Graduating college is an exciting time, filled with mixed emotions of freedom and responsibility. It’s been 10 years since I walked across that stage at The University of Alabama, and I wish I knew then what I do now. Hopefully these practical nuggets will help recent grads.
1-Don’t Expect Overnight Success. Even if you are fortunate enough to land a full-time job in your preferred field right after graduation, it still will not be easy. I can’t begin to name the many people (myself and my husband included) who cut their teeth on a job that truly drained them. Even if they made decent money, the stress and long hours made up for it. You must work for and earn your success . . . and be patient.
2-Enjoy the Journey. Speaking of patience, this one is particularly hard for me sometimes, but it’s true. Whether it’s your career or personal life, patience is key. I freelanced and worked several part-time jobs before finding more permanent work as a writer. My husband had to slowly climb up the ladder in his career field as well and worked six years after graduating college before he could become a licensed surveyor. We also lived in a trailer park for a few years before moving into our house. I totally encourage goals, dreams and plans, but you will quickly get depressed if you live with your mind in the future all the time. Find ways to enjoy every stage in life.
3-Cut the Apron Strings. I think staying on your parents insurance until you’re 26 was one of many big mistakes by the government. It simply upped the amount of slackers we have today. It surprises me how many people in this generation as well as my own lived off their parents way too long. Whether they were under the same roof or their parents just funded their lifestyle, this is immature and selfish. You never learn responsibility and appreciate what you have until you earn it yourself. I worked many odd jobs and lived in a trailer to pay for my car and save money when I first graduated college. There was no Obama Care, and I did not have any insurance for a year until I got a professional job. Some people think that is living dangerously, but I couldn’t bear to part with the $450 a month in Cobra bills.
4-Put People Before Paper. No GPA or impressive resume can substitute for human connection. Make connections, and not just for the sheer purpose that they may help you in your career. It is always good to have people around who will help out when you’re having a non-work related issue. I worked one job where I had about three good friends and everyone else was like talking to Sheldon Cooper. Needless to say, that was a draining environment. Especially in your entry level work, it is great to have mentors who help teach and advise you on your career. (I wrote about some of mine in “What Makes A Mother?”)
5-Live a Balanced Life. I have already mentioned people and personal life, but I cannot stress enough the importance of a balanced life. I see too many people who are all about career and have no personal life. They wake up at 40 with no family and wonder where time went. Others focus so much on their children that they one day wake up to an empty nest and don’t know what to do. They have lived vicariously through their children and lost their own personal interests. If you are balanced, when one area of life is going bad you will still have other areas to enjoy.
6-Adapt Easily When Plans Change. Companies downsize, rents go up, grad schools only take so many applicants, relationships end, etc. Sometimes you can be the best you and still experience something totally out of left field that blows up in your face. The more adaptable you become, the less time you will waste feeling down and questioning what happened. I interned for a national magazine for over a year in college. Everyone, including the magazine, was sure I would work there after graduation. However, near the end of my senior year they started downsizing employees and put on a hiring freeze. There were no job openings, and I was forced to change my plans. I learned a lot from working odds and ends, and I ended out getting a good job a year later that I really enjoyed. Was I upset at first? Of course, I was devastated! But despite my desires and those of the company to hire me, nothing could be done when corporate put down the hammer. It was time to move on to other options.
7-Manage Your Money. Save some, spend some, give some. I was fortunately taught this principle as a child. My parents “didn’t make payments on anything you couldn’t live in or ride in.” My husband and I do the same, and we have even saved up and paid cash for our last few vehicles. They are used and not luxury rides, but they are also nice and all ours! Living in the trailer I had from college when we first married was another good financial decision. Also, I started a savings account when I was 18 with some high school graduation money. Over the years I added to it and it grew, and when I was 23 I used it to buy the trailer from my parents and help pay for my wedding.
Giving and tithing are also important to me as a Christian. But even if you are not religious, the simple principle of giving still reaps great benefits for your attitude and own pocket book in the end. People like Ellen and Oprah are awesomely known for their generosity.
8-Humility and Honesty are Key. CS Lewis, one of my all-time favorite authors, said it best: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Back when I was a college senior, I just knew I would get a job at the magazine agency where I currently interned/freelanced. I thought I was so much smarter than other people my age. In a lot of ways I was, but not in the ways of life. I needed knocked down a notch, and it happened quicker than I could have imagined and lasted longer than I would have prefered. I freelanced anywhere I could and worked odd jobs for a year when the job market crashed. Many times I questioned my career decisions and thought my life was over at 22. That was 10 years ago, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences or what I learned during that time for any job.
So take it from a 32-year-old woman who’s been there and done that, sometimes right and sometimes wrong. It won’t be an easy ride, but it can be an enjoyable and educational one.