One of the most significant life lessons I’ve learned post-graduation is to be patient with myself, especially when it comes to my career.
I’ve always put immense pressure on myself to be successful. Throughout undergrad, my definition of “success” was working hard, earning great grades, being a good scholar and getting into a prestigious grad program that would lead into a prestigious job. This, I felt, was how I should do it. It made the most sense.
While this track was something I pushed myself to do because I truly wanted the rigor, I was also under the influence of a particular cultural pressure that has seemed to really emerge for millennials. There’s this stress to immediately have a successful career after graduating college, and that you should always have your shit together. If you don’t, you will never be able to survive in an extremely competitive job market that seemingly only hires superhumans, and you will never have a chance of getting your foot in the door. That’s an easy mindset to fall into — when I spent last summer applying for jobs, I felt pretty hopeless about my prospects and pretty disappointed that things hadn’t worked out the way I had planned them. Not getting calls back for positions I thought I was definitely qualified for, when all my life I’ve been told I’m wonderful, was a huge wake up call about reality. Eventually I found a short-term job that gave me work experience and taught me a lot, but it wasn’t easy to let myself feel good about the way my life was going. I sincerely didn’t feel that way.
Since finding a real full-time job that I like and tending a budding freelance career, I’ve thought a lot about what “success” really means to me. To me, “success” is being able to do good and creative work that helps people, whether that’s giving information to students, sharing details about the culture I love or telling someone about a good human being that walks this world. The socially-constructed prestige of what I do doesn’t mean anything to me. I create the prestige.
A year ago, I didn’t imagine myself to be where I am in my life — not because I didn’t think I was better than it, but because I didn’t really know it existed. I think part of me knew that I was going to have to work at building myself up for better career opportunities, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I would have to do it and how long it would actually take to be a public affairs director or an editor-in-chief. The school system stunts you in that way — four years is not the same as 40 years, and getting out of that mindset is difficult. I am much younger than I realize. Success is not a moment, but a journey.
When I look back at my fledgling years, I’ll be able to see that the tough times and the deviations from the plan brought me to a better place, and reflect on the good things that happened that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I am a true believer that everything always happens for a reason, and that the universe works things out in the best of ways.
Now that I’ve had some emotional and temporal distance from graduation, I wish that I would have been kinder to myself about finding my way. I wish that I would have enjoyed the end of my undergraduate career. I wish that I would have spent less time wallowing about how miserable I was. And most importantly, I wish I would have realized sooner that I will hit my own milestones at my own pace. When I realized that, I realized that all of the internal and external voices telling me to ~~be more successful~~ and ~~be like everyone else~~ are just noise.
If I only had time to give one piece of advice to someone who’s about to graduate college, I would tell that person to be gentle with themself. Remember that patience is key, and that everything will work out. And whenever I start to get anxious about my future, I think about what John Steinbeck told his lovesick son about being patient. “If it is right, it happens — the main thing is not to hurry,” he said. “Nothing good gets away.”
Do you have something that you learned about yourself after graduation? Share it with me in the comments.