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Around this time every year, I start thinking about my final semester in college and how amazing I felt. I would have told you I was going to break barriers, make amazing money, and be a huge professional in my own right. Nothing was going to stop me.
Then reality hit. Even though I had a well-paying internship and job waiting for me, I realized that I didn’t know everything and wasn’t invincible. I was unhappy, scared, and felt like a total failure. Had I kept a little better perspective, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and pain.
Here are 10 little tidbits of wisdom to remember after turning that tassel.
1. Don’t get a big ego just because you have a diploma.
If there’s one thing you’ll learn fast, it’s that college courses didn’t prepare you for most aspects of your career. Unless you have a technical career like nursing or engineering, very little of what you learned will help you in the real world. You are not better than anyone else just because you went to college. A lot of people in this world do not have degrees and are more qualified than you. Keep a level head on your shoulders and take every criticism as a way to learn and better yourself.
2. A degree is just the beginning.
Another thing I wish I had known was that my degree was just a way to get my foot in the door. It’s just the beginning. I wish I had learned more about connecting with people and selling myself, because that’s what’s going to get you past the first interview – not your high GPA and “awards.”
3. Never stop creating.
When you do start to feel hopeless (because you will, even if your life is “on track”), remember to never stop creating. It doesn’t matter what your “thing” is. For me, it’s journaling and writing for this blog, even if no one is listening. If you play music, paint, or build towers out of toothpicks, never stop doing it. Keeping those creative juices flowing will keep you happy, sane, and relieve stress when things don’t go as planned.
4. It’s okay to keep working your low-wage job if you are happy.
When my internship ended and I still didn’t have a job, I went back to doing what I’d done through college. Sure, the pay sucked, but it got me by and I was happy. I enjoyed what I did. It’s what I needed at that time in my life, and I’m not ashamed of working that job for a year after graduation because it paid my bills and allowed me to support myself.
5. It’s okay to take a low-paying job if it gives you relevant experience and opens up better opportunities.
Most of the time, the biggest and best opportunities are not going to come first. You have to work for them and gain real-world experience. Sometimes, you may have to take a crappy job in your field to open up doors to better jobs. Use your time wisely and learn everything you can. If you hit a plateau, move on and search for something else.
6. Network with everyone.
This is crucial because great jobs happen to those who know people. Most of my opportunities came from my connections, and even now, my connections are the ones who offer me the greatest return. Join a club, start a club, or go to networking events. It will probably change your life.
7. It’s okay to change your mind.
So maybe you have a job in your field and you hate it. You’ve realized you hate working in an office or that you chose the wrong field. That’s okay! You are still so young and there are a lot of ways to change paths. Remember, that diploma is more about getting your foot in the door than defining the career path you’re meant to be on.
8. Friends and family are everything.
When I was going through hard times and feeling horrible about myself, my friends and family were the only people keeping me sane. My best friend let me crash on her couch while I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life. My parents would have let me move home, but I just wasn’t ready for that. These people are your support group. Love them. Cherish them. And if something negative happens, work it out and take your part of the blame. Good friends are NOT worth losing.
9. Live cheap. Build your savings. Build your credit.
This is especially true for those who haven’t found a great-paying job. If you have loans, pay them. Start building an emergency fund, even if you can only save $50 a month. Get a credit card and start building credit history. Get a second or third job. Live with a roommate or two. I’m sure we can all think back to our younger years when our expenses were low and how much money we wasted. Don’t you wish you had put some of that money away rather than spending it on Starbucks and take-out? Guess what… the future you will feel the same. Spend and save wisely.
10. Take care of yourself.
I know you hear this all the time, but it is so true. Find some way to stay active because something happens when you hit your mid-20’s. Your body will change. Working a 9 to 5 will exhaust you. A piece of cake will hang around and make you feel like crap. It happened to me, and I thought I was invincible with the metabolism of a jackrabbit. Give up some of the bad habits and replace them with good ones. Your future body needs it.
I could list a million other things here, but I’m going to save that for my “25 Truths for 25 Years” post. My birthday is coming up in May.
Post-college peeps, do you agree with this list? Anything you’d like to add?