14 Life Tips Every Recent Grad Needs to Have in Their Back Pocket
Learn how to transition into adulthood and an avoid existential crisis with these necessary pieces of advice for finding your own success.
Be passionate about something
Graduating from college is one of the most momentous occasions of your life, but it can also be very surreal and scary. All of a sudden, you don’t have a set schedule that’s been planned out for you and it’s up to you to determine what to do with your life from here on out. But before you can land a job, there’s something more important you have to nail down first, and that is figuring out what makes you tick. “One thing that’s really important is to find a job that you’re passionate about and actually enjoy,” says Hanmei Wu, co-founder and CEO of Empowerly, a company that helps prep students for college and beyond. “A lot of people may take a job because it’s the first offer they get, the company has a good brand-name, or it pays a lot, but you’re not really going to gain that much out of it,” if those are your sole criteria. Once you identify what it is you’re passionate about, you’re one step closer to creating a path for yourself to follow.
Whether you want to be a successful musician or businessperson, you have to follow your passion with conviction. “I think that perseverance and tenacity are first and foremost,” says Tamara Lashchyk, Wall Street executive, author, and business coach. “I had set my sights on Wall Street. I had wanted to work at J.P. Morgan; it was the only company that I wanted to work for. As a result, I sent out hundreds of resumes, [one] pretty much every single week to the company.” By not letting her resolve diminish and by consistently working hard toward her ultimate goal, she finally got that job at J.P. Morgan and then so much more. If you know what you want, don’t give up.
Set short term and long term goals
A great way to challenge yourself and to give your life more structure is by setting clearcut goals. Short term goals and long term goals give you something to work toward and something definite to achieve. Caroline Adams Miller, positive psychologist and author of Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance and Purpose, outlines how you should approach setting goals. “You have to step back and say, what is it that lights me up? That’s called having an intrinsic goal… it’s about having a passion and pursuing hard goals outside of your comfort zone.” While you’re doing all you can to accomplish your goals, don’t compare yourself against other people your age. Everyone’s path is different and judging yourself or self-criticizing by comparison only deters you from your goals. ”
Learn how to fail
Not everything is going to go your way. Some people have better luck than others, but everyone suffers through their own set of trials. If you’re passionate about something and you take the leap of faith to move forward and you hit a brick wall, it’s going to hurt. But the pain of failure teaches you strength and gives you the wisdom of experience. “Rejection is part of life,” Lashchyk says. “You should try not to take it personally. There’s no way you’re going to go through life and never be rejected in something. You have to just dust off and go on.” Though that sounds easier said than done, resilience comes with practice. Trust.
Develop multiple skills
Once you’ve failed a couple of times, you’ll come to understand that when one road doesn’t work, it’s time to forge another. Each stumble puts another tool in your box that will help you deal with whatever life has to throw at you. If you learn multiple skills, instead of relying on just one, you’ll have an easier time succeeding and a lot more doors will open up for you. “It’s about going to a company and showing that you have diverse skills,” says Lashchyk, “because now one job represents three different jobs with multiple skill sets.” If you’re a one trick pony, you won’t be that much of an asset to a company or to yourself. (But, it’s not all about technical skills anymore—these are the soft skills every new grad needs to know to succeed.)
Find a mentor
“A lot of people find valued trusted figures in their lives who have the advantage of life experience,” says psychologist Miller. Mentors exist in many different capacities and can help you develop life skills and achieve your goals by providing you with their own experience and expertise. Reach out to someone in your field that you admire or even work with and ask them questions. Study what it is they did to get where they are today. “Surround yourself with people who have a work ethic and character values and big picture thinking that you want to have and emulate,” Miller continues. “Behavior is contagious.”
Be open to criticism
You should already have been dealing with criticism from your professors and teachers for many years, but in case you haven’t (or just haven’t gotten any good at handling it) you need to get familiar with it in the workplace. “That’s something that can be pretty hard for some people,” remarks Wu. “It’s natural to want to feel defensive, but I think it should actually be more of a learning opportunity. It should also be a skill for you to ask for feedback.” Even if you try hard, you will make mistakes here and there. But every mistake and every criticism that follows is a chance for you to grow and develop.
Learn how to behave in the workplace
While college life may have been very casual, the workplace usually isn’t. Even if your job has a relaxed environment, you still need to learn workplace etiquette and how to show your boss and your coworkers that you’re serious about doing well. John Figdor, who works alongside Wu as Director of Sales at Empowerly, shares, “One of the most important things for students to learn is the difference between writing a business email and a personal email and phone etiquette.” Figdor also stresses the importance of timeliness. You may have been lax about getting to class on time in college, but when you’re getting paid, you have to show up on time.
For a generation that is used to getting what they want at lightning speed, patience can be hard to come by. But unlike messages on your phone or movie streaming on your laptop, real world accomplishments don’t come quickly or easily. “We have kind of conditioned ourselves to expect immediate results,” determines Miller. “Some of that is websites that load immediately…instant relationship updates. You can Google anything.” A remedy for this, she suggests, is learning self-discipline, patience and focus. “Without the ability to focus and stay focused on something, you won’t have any innovation in life, either, because innovation only comes after deep work. That means some kind of focus, synthesis, and none of it is quick.” It’s easy to start feeling frustrated and impatient because you haven’t seen the results you’ve wanted yet, but don’t let it derail you.
Figure out your definition of success
The concept of success is illusive. From an early age, you might have been taught a certain definition of success that has guided you your whole life. But when you start to transition into adulthood, you have to figure out what success really means to you, and—surprise!—it might not involve money or status. “Success means being connected with other people, making a difference, having meaningful pursuits on a daily basis, hopefully in your job but at least in your life,” Miller shares. Whatever your definition of success is, you have to make sure it is clearly defined in your mind so you know what it is you’re really after. Ask yourself some questions and find out what fulfills you.
Be smart about money
Debt is usually a huge weight on students’ shoulders the moment they get out of college. Not only are they faced with immediate financial matters, but they are ill-equipped to deal with them. “So many students don’t understand what credit is,” Figdor says. “From how credit cards operate to how to manage debt—that’s one of those areas where I wish colleges did a much better job advising students.” What’s important to remember about money is that it’s not just the big things that require your attention; the little things eventually add up, like that $4 cup of coffee you indulge in every morning. “Not that you’re not entitled, but [you have to] understand how much money [you] have and how much money [you] should spend on a daily basis.”
It’s OK to take a part-time job
If you don’t want to take a full-time job you know will make you unhappy, take a part-time job while you develop your passion or figure out what it is you want. You can keep that dream of yours alive while still making enough money to pay the bills. Even though it may not be as glamorous as you want it to be, there’s nothing shameful in a part-time job. “I ended up bagging groceries after I graduated college because I was on my own and I needed to pay bills,” Lashchyk shares. “Money was very, very tight. I had college loans mounting. But I wasn’t going to give up.”
Nothing good is going to just land in your lap of its own accord. Instead of waiting until a problem happens to fix it, think about potential problems that may occur and what you can do to prevent them. Keeping your engines running at full steam can be difficult, but you can’t allow yourself to be lazy. Your boss certainly doesn’t want to see you putting minimal effort into your work. In fact, not being proactive can even sabotage your future. “You get your next job by doing a great job in this job,” Lashchyk advises. (Here’s how you can look for a job while you still have one.)
Just go for it
It’s good to think critically, but in the end you have to take action to build yourself up. All the thinking in the world doesn’t add up to much if you don’t actively take steps toward your vision. “If you have clarity and you know what your goal is and you set your sights on that goal, pursue it with unwavering fervor,” Lashchyk says.