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Lifehack Readers’ Advice for College Graduates

Lifehack Readers’ Advice for College Graduates
Advice for College Grads

    Last week, I asked lifehack.org readers, “What advice would you offer to a recent college graduate entering your field?” The response was great, with a dozen readers offering excellent advice not just for their fields, but for college graduates faced with the prospect of building a life as well.

    My own advice follows the same pattern; although directed at future academics, it is applicable to anyone looking to enter almost any career: NETWORK!

    We like to imagine that in academia at least — the so-called “ivory tower”, somehow removed from the “real world” — ideas and their bearers are judged solely on merit. The truth couldn’t be further from the truth. Although merit plays a role, the fact is that good thinkers aren’t as rare as you’d think, and almost anyone with the drive and ability to make it through the grindhouse of graduate school is going to be about as able to do the idea-based part of any academic job as anyone else. That applies to teaching as well as research, grant-writing, administration, medicine, whatever academic field.

    So academics — and, I’d argue, everyone else — have to distinguish themselves on other grounds besides mere talent. There are plenty of brilliant people out there whose ideas are as good as lost to us because they never learned this lesson! Networking is an important part of the process of distinguishing yourself.

    I don’t mean just schmoozing at conferences, either. I mean a sustained effort to build relationships with other people in your field, both those already well-established and other up-and-comers like yourself. If I had it to do all over again, I would make an effort every year I was in school to write or email two or three of the luminaries in my field, expressing my admiration of their work and offering my own questions and critiques. I would ask to see drafts of upcoming work, promising to comment on their work. Or, I might discuss recent work that touches on their own. Anything to begin building a relationship with the people in my field I was working to model my own career after.

    I didn’t do that very well when I was in school, and I’ve paid a pretty heavy price for it as far as getting my career off to a solid start. What I did do well is create strong networks among my academic peers, creating a group-written website in anthropology and participating heavily in online forums and email lists. The people I’ve interacted with online became people I’ve worked with offline, collaborating on books and other projects, sharing ideas, and generally supporting each other in building our careers. We send each other job announcements, articles of note, and assignments we’ve had success with in our classes. And, of course, we’ve become friends, the most important thing.

    Networking was only one of the topics that lifehack.org readers mention in their response to this question. Among other things, they advise recent graduates to cultivate their own sense of curiosity, to keep learning, to spend some time to work out their goals, to jump into projects that advance those goals, to get and stay out of debt, and to seek out the work that is most fulfilling for them — even if it’s not the most financially rewarding. The advice they give is so good that it is hard for me to add anything meaningful to it, so for the most part, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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    Sam Davidson suggests taking it easy for a while, planning out the next 4 years and seeing where life takes you and racking up some experience rather than trying to plot out your entire career all at once.

    Learn the practical things you didn’t learn in college. Find your passion. Work jobs that interest you. Discover yourself. Commit to four years of process, reflection and introspection so that you’ll be able to know what it is you want to do for the next chapter of your life. Chances are, that history or poly sci degree isn’t all that employable right now – but it will be if you combine with some unique experiences that allow you to discover what it is you want to focus on.

    Sangrail concurs, writing “Take the lowest paying job with the best job description and title, rather than the best paying job with the worst job title – where best also means ‘most interesting’.”

    Stepping into something easy and comfortable and ’short term’ can be *death*. If you’ve already done this though, remember that it’s not really death, you’re generally just stuck because of your own opinion, not other peoples, so go back trying to find a job related to what you *actually* want to be doing, and come up with a good reason as to why you were in a dead end job for so long (hint: focusing on other areas of your life, wanting some stability while doing *blah* personal projects, or even go to the extreme of pointing out the crazy overseas trips or Burning Man projects you did, as that will contrast with the idea of ‘dead end jobs’ or give the impression that you really were up to more).

    As audall writes, this may be the only time in a person’s life when they have few responsibilities and the luxury of doing practically anything:

    Obviously, you need to eat, have shelter, etc. But there are ways to obtain these things with less than you think. Get out and travel. Go ski bum in the alps. Go teach in Mongolia. Try a business idea. In your 20’s, you can do things and try things that won’t be as easy later down the road. You can “get away” with doing these things. You can even make them help you to stand out from all the other poor saps who will look exactly the same and have the same experiences. Most importantly, it’s likely that you will find these experiences to change you and shape your life far more than any entry level job ever could. That’s worth more than 5 years of entry level paychecks. We’re lucky to have the opportunities that we do, and they’re not as difficult to seize as many think. Get it.

    Dave also suggests new graduates develop and start working on their own project, creating a record of achievement to go to employers, clients, or funders with:

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    Accomplish something measurable in the first month no matter how small you may think it is. A good way to make a positive impression on your peers and (your boss) is to actually finish a job you started.

    Follow-through” is a great characteristic to be known for when you are first hired. Small projects executed without a hitch will lead to larger and more interesting projects.

    Quite a few of you had specific advice for people entering information technology careers, much of which applies easily to life outside of technical fields. For instance, Yellik tells recent grads to “always be curious”:

    This industry is always changing and the best people never want to stop learning things. They are always picking up new technologies, reading tech books and consuming RSS at a great rate. Even if they don’t have job responsibilities that require them to know stuff they are participating in open source projects in their areas of interest and blogging their experiences for all.

