Graduation…Then What?

I cannot count how many times I have heard this uttered by graduating students — whether that is high school, college, or graduate school.

It is unfortunate really. It’s unfortunate that so many people have went through the same mindset and thoughts that I almost had.

Fortunately for me, I had a job lined up right after college graduation (it was only for 8 months, but it was a job). It wasn’t the career for me. It wasn’t even that great of a fit for me. But, it was some income to start things off and it was an opportunity for me to get some work on my résumé. It was also the perfect learning situation for me to know where I needed to be in life and a time to force me to get more directed in my life.

When I hear “I graduated…now what,” I am now disappointed. I am disappointed because those are the types of things that I do not want to hear as I work in higher education. Honestly, the first thoughts through my mind are “you wasted your 4 years in college,” and “you picked the wrong college.” Why do I think this way? Well…let me explain:

  1. You wasted your 4 years in college because you didn’t do anything to prepare yourself for the workforce. College was the greatest moments of my life (at the time) and it should be for many people. But, don’t just do nothing. You have to do something to prepare yourself for the workforce while in college. One cannot just go through 4 years of undergraduate coursework without doing something outside of college to build the résumé. No matter what your major is, there are other people that will be applying for a degree with your same credentials AND much better. You have to have something that will set you apart from them. You have to be better.
  2. You picked the wrong college because the college didn’t tell you what I just told you. Now, this is hard to find, I will admit. Many schools are out there as “degree factories” to get students in the doors and out with that piece of paper. My alma mater could be guilty of this, I know a certain undergraduate student who went to the career services department to find out some opportunities (as a freshman) and he was told to come back as a junior or senior instead. That is LOUSY! Colleges are supposed to help students get to the next stages in their lives. But…at the same time, colleges won’t hold your hand through everything. You have to have the motivation and dedication to utilize your 4 years to better yourself and seek out those that will help you because they are there.

I am saying this, not because I know better, but because I went through the same issues. I wasted my first two summers in undergraduate school — I worked county highway. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with working county highway, I had some good times with my coworkers. But, it did nothing to help my career. To give another example, if you are interested in Sports Management and you spend your summers stocking grocery store shelves…you are doing it all wrong. Heck, if you are spending your school year not helping out the college/university, local sports leagues, local professional team, or even local high school programs then you are doing it all wrong. There are thousands of other students that already have a better résumé than you and you have to catch up.

It wasn’t until my last two summers that I actually got involved with my [now] career. Those experiences shaped me for my life and helped me pursue my dreams. They were also tremendous résumé building opportunities. My school didn’t tell me anything about this either. I didn’t have anyone around me telling me this either.

Through these years of being in higher education and working through several jobs, I figure every individual can be lumped into three different working categories:

  1. You want to work the career you want to work. This is me. I did everything I could to work what I wanted to do. I want to enjoy my life and my career. It took a great deal of trials and tribulations of no money, many hours on the road, uncertain future, and daily grinding, but I am doing what I want to do. I love it. I cannot imagine not doing this for the rest of my life. I really don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t in this career. If you are in this category, it is not an easy road to travel. You better make sure you have your résumé and network looking good. Do not think you’ll land your dream job as soon as you graduate and it’s easy sailing after that. It is necessary to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work your way up.
  2. You do not care what you do, you just need to provide for yourself and potential family. Through this working option, it doesn’t matter if you like your job or not (or fits your undergraduate major or not), you’ll do it because you provide what you and/or your family needs. You could really enjoy it, or it could be the most miserable job you’ve ever done, but you’ll do it because it puts food on the table and a roof over your head. There really isn’t a socioeconomic class this relates to, because if you set out to make a lot of money and have a rich lifestyle, then you’ll need a job that fits whatever needs “provided.” I had to do this for 17 months after I finished undergrad. I got a job that I thought I could do within my undergraduate major, but I needed something that paid better to start covering bills that were coming on…luckily I was hired to do construction. I am no construction worker by any means, but I had to do it in order to pay bills.
  3. You do not care what you do, you’ll do whatever to the best of your abilities and love it. These working people are some of the best people to be around. I have been around the happiest custodians but the most miserable coaches. Why? Well…the custodian loves doing what he/she is doing because it’s something they do. On the flip side, the miserable coaches are actually in it to pay bills or take something they believe is “easy” — they then turn into #2. I am sure many people do not grow up thinking they’ll be college cafeteria workers for the rest of their lives…but I tell you, I have loved many a college cafeteria workers because of the love they show toward their career. This is open-ended for Business majors, many times they don’t know what they want…they just want to do something in business. So…maybe go into your college career knowing that and just be the best you can be wherever you end up landing?

Maybe you can find yourself identifying with a couple of the categories, that’s fine. Know you’ll have to make some decisions through the years. You may not end up where you want to end up, location-wise. But, life can be long and you never know what opportunities present themselves when you step out of your comfort zone. The people you can meet and the sights you can see are worth it. You never know where or what you’ll get into when you take a chance.

Odds of landing the dream job right out of school (high school, undergraduate, or graduate) is near impossible. That dream job is even more less likely if you do nothing while in college to build your résumé. Now, you can build your résumé all you want, but if you limit your options by location, position, etc. then you may not get where you could be — afraid to go across the country because it’s not near your girlfriend may take you out of chance to get your dream job. You may never land your dream job, and that’s alright. You can find joy in any career that you find yourself in. If not, then why not continue pursuing your dream job? Remember, things are a lot easier to do when you are single instead of thinking for two (or more). It’s much easier to move yourself instead of moving a family. Would you want to think for one or think about two careers?

Life in college is as easy as it gets. Food is made for you. Dishes are done for you. Bathroom is cleaned for you. Electric, water, cable, internet is all paid for you. Enjoy it while you can. Life after college isn’t hard…but it will be harder if you don’t prepare yourself for it. Hopefully you put yourself in a position to gain employment and the knowledge of life after school while going through your educational endeavors.

Life is great after school, no matter what some people may scare you into thinking. Sure, there are bills. But…you may never have to sit through another lecture, watch some stupid video, continuously stare at PowerPoints, write 3,000 word papers, fill in bubble tests, or be required to read The Odyssey in one week. Find the right place and surround yourself with the right people…things can be great.

What is your legacy? What can you do with your life? Who can you impact? Change the world with your life.

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