Category Archives: Post-Grad Adventures

Post-Grad Adventures: Success and Patience

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.

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Post-Grad Adventures: Thoughts on My First Post-Grad Job

1. Although my first job out of college was neither a permanent position nor my dream gig, I still learned a lot about myself and how the world works. School was wonderful for me and I loved every moment, but it resides in a bubble that doesn’t entirely prepare you for the realities of the workforce. Throughout my six-month stint, I was simultaneously impressed with how people make things happen and flabbergasted at how anyone gets anything done ever.

2. I take immense pride in my work, and that quality is an asset. I am allowed to feel proud of my work, and I should devote my time to a job or project that encourages that and pushes me to do my very best. I will not work at a job or accept a freelance assignment that robs me of that. Life is too short.

3. On so, so, so many instances, I learned that a project is toast without strong and clear communication among team members. If you’re in a managerial position, understanding the need for this kind of communication and facilitating it is very important.There is a significant difference between saying something like “I don’t like the particular word you used” and giving meaningful and constructive feedback. Avoid the former at all costs. I’m working towards being an editor, and maintaining close working relationships — without micromanaging — is integral to running a successful publication. I will never forget that.

4. A work squad was very, very important for my daily and overall sanity, and so was a revolving soundtrack of Hamilton, Kanye West and Wu-Tang Clan. Being able to interact with people made doing very isolating digital work happen, and listening to good music definitely helped. Viva la Gchat.

5. No one told me how hard it is on the body, mentally and physically, to have a full-time job. Office chairs are the worst, and so are car seats.  I know why this exhaustion has become part of the culture, but I don’t like it.

6. Everything is an opportunity to strengthen my writing skills, whether that’s writing a two-word headline or a detailed email replying to a questionnaire. Besides my freelance work, 90 percent of the professional writing I did for six months were phrases and sentences shorter than a tweet. At the time, I didn’t know this was a learning opportunity — I learned how to work under character limits I couldn’t push and communicate ideas concisely. This reminded me that I should always pay attention to word choice and syntax, and anticipate the range of reactions the intended audience might have.

7. A lot of people don’t proofread the things they write, even if that writing isn’t for public consumption. It’s irritating.

8. There were people that walked into my life that would not have otherwise if I hadn’t taken the job, which on some level made the schlepping two hours each way and doing deeply shallow work worth it. Personal and professional doors to opportunity opened wide for me. I marvel at the serendipity.

9. One of my biggest realizations was that I was pressuring myself to be immediately successful, and felt stupidly self-conscious when I read about people my age making larger strides. But just because I don’t hit a milestone faster than my peers doesn’t mean I’m not good at something. I am young and have plenty of time to build my career. Slow and steady wins the race.

10. No matter what happens, I love myself and know that everything in my life is going to work out for the best. I trust the universe and its magic.

Do you have thoughts on the post-grad world? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Post-Grad Adventures: The Freelancing Life

In the last 10 years, the media landscape has changed so drastically that there’s no way I, at 13 years old, would have grasped what I was getting myself into in deciding that I wanted to be a journalist. In high school and college, I read about newspapers and magazines shrinking their staff numbers and ceasing to produce print versions of daily news, which scared me — but I didn’t really have the prescience as a teenager to know how it would affect my future career. At the same time, I witnessed the birth of online publications, the rise of Twitter as a real-time news source and general social media as the primary way people now get information about the world around them. I think it’s an exciting time to be in media, and even if given the chance, I would not tell my younger self to do anything different.

One of the changes I’ve noticed in the landscape is an increasing dependence on freelance writers to keep publications on pace with digital demand. While it’s been tough for me to find full-time editorial staff jobs because of it, it makes total sense that publications have taken this route based on business conditions. The Internet has made it easy to get information for free, so people spend no or less money on print versions of the same thing. Publications then have less money to spend on full-time permanent staff, and instead pay freelance writers a one-time fee to come up with content. The appeal of being a freelancer is that you can write for multiple publications and build a varied portfolio, instead of being tied down to one place. The downside is that you have to hustle to make a living out of it.

When I graduated from college, I wasn’t that into the idea of freelancing — mostly because I had no idea of how to get started and navigate pitching, and I didn’t really think that I had enough professional experience for people to take me seriously. Part of me also felt, in some stupid way, that it was a compromise to the entire career trajectory I had imagined for myself. I was good enough to join a real publication, damn it. I struggled through the summer trying to find an entry-level position and a hiring manager that realized my potential, and resented that a freelance culture was keeping me from starting my career in media.

