Smiling nervously, fidgeting my honors cords, holding onto my cap for dear life, and trying to focus on not trip on my royal blue gown, I anticipated the snap of the camera as my graduation announcer read my name. As I got off the stage steps and filed back into line with the rest of my classmates waiting to toss up our hats, I was riding a high. Underneath my wide smile and beaming eyes, I looked side to side at the other graduates and realized one thing: we all had no idea what the future would hold.
If you’ve stumbled across this blog post, there is a chance you’re feeling that same concoction of wild excitement and complete panic. Here’s the good news: no one really knows what they’re doing. It’s been six years since my graduation, and I have come to plenty of conclusions about life after college. With May around the corner, I’m sharing lessons I wish I knew before graduation.
All of Those Internships Were Worth It
Before you think I’m your guidance counselor droning on about the importance of internships, hear me out. In most fields, internships grant you the practical experience you need to grow in any industry. I studied journalism and public relations in school, teetering between the two majors. I can honestly say that I lacked the understanding of PR until I took on my very first internship.
My first internships were filled with the daily minutiae of press clippings (scanning newspapers and magazines), drafting press releases, browsing Rent the Runway for outfits to wear to designer events where the handbags that cost more than my salary were on display, making lists of punny product names for a new line of pants, and writing dozens of handwritten cards to media. There was even the day I dialed a top NYC station during an on-air segment and you can say the producer who answered rightfully bit my head off for calling to pitch the opening of a pizza parlor during such a busy time. All of this was wild and fun, but do you think my textbook prepared me?
The truth is that my PR textbook never made me feel ready to run in stilettos to a news van filming in a restricted territory. I wasn’t ready schmooze with art collectors and club owners like I knew their industry. I definitely wasn’t prepared to divert the attention of the celebrity reporter who is calling for comment on whether Justin Bieber is staying the night at the Downtown Miami club you represent after his DUI. I never quite felt trained to handle a crisis with ease or ready to win over a new client. Everything I learned about PR came from experience.
Apply for as many internships as you can in differing fields of interest. I wish I could go back and do MORE if I could.
You’re Worth More Than You Think
While I was studying abroad during my final semester, I got a call from my internship informing me that they wanted to hire me and had an office ready for me as soon as I get back into town. They wanted to hire ME? I get my own office? I jumped into the position faster than you could imagine. I was contemplating extending my study abroad trip a week or two to backpack, but I suddenly felt the ill-fitting weight of adulthood and promise of opportunity. I was to report to work and take on my first real job.
Getting a job without even going through the process of an application? I thought it had to be too good to be true. In reality, I had been working as an intern for two semesters at $10 per hour and had proven my worth for months. I felt like I earned my newly minted junior lever position, but I was too nervous to rock the boat by attempting to negotiate. I didn’t have the aplomb to ask for more. They had poured six months of training into me. Wouldn’t I seem ungrateful? I accepted a $26,000 salary without question and got to work.
Despite being unable to move out of my parents’ house at 22, my money situation didn’t change because I still lacked the gusto to ask. I managed to meander a $2,000 raise during a performance review, but I never gave a number that represented my true worth. It wasn’t until I was in a managerial role at a new job years later, hiring my own entry-level employees, that I realized there is absolutely no harm in negotiating pay. In fact, I grew to expect my bright-eyed interviewees to do so and commended them for it! Money isn’t everything and experience is priceless, but don’t let that notion hold you back from having an important conversation.
Work Doesn’t Always Stop When Life Gets Hard
While workplaces across the country are beginning to improve policies to help employees in difficult times, there is still a difficult burden to carry when you must work through the harder times.
It’s OK to take a personal day when you need time to clear your head. It’s encouraged to take bereavement leave when you lose a loved one. It’s necessary to take a day off when you’re coming down with a cold. These are all things that are accepted by the majority of employers without question, but there are life situations that can be a bit cloudier. Post-grad life can bring major financial and emotional stressors, but those unanswered work emails or that project deadline still hang in the background.
The Gray Area
Consider you’re going through a breakup or divorce, your employer might let you call out for a few days with no questions asked but you’re expected to come to work with a clear head and a productive mind on the days you do check in. Similar to any customer-facing job, sometimes we have to put on our game face and show up in the face of unfortunate times. That being said, it’s also important to find an employer that’s understanding and helpful in times of dire need.
You Don’t Have to Go In a Straight Line
Take everything you knew about going “up the ladder” and throw it away. In my mid-twenties, I found myself feeling very unhappy with the path I had chosen but I felt incredibly stuck. If I were to start a career in journalism, I would have climbed my ladder for absolutely no reason and need to start at the bottom of another. Did I waste three years of my life climbing the wrong ladder?
After self-diagnosing myself with a quarter-life crisis, I picked up Adam Smiley Poswolsky’s “The Quarter-Life Breakthrough.” His “lily pad mindset” revolutionized how I thought about my career. I learned that my yearning to find mission-driven work that aligns with making a change in the world was not unique to me. In fact, 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to be doing work that aligns with their mission.
What is the Lily Pad Method?
As Poswolsky states in an interview with Wesleyan College:
“Unlike the career ladder mindset, which forces you to move in only one direction (“up”), the lily pad career mindset visualizes your career as a pond of lily pads, a series of interconnecting leaps you’ve made between different opportunities. What’s holding everything together is the roots: what you care about and how you want to help the world. Your roots may be driving you to do one thing now, but that thing may change in five years.
Instead of climbing a career ladder that might not be around in five years, I recommend you treat your career like a lifelong experiment. Every job, every experience, every place you travel is a chance to learn something new about yourself: what interests you (and importantly, what doesn’t), what you’re good at and what type of impact you want to have on the world. The lily pad mindset recognizes that careers are not linear; they are fluid and always growing.”Adam Smiley Poswolsky
As soon as I embraced this method, I dropped my guilt and grew into a multi-passionate woman who realized PR work was not the love of her life. I grew into the role of a journalist, public speaker, social media strategist, copywriter lifestyle blogger, and owner of my own small business. I’ve leaped on a lot of lily pads, but I no longer felt the shame or stagnation of being stuck on the ladder.
Get to Know Money So It Doesn’t Control You
Did you know student loan debt is a $1.5 trillion crisis? Something tells me that as a new grad, you did. Whether you had a full ride or you’re working to pay off your college loans, you need to embrace money; have power of it before it has power of you.
Until about a year ago, I avoided money like it was a virus. I barely saved anything while working at jobs and I struggled to get a true understanding of what I needed to do to grow my income. Stocks? Too scary! Math? I’m a writer, no thanks! None of these inner dialogues grew my bank account or led to my economical stability in the future.
It’s All Going to Work Out… Seriously
Your first few months after graduation will not determine the entire course of your life. Each day we have the opportunity to make new decisions that can take us to new places. Carry your excitement into your new life after graduation, but know that the journey is unique to you. Your life after graduation may not look the same as someone else’s, but it’s YOURS. Don’t waste time overanalyzing your moves like a chess match or comparing yourself to other people.
You will do great things without question. Trust the path, as wild and everchanging as it may be.
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