One Step into the ‘Real World’

If one word could summarize the last thirty days: change. Over the course of a few weeks I’ve graduated college, ending my academic career from what I would argue is one of the best universities in the country. I recently moved, changing my address further into the heart of the incredible city of Milwaukee which I continue to call home. I left a notable company that I had the privilege of interning with for two years. I’ve become an alumna of an empowering sorority that gave me friends of a lifetime. I was blessed once again and became an aunt to a beautiful niece. Lastly, I officially began my professional career at one of the top consulting firms in the world.

Life hits you fast. The transition from college to career is a bittersweet, overwhelming one with positive changes that individually and collectively consume you. It happens gradually, then all at once spiraling into a brand new lifestyle.

For the majority of us, we’ve been attending school in a variety of formats since our earliest memories. This upcoming August will be the first time I don’t get the ‘first day of school’ jitters or break out the highlighters to map out my schedule and classes (Prepared? Yes. Nerdy? Absolutely). This past May signified a milestone in the lives of many young adults who were draped in hideous graduation gowns and caps that don’t flatter anyone’s forehead. No matter what background or path taken, many of us walked across a stage – simultaneously saying a Hail Mary that we wouldn’t be the one to trip – to receive a diploma, signifying not only a receipt of the largest investment we’ve made thus far (both financially and emotionally) but representing how far we’ve come in our academic and professional lives.

In my opinion (of course this is my opinion, read the title of the blog), college graduates have the opportunity to embark upon their greatest adventure yet. For the first time, we have the complete, full, and opportunistic world at our feet and can design our lives in any way we see fit. We can design. We can create. We can establish. We have the power and the ability to take what we’ve learned and apply it to become what we’ve always wanted to be.

From the moment we were able to spell our name, we’ve been asked about developing a profession. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Our first question in response should have been: define ‘grow up’. We spent our childhood dreaming of becoming professional athletes or doctors or, in my case, a chef. Thank god that dream dwindled – ask me if I can prepare anything without a microwave. After grade school, we became a little more sensitive to the idea that one day we might actually have to do something with our lives. As high school came and went, adolescence flourished (not so gracefully) into adulthood and our ideas of our futures certainly ran wild. For me, during a brief rebellious and carefree stage, I was sure I was ready to pack bags to attend college in Hawaii. I can almost guarantee as fiery eighteen year old’s, we preached as if we knew where our lives would lead. After beginning college, our focuses narrowed once again and finally developed into a ‘path,’ one with no definite end. Now, as we have completed our final courses and have a diploma on the counter waiting to be framed, life becomes quite serious and begs the question that our parents asked as four year olds, “what are you going to be when you grow up?”

Challenge yourself to never stop asking that question. Keep evolving. Never stop pursuing the best version of yourself.

We evolve quickly before we realize we’re well into our next life stage. It’s important to reflect on where you’ve been, how you got to where you are now, and where you’re headed.

How come when important aspects of life occur, such as graduating college or moving to a new city, the full depth of these moments never truly sinks in until after the fact? We spend years upon years in academic endeavors to prepare for the moments leading up to graduation. We spend the years of education strengthening our skills and mindsets all designed around our future careers. And then before you know it, one foot is on campus and the other is farther reaching into the ‘real world.’

The ‘real world,’ full of people ‘adulting,’ (really, how do we come up with these terms?), is upon us at last and while exhilarating, the challenges only become tougher and the rewards, sweeter. Responsibilities rapidly pile up as we navigate how to pay for health insurance and what to do with the new-found free time.

Starting fresh is renewing. Simultaneously, starting over is tough. In your early twenties, it’s nearly impossible to escape change. Changing jobs, changing relationships, changing addresses, changing routines. We spent years developing routines in college and mastering the sweet balance of work and play. Uprooted once again, we are the newest to the offices and work environments, feeling wildly unqualified for what we are about to embark upon. Waves of nerve emerge as you hopelessly try to anticipate your profession’s path ahead.

Education was never meant to teach us all that we should know. Or at least I hope that’s true. I think education, especially college, was designed to prepare us to be individual life-long learners. In order to advance our personal goals, we are required to continue to absorb knowledge every step of the way. When enrolled in school, we have professors that guide our learning, educating on certain topics – ones we don’t always get to choose. The only difference now, is that we become self-taught. The capability of your success lies within you, and you alone. As an independent, active learner you have the ability to create the best chance for future success.

While this sense of individualism is daunting, never forget your resources and outlets. The very ones that got you where you are today. Show gratitude to the friends that brought you coffee as you slaved over the second all-nighter that week. Thank your professors for picking up their personal phones at 7am before a final exam to answer that one last question. Send praise to the family who believed in you since the day they dropped you off in kindergarten and stuck with you through the tough phone calls and were the first to celebrate your accomplishments. We owe it to ourselves and the village that raised us to put 100% into our endeavors ahead.

The transition between college and career is a significant one. Give yourself time to adjust, time to learn, and time to fail. When joining a new company, remember it is impossible to learn every corner, every strategy, every concept. Start small and never forget to give yourself a learning curve, you’re guaranteed to learn faster. If you aren’t overwhelmed, challenged, or nervous, you may be over-confident and aren’t pushing yourself enough. Find your balance of remaining humble as a new learner while personally trying to take on a little more each day. In no time, you will find yourself feeling more proficient, and better yet, comfortable.

As I begin my first day on a client project tomorrow morning, the real fun begins. As I no longer desire to be a full-time professional chef (although I would like to develop further culinary skills), I never dreamed of becoming a Technology Digital Marketing Support Analyst (say that 10 times fast) working for one of the largest consulting firms in the world. To everyone who has inspired, pushed, and helped me along this journey, I’m sending you a profound “thank you.”

As a supply chain major, obsessed with the new world of logistic opportunity, I will leave with a quote of my favorite mastermind, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos: “What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.”

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