Thursday, April 21, 2011

From Recent Graduate to.....What Now?


No more cap and gown....so what now?
It's officially nearing the end of April and in addition the sunshine, showers and kickoff to baseball season, it's also nearing that special time of year for soon to be college graduates. Now by 'special' I'm referring to the round-the-clock stress that comes with studying for finals, organizing grad party details, and addressing the general "what do I do with my life now" questions. 

But what about the post grads, for whom this time marks the anniversary of graduation? What does it mean when May/June rolls around and we're no longer a part of the crowd wearing the traditional cap and gown? Moreover, what does it signal when we no longer refer to ourselves as recent graduates?

As many of my friends prepare to march across the ceremonial stage in the next couple of months, this question has frequently been on my mind. It has inspired me to take stock of the last year and the reality that comes with living the post-grad life. These are but a few of the things I've learned as the term "recent grad" becomes less of a defining factor. 

YOU are your greatest support 


Of course, there are outside influences and people in our lives that help make it possible to be successful after graduation. But when it comes down to it, you have to first believe in yourself and your dreams. If you aren't on your own side, why should anyone else be? If you think college was a challenge, just wait until you're out on your own--perhaps living in a brand new, unknown city, without knowing anyone and a job that's just so-so. There won't always be someone to hold your hand and tell you it's alright--oftentimes you'll have to find that voice within yourself. If there is anything I've learned in working multiple part-time jobs and living from paycheck to paycheck as a post-grad, it's that none of it would've been worth it if not for believing in myself. The world has so much to offer and I recognize that. As the sheen of being a recent grad starts to fade, you'll recognize it too.

The unknown is scary AND amazing


There isn't a day that goes by where I don't wonder what exactly I'll be doing five, ten years down the road. And every day it changes. Before graduating (and for awhile after) I used to think that there was a set path I had to stay on in order to make the best of things. If I wanted to fulfill my career goals, I had to first know where I was going. In part, having a clear idea of your aspirations and dreams is significantly helpful. But it's also a luxury to not know exactly where you may be going. All of us graduates are on a journey of self-exploration and so it makes sense to leave room for the unpredictable. Yes, it can be scary as hell--particularly when job-hunting or simply trying to make ends meet--but it's an experience we shouldn't be too afraid to miss out on. You only live once, right? Being a "recent graduate" may not last long, but living as an individual willing to take chances can follow you for a lifetime.


It's not who you know, it's how well you get to know them


It would be a waste of time to say that I wish I had applied better networking skills prior to graduation. Sure, the job market wasn't at it's best when I was relentlessly writing cover letters and submitting resumes, but that's besides the point. In retrospect, my social networking skills left much to be desired (aka a LATE Twitter bloomer), but lamenting over the past is a sure way to overlook future opportunities. If you are anything like me, where it was only as a post-grad I realized the full potential of networking, don't think that NOT being a recent graduate puts you behind the curve. There are still the connections to be made! Taking the time to develop and get know these connections is what makes the difference--whether your applying for a job right out of college or a year out of college. For every new contact you meet or interact with, give each the appreciation and quality of attention they deserve. You never know when the effort will pay off.  Even better, those connections can then grow into some amazing friendships.

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For all the not-so-recent-graduates out there, I hope that you're still taking advantage of every opportunity and embracing every adventure as if you'd just stepped off the stage with your diploma. There is still so much to learn and live for, even if there are no black and white answers to every question. So what are you now, if not a recent grad? You decide.