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What I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Graduated From College

Career Advice |

Spring is here, which means all around the country graduating college seniors are getting ready to embark into the great unknown, AKA, the “real world.” Congratulations, graduates—things are about to get more exciting, confusing, heartbreaking, thrilling, etc… than you could have ever imagined.

With my five-year reunion just a month away, I’ve been thinking about everything I knew then and have learned since, and all the assumptions I made about life, careers, etc. along the way.

I’ve still got a lot more to learn, but here are just a few lessons I’ve learned since my own college graduation:

1. Mentors are all around you.

In college, and even early into your career, you hear of seemingly mythical creatures—“mentors”—whose entry into your life can change its course completely. It’s true; a mentor can go a long way in helping you define, pursue, and reach success, both professionally and personally. But don’t get distracted looking for unicorns. Not every mentor is a CEO contributing to Forbes, or a senior exec in your company. Mentors don’t even have to be older than you! Right now, your peers are your friends and classmates. But your peers can very well become your biggest advocates, greatest advice-givers, and most supportive mentors. It’s important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

2. Outside perspective is helpful, but the decision-making is up to you.

It’s easy to get more indecisive the older you get—decisions get bigger and more frequent, and it’s normal to seek out advice from others, especially those who’ve been there before. But make sure you don’t use that as a crutch to avoid making a decision. Gather feedback, but move forward on your own terms.

3. Your plans will change in ways you can’t possibly anticipate. Embrace adventure and keep an open mind.

When I graduated college, I was sure I’d become a professor. I took a gap year to move to Paris, learn French, and work in the art world, but I always knew I would come back to the States for a PhD in art history. Well, I did come back, but I didn’t finish the PhD or stay in the art world! As it turns out, quitting that PhD program to jump into the startup world was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It took a year of hand-wringing to do it, but now I wouldn’t go back even if you paid me. (And they were paying me!) Point being: you have no idea what you want yet (even if you are certain you do). Your interests, friends, career path—all of that will change with time. And that’s a good thing. It’s called growth!

4. With all those changes, you may find yourself in a perpetually searching state of mind. Note to graduating seniors: therapy is a good thing. Nothing to be embarrassed about or shy of.

When I was younger, I assumed therapy was something only certain people “needed.” Then I outgrew that and realized therapy is a luxury! It’s actually someone’s job to help guide you in your quest for self-improvement! If you can afford it, that’s a luxury you may want to consider exploring. If you’re not ready for that, don’t be shy about picking up a few self-help books. You’ll learn that those aren’t embarrassing either. Think about it: How many good business books are really self-help books in disguise? Leadership comes from within, so don’t be afraid to work on it. 

5. We’re all just winging it.

Your parents, your boss, your boss’s boss—we’re all just winging it. Sure, as we get older and more experienced, we become fountains of knowledge and specialists in our industry. But we’re still learning, growing, and making magic as best we can. Think about all the senior execs who’ve had their industries disrupted by social media and advances in technology. They’ve had to learn so much in so little time, or risk getting left behind. Do you think the first brands on Facebook understood how to leverage it for marketing purposes? Based on some industry knowledge, and intuition, yes! But did they have a playbook to go by? Nope, and that’s okay! Take risks, test new waters, wing it. You will land exactly where you’re supposed to be, right when you’re supposed to be there.

Congrats, grads. You’ve got this.

What do you wish you’d known when you graduated from college? Tell us in the comments!

Ask Shama KabaniCEO & Founder of The Marketing Zen Group, what she wish someone had told her when she first graduated!

 

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education worklife balance career path college graduation employer

14 Comments

This article was both incredibly insightful and motivating. I think it's really important that young graduates weigh their options and seek out the help of a mentor. Even if it's coffee once every two weeks and some light résumé, meeting with a mentor will make you feel more prolific than sitting at home, blankly perusing Indeed. At least you'll be actively taking steps toward shaping your career. And let's face it, we're ALL winging it.

3y

Yep I can relate to all of these. A recent graduate about to start my first "real" job, I'm wondering how I've even ended up here and how my life will grow and develop as I start this new chapter. What I've realized is there are tons of people in the same boat and we can help each other out. Also number 2 is something I'm working on. I've always been one for hearing peoples' opinions, but hesitant at decision making.I'm at the point where I've started to make decisions like what career to choose and where to live. With this I've also realized it isn't always going to be the right choice and I'll probably do my fair share of "winging it" too.

Thanks for the perspective!

3y

Thank you for sharing this with us! I am really exited to graduate and look for new horizons is life.

3y
Meg Collins

Oh - and the mentor thing is KEY! It ties into another important point as well - networking. Build up a group of people & keep expanding, develop relationships with these people & keep in contact. My most helpful mentors are my college professors in my major - they have been INCREDIBLY helpful. Don't think just because you've graduated, your professors forget about you, make time to get to know them & become friends. I have 4 college professors that I regularly talk to & two that have not only become mentors, but good friends.

3y
Meg Collins

I really wish someone would have expressed the importance of an internship. I couldn't afford to "work for free" when I was in college, so I worked 3 different jobs - gaining some relevant experience & thinking it was the same as an internship, however, when I went to find a job - I felt like that was a large piece I was missing. I also wish I would have focused on ONE thing more, I thought being more "general" & a "jack of all trades" would allow me to pick & choose the industry/jobs I wanted, but in reality...that wasn't the case (in my experience anyway).

3y

Great article, Ximena. I think back to the nearly 10 years since my graduation with my bachelor's degree, and I am amazed at how my interests and goals have changed! Even in the just the 2+ years since my graduate degree, I'm amazed at how much I've grown.

growth = good

3y

This is a great article – I love your tips on seeking out mentors and learning how to make your own decisions.

3y

Thank you for this. I am graduating this Sunday and these tips have made me think a lot. So excited yet scared.

3y

Ximena, many thanks for your wise words! I'm graduating this Sunday and with a wave of emotions, in particular, excitement and dismay this helps calm my nerves as I am about to embark onto the great unknown. Thanks again ^_^

3y

Good luck! You'll be just fine.

3y

Thank you. I super needed this!

3y

Thank you for posting this! I'm graduating next year and I'll be sure to keep these in mind.

3y

Great article! I especially love number 5, "We are all just winging it." It is so true. If I saw myself 3 years ago when I graduated, I would have thought "look how professional or mature she is." In actuality, I feel like nothing has changed. But it truly has. I am just going day by day, and winging it and getting my job done!

3y
Ximena Vengoechea

Ximena Vengoechea is a freelance Product manager based in San Francisco. She works with early-stage, mobile/web startups on UI/UX and user acquisition. Ximena holds a BA from Harvard University and an MA from Johns Hopkins and was previously a Product Manager at Sonar. She is a frequent contributor on Medium and writes about startups and professional development on Levo. Follow her on twitter @xsvengoechea.