This weekend various members of my family will begin their journey to the middle of absolutely no where: Stillwater, OK. Stillwater is… well, still. And for people like me, it’s not pretty, there’s not a whole lot to do, the climate is average at best and the job market is essentially non-existent. But to thousands of Oklahoma State Cowboys, Stillwater has been the greatest place on the planet and a home away from home for the last four years. The thought of leaving the 46,000-person city is making many soon-to-be-graduates cringe, including my sister. I can empathize with post-graduation blues and depression; I was there a mere two years ago. But I’m here to tell my sister, and other recent grads, to fear not… and that life is good on ‘this side’.
Some undergraduates will shake off this transition to post-college life as if it’s no big deal. Others will be greatly affected. But the majority will fall somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. No matter how you’re feeling or where you stand, here’s some unsolicited advice from me, two years removed from my undergraduate college experience, to you, who will be walking the stage within the next couple of weeks.
Take time to soak it in
If you’re fortunate enough to have parents that are letting you live back at home until you find full-time employment… actually, scrap-that. Let me start over. If you’re fortunate enough to be one of the few students who already has full-time employment lined up, congratulations! Hopefully your start date isn’t a mere day or two after you walk. If you can spare a week or two to relax, soak in graduation and get your bearings straight, do it. You have your entire life to work, and in the grand scheme of things a couple of weeks are not going to make or break you. I don’t care what anyone says, it won’t.
Now, if you don’t have full-time employment lined up just yet and are lucky enough to have parents that are letting you live at home, again, I congratulate you as well! This isn’t by any means the worst-case scenario to be in. Again, take some time to chill out after graduation, and after you’ve had a few good cries and happy hour sessions with high school friends in your home town, get to it. But I think it’s imperative that you take time to recover from the all-nighters during finals week, the chaos of graduation weekend and everything in between.
A 'lame' job is better than no job
Chances are that if you’re driven enough to get your Bachelor’s Degree, you won’t be the type that’s OK with sitting around doing nothing for weeks on end post-graduation. And chances are your parents aren’t OK with that either. Assuming you don’t have a lot of debt, you actually have an amazing situation at hand and it’s one you shouldn’t take for granted: you have hardly any expenses. Take it from me and others who are now in the ‘real world’: Life is expensive! Some form of income, whether it’s an internship, or part-time role at a retail outlet, is a must. You’ll have inflow and hardly any outflow. Almost every dollar you earn is money in the bank. So, while you continue to search for your first real career out of school, be sure you’re making money somehow, even if it’s a small amount, and save it. Experience is experience, and money is money. Capitalize on no expenses, trust me on this one.
Build and sustain your network
Get on LinkedIn if you’re not already and begin connecting with people. Utilize this online professional network to leverage not just the people you know, but more importantly, the people they know. Most jobs are won due to connections. LinkedIn will help you identify gatekeepers at organizations you may want to work. Never apply directly to a company without trying to find a gatekeeper there first. Chances are that you know someone, who knows someone who works at the company you’re looking at.
Stay fit, stay healthy
I’ve come to learn that attitude is directly correlated with how you feel physically. The days that I feel healthy and energetic are my best and most productive days. Find a routine that works for you at the gym. Take up a new sport, or join a co-ed league.
If you’re like my sister who’s coming back to Dallas, capitalize on a huge marketplace with tons of organizations and groups. Joining a Small Group at my local church has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. They have groups and organizations for everything. This also relates back to networking.
Keep it in perspective
[Caution: cliché-infested section]
Graduation is not the end of the world. As much as it may seem like it, it’s not. I can’t tell you how awesome it is that when you leave work for the day, you’re done. You don’t go home and do homework or read chapters until 1:00a, you are finished. And guess what… they pay you! And speaking of which, do you know how nice it is to be able to buy certain things you can afford, when you want to? And do you know how gratifying it can be to purchase someone a gift or something you want when it’s your money you’re spending? It puts a completely new meaning to the word: “Earned.” Furthermore, I cannot begin to tell you how rewarding it can be to see your work implemented in the real world, and not just some graded hypothetical in a classroom. Others who graduated with me in May 2009 are seeing their work in the real world. They’re affecting lives through non-profit mission, product development, medicine, law, you name it. And it’s a pretty cool feeling.
Soon-to-be-graduates, keep it in perspective. There’s no draft, no plague, you live in a great country, and you have a freaking degree. Let’s keep it real, shall we? I mean c’mon. You’re 21-22 and have got a hell of a lot to look forward to. And that’s exciting. It’s OK to be bummed out for a while, but trust when I say that you will be better than fine, you will be great.
Congratulations to my sister and the others who are graduating this semester… such an amazing accomplishment!
My sister and I before an OSU football game in Stillwater, OK --- her home away from home.