What to do after college…

How to Navigate “The Real World”

If you had anywhere close to the experience I did growing up, you’ve probably heard phrases like:

“College is the most important time of your young adult life,” 

“this time matters the most for your career,” 

“make sure you know what you’re doing before settling on a major.”

While there’s some truth to each of those phrases, I’ve found, over time, that treating those phrases as an end-all-be-all to how I planned out my future was not conducive to my personal career goals.

There are plenty of resources out there that offer great options for specific jobs and careers you can explore after college or post-studies, but I want to provide a perspective that can help you navigate those times of feeling lost or confused. Specifically, I want to address the worries about where your life is going after spending years “doing what you were supposed to do” and now not being too sure about what comes next.

I do not have it all together right now, but in my conversations with many others who have gone through this “period of the unknown,” I have found that we’ve all been a bit lost at some point. Your journey through this time might not look the same, but I’ve compiled some approaches that I, as well as a few others, have found to be helpful.

  • Don’t be afraid to take a break. Reconnect with yourself and rediscover what’s important in your life. Enjoy this time of self-reflection. Take some intentional time away from formal education, job searching, and active career development to reset and discover yourself. This doesn’t mean that you can’t learn or grow during this time. It just might mean that you take the pressure of career success away (for a little while) and focus on what you want and need in this new phase of life. This time looks different for every person, so consider how you would best enjoy time to yourself and your hobbies/interests and rest in that for a bit.
  • Don’t fall into “analysis paralysis”. Sometimes, what makes the most sense is to choose a path and then pivot as necessary. Our inability to immediately find our direction or goal can dissuade us from making any decision at all. Pick something that you feel like you might enjoy, and then go from there. Even if you end up not enjoying it, discovering what you don’t like can help you narrow down what you do.
  • The “filler job” is not permanent. Find something to pay the bills while you figure it out and network. My point here isn’t too different from the previous one, but I encourage you to look past the fear of being stuck to see the potential in pursuing a path. The fear of being stuck in a job you don’t enjoy can be worrisome, but always remember that you can choose to move on or make more out of your time networking or exploring other fields in the meantime.
  • Don’t give up and be persistent. Maybe you know what you want to do, but every door seems to close in your face. Opportunities appear sparse and you’re starting to lose hope that anyone wants to hire you. First and foremost, have confidence that if you have a dream, you will achieve it. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that maybe the path to get there might not be a simple jump from Point A to Point E. Maybe you’ll have to consider moving from Point A to Points B, C, and D before finally making it to your final goal. Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting your foot in the door within that field that can help you gain more experience to work your way up. There’s absolutely no shame in starting from the ground up. We look at the influences around us and may not see the struggle they endured to get where they are today. We only see their success. It’s okay to start “smaller” than you expected. It’s often these experiences that teach us the necessary skills to succeed at the top.

Being unconventional is not being unsuccessful. Some of us dive straight into graduate school. Some of us explore various trades. Others take up random jobs to make ends meet, consider volunteer opportunities or just take some time for themselves. 

Regardless of the choices you make or how clear the path ahead of you may or may not look, there can be beauty in feeling a little lost. Not everyone has a clear shot or picture of their dream job, and that’s okay. Making the most of the current moment is still building up experience, and it can open up doors that you may not have otherwise considered walking through. It may not look ideal or how your friends and family progressed in their careers, but it doesn’t mean you can’t explore it and become successful through it. 

Success and progress come in many different forms, and no two stories look identical. Create your story with the tools at your disposal, and let your path lead you where you need to go.

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