, and others try to espouse a nonchalant approach towards their future considering how much time we have to “figure it out.”
I’ve been pursuing some reasonable approach that I could use to tackle the issues at hand, with little luck. I find that trying to create a solid identity, one that really encompasses my passions and allows me to truly have an impact on society, to be utterly difficult to accomplish.
“Advice taken from the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today.”
For seventeen years of my life I have identified as a student. Now that this is no longer the case, I like many of my peers alongside me have to figure out what to is my identity. Moreover, we find ourselves in a position in which, for the most part, we’ve never experienced before.
We have new responsibilities, with no manuals available to help us navigate the new world we are entering. Advice made taken the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today. Both the domestic and global job marketplace is constantly changing. Job security is a thing of the past and yet, for the most part, we have been taught in a way that helps us navigate the markets of the 20th century.
No one will make your schedule for us, there are no handouts, and we all have to assume our own responsibilities. It’s more than just identifying with a profession.
Understanding fully well that a career isn’t built in a day, there still seems to be this unspoken pressure from so many places. Perhaps this pressure I personally feel could be coming from the fact that I’m a first generation American. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who has a unique “chip on their shoulder.” Whether it’s from your parents, social circle, society – the pressure won’t go away. However, the pressure that should take priority is the pressure we give ourselves to succeed and find happiness in a way that we define.
Finding a dream job vs. your place in life
It’s easy to settle for the first comfortable job that comes your way during your first six months after graduating. Your parents stress the fact that you need to start contributing to the household. Or if you live on your own, you need to keep maintaining the lifestyle you’re building for yourself. There’s also the added pressure of competing with your friends who have also graduated. “Peter has a new gig as a (insert generic entry level position) at (some prestigious firm)! His prospects are very promising.”
Both the social pressure of trying to seem like you have everything figured out and the balancing act of trying to simply survive and pay off any college debt you may have add to the hasty decision-making for getting the first job that comes your way. That’s what happened to me.
I thought that if I took a job at a startup, I’d at least have something to show for myself. I believed that it was a good starting point as any other and if it didn’t work out I could just move to another company. So that’s what I did.
I moved up the corporate ladder until I got into my dream job, but something didn’t sit well with me. Even with all of the hard work I put into keeping up with appearances and advancing my career I still felt unfulfilled.
I fell into the trap of listening to other people’s expectations they had for me and not designing the expectations I had for myself.
There is no perfect path. There is no reason for you to decide that what you studied in college is what you need to actually do. And going immediately back to school to get a master’s degree or a higher one doesn’t boost the prospect of you getting your “dream job.” It will most certainly guarantee an increase of your debt.
I believe one of the shifts in thinking all us need to adopt is that just because we have college degrees doesn’t mean we are special. What will truly differentiate us in the market is the accumulation of life experiences and the purposeful adoption of struggles and discomfort we make over time. These things aren’t obtained through a college education – that’s why we shouldn’t rush into things.
Sure, with all practicality in mind, we do need to pay our bills. At the same time, need to be very calculated with the opportunities we say no to because it’s the no’s that will create the foundation of our careers.
Our time is the most valuable tool we have right now.
”How can I help people and enjoy my time doing it?” This is the question we should be asking ourselves. It all begins with doing a self-audit of our desires and interests, and it’s not too late to do that even if you’ve already begun working in that lovely cubicle or desk you’ve vied for since leaving the academic world.
A fulfilling career isn’t obtained in a day, it takes a tremendous amount of time.
Do not confuse cognitive ability with maturity
Keeping the challenge of obtaining our dream jobs, realizing our identity outside of school, and surviving our first decade as adults in mind, there is another shift in our thinking we need to make.
We must not confuse our cognitive ability with maturity. They aren’t the same.
Our educational system coddles us in a way. We expect our time to be managed for us. For things to be clear cut, which doesn’t work with reality. If we can’t break away from the patterns that were predefined for us, how can we create our own in the future?
Maturity is accepting responsibility and choosing our struggles before they are thrusted upon us. However, it is difficult to accept our own responsibilities when we are comparing ourselves to our peers.
Comparing yourself with others can lead to a dead end. If you find yourself jealous or stuck ia n rut because you’re not checking off the boxes – you’re not alone, but you need to stay grounded in reality. It’s impossible to know all the nuances that led to someone else’s success. Envy can be used as a tool to help you succeed, but only if you stay grounded on what success means for you. Just because you received good grades throughout your academic career doesn’t mean you can manage a home on your own. It doesn’t equate to any skills that could be used to help a team grow, it doesn’t ensure that you can be an asset.
Focus on the small things first. Can you create a budget? Do you have the ability to set your own schedule, to say no to the events and opportunities that have nothing to do with your daily goals? Can you set a plan and stick to it? Are you auditing your friends and social circle to make sure you’re being celebrated and supported, instead of being tolerated and doubted?
All of these questions have to be asked frequently if we want to make sure we are staying on track. “Adulting” only occurs when we first define what type of adult we want to be and work our way backwards to where we are today.
We all go through the growing pains of “adulting”
“Adulting” isn’t impossible. It sure is difficult and arduous, but with enough time spent thinking about our lives – we can tackle our issues with full force. We can achieve our goals, no matter the time it takes to do so. However, it all begins with a realistic view of our futures.
The world is constantly changing. Our education cannot cope nor can it adapt to the changes from technology. It’s up to us to assume responsibility.
We have to create and venture into our paths of self-education. This isn’t the same as getting a higher degree. A master’s degree or PhD won’t solve issues regarding our character.
Travel the world. Volunteer and work for free – see if you actually enjoy working in the field you studied before you invest decades into it. Leverage the internet to not only consume content, use it to help you learn.
You will make mistakes and that’s okay. We all have our own paces when it comes to learning; we all have our unique struggles. What we have to do is assume responsibility for these struggles because it is through them that we will grow up.
Remember, there is no easy path. There is no manual.
This blog post was inspired by a podcast episode with Professor Jordan Peterson, when he was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience. If you’re a fan of audiobooks or podcasts in general, I highly recommend listening Dr. Peterson’s interview with Joe as accompanying content to this article. In this podcast episode, Dr. Peterson discusses the challenges that young people are currently facing (among other topics). The point of inspiration I gained from the episode comes mainly from his claim that in order to justify your suffering that comes from living in this world, you have to assume responsibility over your life. I wouldn’t do any justice to what he says by paraphrasing him any further, this article is mainly pointed towards the reflections I have made while struggling with life after college.
If you have any tidbits of advice or personal stories you’d like to share, please leave a comment below and let’s chat! How you are “Adulting” right now? How do you define the term?
A special thanks to Alejandra Barraza, Rachelle Campos, Kenneth Reed, Matthew Jacquet, Rene Jimenez, Kenny Moreno, and Devin Rajaram for discussing these issues with me and for helping me write this article.
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