15 Lessons I Learned My First Year Out Of Campus
Spoiler alert: It’s more insight than any three-hour lecture could have bestowed upon me.
Whether graduation is looming or was left behind years ago, the transition is a shakeup for most twenty-somethings. The freedom stretching out afterwards seems like an exciting adventure from inside the campus confines, but it can be tough to maintain that enthusiasm after moving back home or getting rejected from several job prospects. All the same, there is so much possibility for strides to be made and lessons to be learned.
Alright, you likely heard that lame “rah-rah” tidbit in just about every graduation speech, so here are 15 lessons from the other side to prove that it’s actually kinda true.
1. You need to find a new way to measure (and reward yourself for) success.
It’s a privilege if the first 22 years of your life were spent worrying about grades. You had the opportunity to assess your weaknesses and celebrate your strengths on a daily basis. However, you don’t get an A, B, and C in life (and you shouldn’t. Unless you’re Beyonce and get an A+ on the daily). It’s good to take a look at your progress regularly and pat yourself on the back when you deserve it. Regularly ask a mentor or friend you trust to be straight (but constructive) with you about how you can shine brighter in interviews or improve your mile run time.
2. Home is where your friends are, even if you don’t share the location.
If you’re starting off alone in a new town, it’s tough. Staying in touch with faraway friends is healthy as long as it’s done in moderation along with venturing out with new ones. This is the same for moving back to your hometown pals. Bask in the glorious nostalgia but don’t let it hinder you from moving on if that’s your ultimate intention. If you’re lucky enough to have friends that make you feel right at home in multiple places, you’re lucky enough.
3. Thank your parents often. Or your guardians. Whoever’s truly been in your corner, thank them.
Saying “thank you” was the big lesson in kindergarten. You’d be surprised at how often we forget it. Saying two little words doesn’t seem to be a big deal but it’s certainly a big deal when you don’t.
4. You are going to be told “No” a lot.
It’s up to you whether or not rejection will be the worst or best thing to ever happen to you. This does not mean you are obligated to go into a “Shake It Off” dance break after each email saying you didn’t get the gig (but if you can manage that, I want whatever you’re having). In the moment, it really can feel like the end of the world, and taking time to be upset and heal is necessary. But so is making an epic comeback story for yourself.
5. You could fail at pursuing something you don’t enjoy.
Being afraid of failure is like being afraid of spiders it’s going to show up at some point. Give yourself permission to let it happen. And give yourself permission to pursue something you enjoy so much that it will make it worth it when failure does come.
6. Taking time for yourself is crucial.
Whether you work 60 hours a week or are constantly figuring out how it is you want to spend your time, you need time to shut off your brain. Catch a movie and chill (be it solo or with a partner) seems to be the go-to remedy of 2017, but don’t underestimate the power of unplugging completely or taking yourself out. Go out, read a book with actual pages, or flip through a magazine at your favorite coffee shop once a week go nuts. And no, scheduling “me time” in your planner doesn’t make you a geek. (It makes you a nerd. And nerds rule the world.)
7. Understand your financial situation.
Whatever it is. Know how much money you are taking in and putting out each year, month, week. Know exactly where it’s going (and coming from). Know where you keep all of your important paperwork (i.e. pay stubs, proof of employment, bank statements, etc.). Read up on retirement plans and stock options if they seem like a foreign language to you. Understand how much and how often you should save. I’m not promising you’ll have money to burn, but you will feel pretty damn powerful knowing you can take care of yourself in that way. (We’re millennials. Financial security is sexy and exotic to us.)
8. Write down or find a way to document the things that make you happy.
This sounds like one of those awful exercises people do at work retreats or school ice-breakers right before the trust falls. But seriously pay attention to the moments where you feel happy. Not just fleeting pleasure (but putting ice cream on your list is a totally fair game), but those real moments where you genuinely feel like everything is going to be alright. Maybe you get that byline. Maybe you kill it at an open mic. Maybe you find yourself writing an article for the first time. Maybe you always have the perfect Instagram caption. Keeping track of what makes you smile will remind you to try to keep those things or actions in your personal and professional life.
9. Doing something always feels better than not doing anything.
A walk around the block beats not getting on your feet at all. A quarter page is better than a blank page. Little by little is the way big dreams ever get accomplished.
10. Pluck makes luck.
Believe in luck or not, but I fully believe it has a better chance of falling on those who are well prepared. Bring an extra layer. Print out copies of your cv just in case. Shave. You won’t be annoyed that you did.
11. Know what is going on in the world.
Thanks to smartphones, the entire world is currently connected in the palm of millennials’ hands. Be it for ten minutes or two hours, read up on current events every day. Scrolling through Facebook and Twitter is a start, but understand how to separate the news from the commentary. Knowledge is power or at least effective filler conversation when you run into people from high school.
12. Establish a schedule that works for you.
Contrary to campus belief, tight deadlines exist at work just like they do in school, and lunch breaks in the corporate world do not last for three to five hours like in movies. There are still going to be things you need to do, places you need to be, people you need to answer to. Establish what the time commitments for those are and then run wild and free. Does working out at 5 A.M. tickle your fancy? How about meeting up with friends for a 10 P.M. nightcap? That time is yours now, so use it in the way that best suits you, and don’t apologize for it.
13. Enthusiasm never hurts.
Find a way to be excited about what you’re doing (even if it is the mere fact that you’re working towards not doing it forever). Smile. Ask how weekends were. It sucks that pep doesn’t always guarantee you what you want, but a crappy attitude already ensures you’ll never get it.
14. Social media is a fun, self-branding tool. That’s it.
Instead of harping on the overly dissected idea that social media representations are fabricated, I’m going to tell you to use this fact to your advantage. It’s cool that everyone has amazing qualities and things seemingly magically happening to them. Remember that you do too.
15. Sometimes there will be no explanation.
In my short time out of school, I’ve learned that there isn’t an answer for everything (I should patent that line so that I can save students three years of campus roundtables and make bank.) People might let you down with no explanation, and you might do the same to someone else someday. You need to decide who or what is worth being taken as-is. How others treat you as-is can be a pretty strong gauge for how you can decide.