The universe, in its wonderful way, snapped me back out of that really dumb viewpoint. While I was still in school, I had built a professional network of people that thought about me when they needed writing work done. My former boss offered a profile for an alumni magazine, and another colleague offered a short profile for a newsletter. My former coworker offered me a writing gig at her media company. My senior-year scholarship donor recommended me to write two profiles and start a technical writing gig at the university he works at. I realized that freelancing wasn’t a hindrance to my career, but an opportunity to make myself a more marketable writer and editor. It’s also a great way to make more professional contacts and open up avenues to even more opportunities. Plus, having different sets of eyes on my work helps me learn how to work with different kinds of editors. And I like that I always have some kind of work to complete, and that I get to do something I don’t do in my day job. So far, I’ve had a really good experience as a freelancer and I hope to keep it going.

My advice to any young journalist is to both build a strong student portfolio and a network of contacts that’ll make it easier for these opportunities to find you initially and help you branch out. If you can, find a day job that doesn’t get too much in the way of your writing and real career goals (or one that might be synergistic). I’m extremely lucky in that I have the privilege to focus more on getting and writing the clips rather than worrying about how much each one pays, and I acknowledge that that privilege affects my viewpoint drastically. But if you’re just out of college and trying to figure yourself and your life out, this approach to freelancing might be viable. In the next few months, I’m hoping to brainstorm story ideas and gain the courage to cold-pitch the publications I love reading, and catapult myself into more gigs.

Do you have any experience freelancing? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Post-Grad Adventures: Thoughts of a Commuter

I know this map like the back of my hand.

I know this map like the back of my hand.

For my entire life, I have lived in the same house in the same Southern California town of about 50,000 people. I can drive from one end of town to the other in about 10 minutes. Just about every local shopping center has a huge parking lot, and I don’t think there are any parking meters or pay-to-park garages anywhere in the entire area. Parking on the street only really happens during the day and on the weekends, because street cleaning happens in the early hours of the morning.

During the week, I leave my house at 7 a.m. to trek to my job in Santa Monica, which I had only been to once in my entire life before this summer. Depending on the route I take home, I drive about 80 miles roundtrip and 400 miles every week. (The reason I do this is because my job is temporary, and it wouldn’t be smart to move closer to work when I’m not sure where I’ll be in a few months.)  I also don’t have a designated parking spot or even a parking lot to pull up to, so I either have to pay for parking at a 10-hour meter or find a street spot in the residential neighborhood nearby. Thursdays and Fridays are really tough because each side of the street is blocked off for street cleaning, so I get there more than an hour early to find somewhere safe to park.

The reasons why I’ve drawn this all out for you is to say that this shift has impacted my daily life immensely, and that I’ve become well-acquainted with the working commuter lifestyle. I know people commute regularly like this all the time, but for me in my immediate post-grad life, it has been a pretty jarring experience. Obviously change is a significant part of your twenties, and this is one way that change has materialized itself in my life — and I’m guessing that it’s also happening for a significant part of my peer group.

One of the things that makes post-grad life both great and terrible is that you get to go to new places and try a change of scenery. On one hand, I’m glad that I’m in better proximity to the places I like to go to regularly. On the other, being so dependent on my car really sucks in many ways. In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what being a commuter means and how it has changed the way I see Los Angeles.

40 miles makes an incredible difference. 

Compared to my sleepy foothill town, Santa Monica is on an entirely different planet in a galaxy far, far away. The people (and amount of people) are different: I had to go to the Santa Monica shopping area to catch up on Christmas gifts, and I felt uncomfortable in a mall that wasn’t “mine.” The streets are different: I couldn’t really tell you what any of the houses look like in the residential neighborhood I park in, and they’re all crammed together to maximize the number of lots on the block. The list goes on: the prices, the weather, etcetera. These differences are borderline alienating, which I think just speaks to the entire life-after-graduating phase.

This isn’t to say that this 40-mile difference is entirely bad — I’m glad that I get the experience of spending time in a place so different from where I grew up, because it’s important to get out and explore. Getting in the car and driving to this other galaxy is just a weird feeling.

What are traffic rules?

This should not come as a shocker to anyone, but in general the drivers in LA do not obey the traffic rules that are supposed to keep us all safe during a relatively dangerous activity. Most people don’t use turn signals to change lanes in dense traffic, and a lot cut across lines they aren’t supposed to. Drivers make complete stops in lanes to try and squeeze their ways onto the freeway, and I’ve never seen so many single riders in non-hybrid cars in the carpool lane. I guess the way people behave in traffic is just an extension of how we treat each other in other areas of everyday life. There have been quite a few times I’ve contemplated merging into the carpool lane for the sake of getting out of gridlock, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  It might be naïve, but I’m still trying to follow the rules.

The stress of car culture can really get to people.

I don’t think most people quite understand what a commuter culture does to a person, physically and mentally. Every time I get in the car, I feel like my muscles are slowly atrophying. And I know that if I didn’t have to spend so much time and energy driving, I would feel healthier. It angers me that adults spend most of their days sitting in some kind of transportation or at a desk when we know it’s unhealthy, but that is just #capitalism.