    Jason Johns puts it this way:

    “Be a Sponge!” Soak up as much knowledge from your peers and superiors as you can. Sure they may seem out-dated or fixed in their ways but there is a lot of experience and information that can be gleaned from the old-timers.

    He goes on to explain simply and clearly how to exercise your sponge-hood (and it doesn’t necessarily involve wearing square-shaped pants!):

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    • DO your research: make sure you’ve exhausted all of your resources before blindly asking a question.
    • DON’T spend so much time researching that you put yourself at risk of missing a deadline. With all of the search tools available today, if you can’t find the answer in an hour or so, ask someone.
    • DO have some guesses available. Let the person know you’ve thought about what you’re asking.
    • DO make the person feel like an expert. We love that sort of stuff.
    • DON’T ask the same question over and over. Take notes, make a FAQ for yourself that you can reference later.
    • DON’T forget to say thank you.

    Starting off is kind of rough, so you offered plenty of advice for young people on how to deal with their financial lives.

    Jtimberman writes:

    • Learn how to do a written monthly budget and do it every single month. This is your homework now and forever more.
    • Pay off your student loans and credit cards as fast as possible.
    • Don’t buy a car. Especially don’t borrow to buy a car. If you already did, SELL it, get a beater car that you can pay cash for and drive that.
    • Do not buy a house. Rent cheap like you did in college. Live frugal. Save a heap of cash so you have enough of a down payment that you either pay 100% down, or you have enough that your mortgage is no more than 25% of your take home pay on a 15 year FIXED rate loan. Find a mortgage company that will do MANUAL UNDERWRITING. Do not buy a house until you meet this criteria. Your friends will make fun of you, but they’re broke and house poor.
    • Live frugal. Likely you learned how to do this while going to college. This doesn’t mean you are a cheapskate and you can’t spend any money. It means you live within your means, you find bargains by shopping around and negotiating prices with vendors and you know the opportunity cost of your money.

    ChrisR, a college freshman, seconds the advice not to buy a house, writing:

    Move back home! Living expenses are difficult to shoulder on your own if you are also paying off college debt and just starting out your career. Why not get some support from your family?If it’s a viable option for you, by all means, move home long enough to start off your career and pay off your debt, start saving money and preparing for life. Those few years will give you an INCREDIBLE boost, and give you more freedom to explore opportunities you may not have been able to look into due to money issues beforehand.

    Jon advises:

    • Get and stay out of debt. Keep living mostly like a starving student until you pay off what you owe.
    • Don’t get too attached to your first jobs. Unfortunately you’ll probably have to change jobs at least twice in the first five years just to get to the right job title and salary.
    • Start saving money right away. Learn a bit about investing and don’t give away free money like a 401k matching program.

    And Jacki Hollywood Brown offers a piece of financial advice of special relevance to women:

    Ask yourself when (if) you will plan your family. Take that into consideration when planning your career. Women especially should take into consideration exit and re-entry strategies when career planning.

    Finally, Jens Poder offers a catch-all of good, solid tips:

    1. INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
      • Listening to the needs of other
      • Negotiating
      • Assertive Communication Skills
      • Guarding your integrity
    2. How you get along with colleagues will greatly influence your ability to achieve success. Building relationsships and trust is key to get things done in organizations. Key skills in this field is.

      When people trust and like you, you will get by better. But you have to be able to push your own agenda as well.

    3. LEARN ABOUT YOUR INDUSTRY
    4. When you arrive fresh from school, there’ll be much to learn. Find experienced people who can tell you about your company and it’s business. Perhaps find a mentor. Learn about the competition. And most important: Learn what creates VALUE for the customers.

    5. KEEP LEARNING NEW STUFF
      It’s great to learn new stuff all the time. New insights and ideas will emerge from the strangest sources. After a while you’ll need to renew yourself. Don’t be to critical about what to learn. A course in calligraphy can bring fresh insights to your business, as Steve Jobs demonstrated.

    A big “thank you” to everyone who took the time to comment over the last week! The responses this week were phenomenal, and I know you’ve touched more than a few college graduates (and soon-to-be grads) with your excellent advice.

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    Last Updated on October 28, 2020

    How to Take Time for Yourself and Restore Your Energy

    How to Take Time for Yourself and Restore Your Energy

    Do you ever find yourself longing to take time for yourself? Many of us are so busy with work, school, and home life that often there is no time left over to do something that you enjoy. What follows are some ways to carve out that essential time you need to slow down, enjoy life, and rejuvenate your mental and physical health.

    The Importance of Self-Care

    In today’s on-the-go society, taking time for yourself is often looked upon as being selfish or unproductive. You have a job to do, kids to take care of, meals to cook, bills to pay, and the list goes on. How can you possibly justify taking time out for self-care without feeling guilty[1]?

    The truth is that without self-care, you’re not giving yourself a fighting chance to give your best to each aspect of your life. If you don’t take care of your own needs first, you’ll find yourself burnt out and struggling in everyday life before you know it[2].

