With graduation season firmly upon us, my feed has been filling up with celebratory images of people finally leaving education for good. As I watch Boomerang after Boomerang of champagne bottles popping and wine glasses clinking, I remember how I felt this time last year when I was posting the same content on social media.
I remember the sense of utter relief, mainly because I hated the city I was studying in, but also because I loathed my degree. Every minute spent in the library trying to cram law case after law case felt like torture because deep down I knew this field was not right for me, but I was desperately trying to convince myself otherwise. So, when the whole experience had finally come to an end, I was over the moon. BUT, it seemed the feeling was only temporary as the sheer panic that followed began to take over me.
What ON EARTH was I going to do now? Do I even want to go into Law? I’m going to look like such an idiot if I’m unemployed when everyone else is working. My parents will be so disappointed in me. All this hard work would have been for nothing…You get the idea. Seeing as a year has passed (how on earth did that even happen?!) I can honestly say I have learnt so much since graduating, and if these lessons can help calm the nerves of those graduating this year, then at least my experience has been worth it. So, here are 10 things I learnt in one of the scariest and difficult times of my life.
Don’t compare yourself to others
At this time of year, the question everyone seems to be interested in, whether it be at pre-drinks or on the middle of the dance floor as you’re halfway through your YMCA dance is ‘what are your plans after uni?’ If it seems all your friends have something lined up, be it a graduate scheme or an internship and you, like me, just wanted to get through your degree without completely losing your mind, you will dread this question. When asked this question I just wanted to scream ‘I HAVE NO BLOODY IDEA SO NOW LEAVE ME ALONE SO I CAN ENJOY MY NIGHT OF DRINKING AND DANCING TO CHEESY MUSIC AND FORGET THAT I HAVE TO FIGURE OUT MY LIFE.’
Nonetheless, this question can leave its mark on you. I would go home so many nights and frantically apply to things on my laptop, hoping somebody would take me just so I would have an answer ready when asked that dreaded question. Don’t let this question consume you.
Everyone has a different path. If that girl on your course, who had her shit together all year and never missed a single seminar reading has an amazing graduate scheme lined up with an amazing salary and the sun seems to continuously shine out of her backside, be happy for her! That’s the path she has chosen for herself. Her life goals are different to yours. Her situation is different to yours. Don’t let yourself be panicked by the path other people have chosen for themselves. The best thing to do is take your time and realise you are not her. You want different things from your life and you won’t know what those things are if you are constantly looking at what others are doing and thinking you should be doing the same.
Take a break
You need to realise you’ve spent more than half your life locked up in educational institutions where your value and intelligence has been measured by the grade you achieve. Let’s not forget that those grades are given depending on your ability to retain and repeat the facts and figures teachers have provided you from a curriculum created by those who are extremely good at retaining facts and figures taught to them.
You need a break. I wish someone had told me this when I finished uni. By break I don’t mean you sitting at home and taking months off to watch Netflix. Go somewhere. You don’t need to go and travel the whole world. Just go somewhere that is different, even if it’s a city nearby you’ve never been to.
During this break, don’t think about anything graduation related. Don’t worry about the outfit you will wear on that day, don’t worry about booking overnight accommodation for that night and most importantly, don’t worry about what you’re going to do with your life afterwards. Just take time to enjoy being young and to feel yourself again after being notoriously tested year after year. Once you relax and get a feel for what life is like without deadlines, essay criticisms and lectures, you will start to get a sense of what you want out of life and therefore, how you are going to get there.
Don’t Rush into the First Job You’re Offered
Again, I desperately wish someone had told me this before I graduated. It’s so tempting to just take the first offer given to you so you can start to join in conversations when your friends are discussing their jobs, and to finally feel like your life is going somewhere.
I was lucky in a sense as the people I worked with, in the job I rushed into, were nice and I really liked my boss. BUT, the job was in Law and every single day that I went in, I would find myself staring at the clock, counting down the hours to lunch and then to home time. I ended up miserable because I felt like even more of a failure than I did when I was unemployed. I felt so underachieved because no matter how many contracts I drafted, how many letters of engagement I wrote and how much positive feedback I received, I knew this was not the job for me and someone else would appreciate it more.It is worth taking your time to see what else is out there than to commit to a job you don’t even know you will enjoy. I’ve learnt it is hard to be truly good at a job you don’t enjoy, and life is too short to spend 8 hours of the day in a field of work you are unsure about.