My go-to LA parking story is that one night after work, I drove to Echo Park to take a lettering class. It was after 6 p.m., so I got a spot on Echo Park Avenue. I pulled up to the curb so that the front of my car was about a foot away from the front of someone’s driveway. When I got back to my car at 9 p.m., someone had left a note on my car (using this notepad) saying that I took up too much space and that I shouldn’t be an asshole.

I’ll admit I’m not a world-class parker, but I couldn’t believe that that person had the audacity to leave that note on my windshield. Why did he or she feel an obligation to have that notepad handy, write out the note and stick it underneath my wiper? Why did it matter where I parked if it was legal to park there and parallel to the curb?

I think a lot about space now. 

That last question brought me to think about the idea of communal space and ownership, as well as space as a commodity. From the parking angle, I think a lot about space in terms of how limited parking is in cities, especially LA. It’s more valuable to multiple levels of entrepreneurs and government officials to use real estate to make retail space, offices and apartment complexes, and devote as little space as possible to parking lots.

I also see so much trash and debris while I’m driving that it makes me wonder how humans can keep anything nice. My other LA driving story is that in gridlock morning traffic, I saw a group of teenagers deposit a bottle of urine on the side of the 10 Freeway and drive away laughing (I cannot make this up.) I guess because you can throw something out the window and drive away that drivers don’t realize and/or care that they’re making the driving experience even worse. We don’t respect the spaces we share, but we want to exhaust them for all they’re worth.

What do you think? Am I just overdramatic? (Probably.) Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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Post-Grad Adventures: Being An English Major

English majors are very proud of their bookshelves.

English majors are very proud of their bookshelves.

A new series.

Life after college is kind of weird. While you’re trying to figure yourself out and what you want, you’re also trying to figure the world out and your place in it. In the last six months, I’ve thought a lot about who I am as a person, what my strengths and weaknesses are and what makes me the happiest.  One of the biggest realizations I’ve come to is that my time as an English student will probably be one of the most influential experiences of my life.  If you’ve read about my undergraduate and senior project adventures, you’ll know that I thrived in the academic environment and thought a lot about what I was learning. Getting an English degree was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I’m only starting to realize just how much it’s going to help me in the workplace. Here are five reasons why.

I can actually discuss things. 

One afternoon, two of my coworkers and I were talking about office chairs, of all things. This ultimately morphed into a conversation about inequality (I’m not 100 percent sure how it happened, but it did.) One coworker remarked that she didn’t really have discussion opportunities in college. To me, that was really shocking. As an English student, I had to participate in discussion about the texts we read and contribute my own ideas. I enjoy talking with people who may have different opinions, and I can hold my own. Four years of discussion-based literature classes helped me with that, and I really miss the environment.

I know what good writing is.

Two of my core classes were about expository writing and the mechanics of grammar, and I’m so glad that I took both. Outside of the English department and in the real world, I’ve noticed that most people in the professional setting have consistently terrible grammar and writing skills. The writing skills I developed in college, which I continue to hone, are an incredible asset.

Detailed analysis is my default setting.

When the app I’m working on was still in beta, my boss would ask me for feedback on certain elements, the strength of the headlines or captions attached to video  or if I just liked the app overall. I would send back substantial paragraphs with my thoughts, which didn’t really take a lot of effort or time. I always explained my reasoning for my suggestions, because I knew that just saying “I like it” or “I dislike it” without elaboration wasn’t helpful. I had to do the same thing for any paper I ever wrote for a literature class, because presenting an idea without any support or significance wasn’t an argument. I’m so glad that this is how I operate, because it helps me be a more productive team member and employee. I tell myself every day to be better and push myself to think even deeper, which was a mantra I took on as a senior literature student.

I think critically.

One of my favorite professors built the foundation of his Shakespeare, drama and composition classes on a very simple question: “What does X do?” By inserting whatever you’re dealing with into the X part of the question, you can look at it in a different way beyond what something could possibly mean or inform that meaning. That question is another thing from my program that has stuck with me. I ask myself “What does X do?” at least four or five times a day, both at and away from work.

When my boss asks me to suggest headlines and captions for the videos that make up the app’s programming, I think about cohesion, the sound of saying the copy out loud, and cultural sensitivity. I also need to keep character count in mind, which forces me to come up with succinct sentences or phrases. And in knowing my audience, I need to come up with things that are appealing to young people on a global scale. While critical thinking is a crucial part of a lot of degree programs, English afforded me a particular edge. I know for certain that if I had pursued another major that I probably wouldn’t be thinking this deeply about things that most people aren’t aware of, but know that some things work better than others.

I know a little bit about everything.

As an English major, you get a lot of interdisciplinary training through having to read a lot of different things. You connect what you’re reading about to current events, other classes you’re taking . Even though I’m out of school, I’m trying to not lose that student mindset of being a sponge. I’m soaking up everything I can get my hands on. And in the workplace, being the coworker that knows a little bit about everything never gets old.

Do you feel this way about your major? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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