    Take time for yourself with self-care

      Shift your perspective and accept that taking time for self-care is key if you truly want to live a productive, happy, and successful life.

      Simple Ways to Take Time for Yourself

      Finding time to focus on self-care can be difficult, especially with the demands of work and family life. Often, scheduling time before you need it can be a great to way to ensure you don’t skimp on the all-important personal time. Here are a few simple ways to take time for yourself.

      Evenings With Yourself

      Try to save certain weeknights just for you. If others ask you to do things those nights, just tell them you have plans. Use the time for gardening, reading, exercise, thinking, or the ultimate luxury of doing nothing!

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      Monthly Treat

      Schedule a treat for yourself once a month. It could be on your lunch break, a weekend, or it could be leaving work early. Maybe you get a spa treatment, go see a movie, a haircut, play golf, or whatever treat you’re always thinking about but rarely get to do.

      Schedule it in at least a month before to ensure that nothing gets in the way of that time.

      Buy Tickets in Advance

      Buy tickets for a baseball game, theater production, concert, or any other event you would enjoy. Having the tickets already in hand will force you to make it happen!

      Leave Work on Time

      This is one of the simplest things you can do when you’re craving personal time. Many of us stay at work late on a regular basis. If this is you, make it a point to leave work exactly on time at least once a week, if not more[3]. And then enjoy that time by participating in your favorite hobby or spending time with a friend you rarely see.

      Join a Group

      Joining a group can be a great way to include socializing when you take time for yourself. Find a group or club that revolves around an interest or passion of yours or something you’ve been wanting to try. You can find a book club, photography club, or bird watching group. It can be anything that helps you feel rejuvenated.

      Take an Adult Education Class

      Have you been wanting to learn something new or brush up on something you learned a while back? There are tons of free online classes, and many community colleges also offer free or cheap classes.

      You can learn a foreign language, try yoga, or brush up on your painting skills.

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      Exercise

      For busy people it can be difficult to make time for this, but it’s important to do so. A new habit is started with just one step.

      For example, you can walk for 20 minutes in the morning, and then build on that success daily. Vary how you spend that time. On some days use the time for thinking and daydreaming. Other days you can listen to motivational audio, and on days you want a real boost, listen to your favorite music!

      However, if you’ve been exercising for a while and usually listen to music, try go without any input for a change. Instead, let your mind wander and expand.

      Here are some ways to find time for exercise in your busy life.

      Taking Time for Yourself on the Go

      Some of us spend hours commuting to and from work. This can be a great chance to take time for yourself!

      Commute Via Public Transportation

      If you can, ditch your car and let someone else do the driving. Use that time to plan your day or do some reading, writing, creative thinking, or even meditation.

      Driving in Your Car

      Make the most of this time, and vary how you spend it. If you always listen to music, perhaps also try educational radio (NPR), audio books, or even quiet time.

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      Use that quiet time for brainstorming. Either think in your head or even talk your ideas out loud. Bring a voice recorder. You could write a book via voice recorder over time.

      Waiting in the Car

      If you find that you have a certain amount of “waiting time” in your life, change how you perceive it. Instead of “waiting time,” you can instantly change it into “free time” by reading a book, writing a to-do list, or practicing meditation.

      Two Birds With One Stone

      Look for ideas where you can fit in time for you within things you need to do already or that will have multiple benefits. See the ideas below to give you an idea.

      Walk to Work

      This is a a great one because you’re accomplishing many things at once. You’re getting exercise, you have time to think or enjoy music/audio, and you’re helping to save the environment.

      Arrive Early

      Any appointment that you have, plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early. Then use this time to sit back and relax with a book or magazine.

      Volunteer

      There are so many benefits with this. You make a difference for others, escape work and personal worries, and grow as a person. This about what kind of volunteering interests you and find a group to join. It could be environmental, educational, or anything that brings you a sense of purpose.

      Eat Lunch Alone

      Try sneaking away for a quiet lunch alone on a park bench or even in your car. Enjoy some quiet time with no one to talk to and no distracting noises.

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      Time Away From Kids

      You love your kids, but sometimes you just need a break from parent life. Here are some ideas to help you step away from that role for a bit.

      Organize a “Mom’s/Dad’s Morning Out” Circle

      If you have a friend or group of friends, you could arrange to share babysitting services a few times a month so that others in the group get some time alone.

      Hire a Babysitter

      Make a plan to have a babysitter that you trust watch your children once a month or once a week so that you can take time for yourself. Take it a step further and make that a date night or a night you participate in a class or hobby.

      Find a Gym With a Babysitting Service

      Find a gym that offers childcare so that you can take a yoga class, do some strength training, or even work out with a personal trainer. Make sure you fully research the safety of their childcare program first, though, and get some references if possible.

      The Bottom Line

      If you feel like you need to take time for yourself and relieve stress, there are many ways to do it. Even if you have a chaotic life where there seems to be only seconds to spare on any given day, it’s possible to carve out time for yourself by simply planning ahead. Make this a monthly occurrence to begin a healthy self-care habit.

      More Tips on Self-Care

      Featured photo credit: Erwann Letue via unsplash.com

      Reference

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