Apr 23 2009
This time last year, I was freaking out. I was about to graduate from school and move out of Fort Collins. The one place I thought I had locked-in for a full-time job after graduation had rejected me — they’d already hired someone else for the position. That turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, because I would have absolutely taken that job. And that would have led to all sorts of problems. I would have probably grown to depend so much on a substantial paycheck that it would terrify me just to think of losing that. Traveling, starting up a company, working on side projects, doing whatever I want — those things would eventually seem unrealistic. I would have been stuck.
These past few weeks have been pretty surreal for me, because I realized that the very lofty goals I set for myself 11 months ago have been achieved and beyond. I even remember telling my parents, “This is not going to happen any time soon. It will probably take at least a year, or a year and a half, but I can do this.” And I did, even though I was extremely unsure of myself. Anyways.
I know that a decent chunk of the people who read these posts are about to graduate from college. A lot of you have no idea what’s going to happen, or what path you want to take. This post will be my attempt to assuage any worries you might have. And I’ll just say that I think this is one of the few subjects I’m qualified to preach about, because I’ve been through it and managed to carve out a different path that’s worked well for me.
So here’s what will almost certainly happen after you graduate. You’re going to graduate and do absolutely nothing for a month. You want to take a break after four years of college, so go for it. Your friends will do the same. A lot of them will do absolutely nothing for a few months. But after that first one, you’re all going to tense up because you’re painfully unemployed. Your peers will unanimously agree that yes, we all need to find a job that’s halfway decent (even though none of you will want or genuinely enjoy any of the jobs you’re looking at).
Your friends who don’t care or are stupid will use Monster, CareerBuilder, and Craigslist (I was one of these stupid people for a few weeks). They will compete with hundreds of people for mediocre jobs that they won’t get. There will be exceptions to this rule, of course, but not many. Your smarter friends will search for jobs through their network (e.g. a friend’s dad, their cousin’s former boss, etc.). Your smartest friends will travel. The ambitious will start their own company.
Understand that you’re going to be hearing some very weird things coming out of your peers’ mouths. The same people you were partying with a few months ago are now going to be saying things like, “I just got a job for Verizon Wireless! They promote people really fast, so I think I could be a middle manager in six months!” And you will smile and say, “That’s awesome!” even though you want to shake them and say “YOU ARE MAKING A TERRIBLE DECISION! WHY DO YOU INSIST ON CREATING A LIFE YOU’RE GOING TO HATE?!”
Or even worse, they’ll say, “I’m going to apply to [insert state school] and go to grad school. I don’t know what I want to do, so I might as well try to get my Master’s now.” Again, this is painfully stupid in 95% of all situations. They will put themselves in 6-figure debt, and their earning potential will not go up substantially because it isn’t a top-tier school. Two years and $100K down the drain.
Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing you can say to these people to make them change their mind. All you can do is lead by example, and hope that a few of them catch on.
You don’t have to walk down the path that everyone else takes. If you haven’t realized it by now, there is no such thing as job security. You’re fooling yourself if you think a steady paycheck will ensure a safe future. The only real form of security is working on yourself. Read as much as you can. Put experiences under your belt that can open doors in the future. Meet smarter people than you and do some free work for them. These are the kinds of things that can help mitigate your risk against a bad job market. And in the long run, you’ll be in a far better position than everyone else.
It’s also important to remember: this is the safest point in your career, because you have nothing to lose. So even though I know you’ll feel compelled to jump into the 9 to 5 just to get some money, that tension is illusory. Recognize that there is no rush for “the real world” when you’re 21, and that now is the best time of your life to do the stuff you want and craft a story for yourself that you’ll be proud of. You don’t have to pick your career path anytime soon (I know I haven’t decided yet — you think I want to be a marketer for the rest of my life?)
Start working towards the paths you’re most interested in, put your heart into the ones you love, and go from there. You’ll be fine.