You Know Yourself Best
This connects nicely to my previous point. No matter what your family wants for you, or what your friends think will be a good path for you, remember that no one knows you and your capabilities better than yourself. Everyone wants the best for you, but you cannot make everyone else happy and forget about what you want for yourself (how many times can you say you in one paragraph? Ha). When it comes to your own life and your future, only you can decide what will make you happy and what job will give you a sense of achievement and purpose.
Read, Read, Read
After graduation, it is easy to become a pessimist, especially if you don’t have a plan set in stone. The uncertainty of the future makes you believe there’s only darkness ahead, which leads to you constantly putting yourself down and mistakenly thinking you are not good enough. Go to your local Waterstone’s or library, and as cringey as it may be, go to the self-help section and have a browse. I can honestly say nothing made me snap out of my cycle of self-doubt, anxiety and depression like reading did.
I highly recommend books by Esther and Jerry Hicks, Paul Arden and one of my favourite books: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz. These books helped me clear my head and to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Your Thoughts Are Everything
Most of our life planning, criticisms of ourselves and the situation we’re in goes on inside our head. It’s easy to be extremely critical of yourself and your ability when no one else can hear you. If you are not where you want to be, or you are not enjoying your job you will find those worries consume your thoughts and before you know it you are telling yourself you are good for nothing, you will never achieve you goals or that you’re not good enough for that job or opportunity you are seeking.
Think a thought consistently and it becomes a belief. A belief determines your view of yourself and your ability.
The only thing setting you apart from other graduates is the way you view yourself and how you talk to yourself in your head, where no one else is listening.
If you are not talking about yourself in a way you would talk about a friend, you need to change the way you think. Start by giving yourself a positive affirmation a day (this is a positive thought, e.g. I can achieve x if I work hard) and you will see the difference in what you achieve because you will start to believe in yourself and your ability.
You Will Learn Who Your Friends Are
Your friendship circle will shrink, and that’s okay. If anything, this is an extremely positive thing as you will learn who truly values you and who was just there for the ride. So many people become consumed with their own lives and the idea that being busy is good, that you will not hear from many of them again. BUT, the few who, despite being caught up in graduate jobs and desperately trying to ends meet, still make time for you are the people you should truly value.
Don’t Be Easily Intimidated
Working in your first proper job can be scary, but working with Managers and CEO’s who know exactly what they need from you and how they want you to do it can be even more terrifying. Don’t be intimidated. This is a learning experience. You’ve only just left university. Don’t judge someone by their title or their qualifications. They too are a person who has once walked in your shoes. Instead, be confident in your own ability and ask questions. Who better to learn from than someone who’s climbed up the ladder?
It’s Natural To Make Mistakes
I made countless mistakes in my first proper job, partly because I hated it but mostly because it was the first time I was working in a proper office, doing real work which was being used rather than simply graded. I beat myself up so much after making these mistakes. I would go home and think about them and the next day I would be on edge whilst desperately trying to avoid making them again. This is not productive. In the end, I decided to make a list that I kept on my desk titled ‘Mistakes’. I would write down the mistakes I had made and the solution to fixing those mistakes next to them. So, I found a way to be productive and to learn from silly mistakes rather than make myself feel down about them.
It’s Important To Breathe
It’s so easy to get caught up in thoughts and worries of where your life is going to go from here, when you can finally buy a house and how you’re going to do all the things on your bucket list when your ‘to-do’ list exceeds it. Take time to breathe and calm down. There is so much more to life than getting that job title so you can show off to your friends or getting that salary bump. Enjoy where you are in life because one day you will reminisce about it. Take time to actually enjoy the work you are doing, to make new friends and just trust the process. What is meant to be will be if you work hard and don’t take life too seriously (at-least that’s what I’m telling myself).
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