What I wish I had known when I graduated from college
Wow, it’s almost been two years since I graduated from college! (lol, I feel old)
I remember the angst of being a college senior and a new grad very clearly. I cried a lot, agonized a lot, and stress-ate a lot of late-night quesadillas.
The main cause of all my anxiety was that I felt incredibly lost and confused about what I wanted to do with my life, which was how I had felt for pretty much my entire life. But now that the culmination of four years of learning and preparation for the Real World was staring me in the face and I was counting down the finite days until I had to leave my academic bubble and actually…make a choice about the direction of my life, the lost feeling was unbearable.
Anyway, I like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two since then. Everything worked out okay—better than okay, actually.
If you’re graduating this year, I want you to know that EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY. I promise.
And if you’re not convinced, here are five things I wish I knew when I graduated.
5 things I wish I knew when I graduated:
1. It’s fine to not know what you’re doing post-grad.
Actually, most people don’t. I spent a lot of third and fourth years freaking out about the fact that I didn’t want to pursue a graduate degree in my field (physics) and didn’t even know if I wanted to do science anymore, which made my post-grad options so much broader and more confusing. I kept seeing my peers getting job offers or grad school acceptances while I got more and more rejections (so many rejections), and I was just desperate to know what I was doing after graduation, even though I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing.
At the end of my senior physics dinner, when all the graduating physics majors had dinner with our professors, we all went around the table and talked about our post-grad plans. I was so nervous because I had no idea what I was going to say. I didn’t have a job or grad school or cool fellowship lined up. But then a lot of other people—really cool, smart, talented people I knew and respected—said that they didn’t know what they were doing, either.
2. You can get a job outside your college major.
Weirdly enough, a lot of people seem to think that the only option for physics majors was doing more physics. This made me think I wasn’t qualified for any non-science jobs. But your college degree isn’t so much a certificate that verifies that you know a lot of things about this one subject as an indication that you probably have problem solving and critical thinking skills, learned to work and live with other people, and had the work ethic and talent to succeed in a rigorous environment. These skills are transferable, and you can learn any other skills you need.
We’re taught to think of our lives and careers as linear progressions that make sense, one step leading into another like high school into college into a job, but more often than not, people’s careers take meandering or roundabout paths that are beautiful in their own ways.
I agonized for a long time over why I had majored in physics when my true love is writing, but my physics major is what got me the interview for my current job (a content writer at a tech startup). Even if you feel like what you are doing isn’t what you want to be doing, it’s laying the foundation for the person you’re going to be and giving you the experiences to tackle the opportunities that come your way.
3. Rejection is great.
Okay, it doesn’t feel great. But as someone who has applied to over a hundred jobs in the past two years, and got rejected from most of them, I’ve learned to embrace rejection.
Rejection is not a judgement passed on your self-worth. It’s just a sign that this opportunity wasn’t the right one for you, at this time in your life. I’m so glad I got the rejections I did, because they led me to where I am now and the job I have now (which I LOVE).
4. You did not peak in college.
I’m only now realizing that although college was a wonderful, formative time of my life, it was also limiting and inhibiting in many ways. I feel freer now, more confident in myself as a functioning human being, and more sure of what I want in life.
While college gave me the freedom to explore who I am, it also presented distractions and pressures to be certain things that took me further away from who I really am. I think I’m now connecting with the center of myself in a way that I haven’t since I was a kid.
Although I miss college sometimes, I’m in a healthier place both physically and mentally now, and I know that there’s still so much growing left to do!
5. You are much more competent and qualified than you think you are.
Being in college is a weird limbo state where you’re living in perpetual anxiety. You’re constantly doing stuff to bolster your resume so that eventually, someone will give you money and you can do Real Adult Things, but you’re not actually getting any practice doing Real Adult Things, so then you’re constantly doubting your ability to perform Real Adult Tasks and to even be a Real Adult!
This may not be true for everyone, but for me, every job I’ve had has been much easier than the classes I took in college. Granted, I took a lot of physics classes. But the point is, you’re gonna be fine. You got this!
Congrats, grad! You’re gonna be just fine.