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10 Harsh Truths Every Grad Needs To Face Once Leaving College

10 Harsh Truths Every Grad Needs To Face Once Leaving College

The speeches have been given, the mortarboards have been tossed, and the couch your BFFs crashed on for the past four years has been moved to the curb. Greetings 2014 college grads, and welcome to the rest of your lives! If this feels scary, that’s probably because it is scary: You’re outside “the bubble,” and there are hard realities out there that you’re about to face. Here are 10 of them, with real stories, real talk, and real advice from recent college grads.

1. Your diploma is just an expensive piece of paper.

You’ve worked so hard for so long, and now you’ve got… well, wait. What have you got? There’s no doubt that your college diploma is an important credential: Studies show that the lifetime earnings gap between those who have a college degree and those who don’t continues to increase. But in the end, your diploma itself isn’t that meaningful. You are what matters here: What you learned, what you’ve accomplished, and most of all, what you can do are what’s truly important. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud of your accomplishments. As UConn grad Shana says, “A degree is something someone can never take away from you. It’s a timeless piece of you that belongs to you and only you.”

2. You’ll need to repay your loans.

Remember signing those promissory notes back when you were just a little freshman? Those were IOUs — and now that you’ve graduated, it’s time to pay up. “I technically knew that I would have to pay off my loans, but I never really thought about the details of it,” remembers UC Berkeley grad Aaron. “I got calls from loan consolidation places within weeks of graduation, and I had to figure out how that works quickly because I had no idea and I needed to start paying.” Unless you go back to school — and see #6 before you commit to that plan — repayment kicks in as soon as you graduate.

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Take a deep breath, then dig in and do some research. If you have multiple student loans, consolidating them so that you make one payment is a must-do. Even after you take that step though, there’s how to repay. If you have federal loans, you have several repayment options available (your choices depend upon the exact loans you have). In most cases, you will have to choose between making lower payments now and paying more overall (lower monthly payments usually mean higher interest rates, and in some cases a longer period of repayment than the standard 10 years or less). If you have private loans, put in a phone call to your lender(s) to talk about your options. Got a job? You should check to see whether that affects your repayment options. Some companies — particularly in the public service sector — offer loan repayment assistance programs. If you work for the government or a nonprofit and plan on sticking with it, you may be eligible for the recently established Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Get the facts and crunch the numbers to figure out what you can pay, then make sure you pay it regularly (set up automatic payments if you can to avoid tarnishing your credit score with a late payment). Whatever you do, avoid student loan “debt relief” firms — you already owe a big chunk of change, so don’t lose more money by being scammed.

3. Your major doesn’t really matter.

You spent so long deciding between majoring in Sociology or Anthropology, or between International Studies and Political Science. We’re not saying your agony was for nothing — finding the right major probably helped you to earn better grades and enjoy your college experience more. Thing is though, when it comes to getting a job, employers pretty much just see that you have a BA or a BS, and that’s that. With a few exceptions, like pre-professional degrees and some of the “hard sciences,” the person evaluating your résumé isn’t likely to think of you as having training in a particular field. To him or her, a degree is a degree. Your school’s name recognition could definitely help you, but no hiring manager is saying, “Finally, we’ve found someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History!” (Sorry, art historians.)

Yes, employers will sometimes list particular majors as a criterion for an open position. In those cases — say for example, an entry-level PR job where the employer says they want someone with a degree in business, marketing, or communications — if you have a relevant degree, you may be able to use it as a proxy for work experience. But if you want that job and you have experience that might make you a fit — say you majored in English, but you also did an internship at an online marketing agency — you should still apply. Again, since bachelor’s degrees aren’t normally perceived as work experience or job training, asking for a certain major is usually flexible and can be easily outweighed by other factors. Given a few years’ solid work experience, you may not even bother putting your major on your résumé anymore.

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4. You may have a long job search ahead of you.

UC San Diego grad Rachel says, “It’s definitely easy to get discouraged with the job search process. You pretty much have to start anywhere and look everywhere you can — then hope that at some point somebody will notice you and happen to like you enough to hire you.” We may not be in the thick of a recession anymore, but competition for jobs is still fierce, and you may well be competing for even low-level positions with people who have much more work experience than you do. Shana echoes Rachel’s sentiments: “When I started getting auto-generated emails declining my applications, I just started applying everywhere. Account manager for a marketing firm? Yeah I’m qualified. Office manager? Sure! You name it, I applied for it.” Shana also signed on with a staffing agency that didn’t actually land her a job, but on the plus side she says did give her “a lot of interview experience.” Though it took her almost two years — and plenty of interviews — Shana now has a job she loves. “I worked hard to get to where I am,” she says, “and I couldn’t be happier.

5. You may not like your first job.

Yep, adding insult to injury — after all of the struggles you go through just to land a gig, there’s a decent chance you won’t actually like your job. Entry-level work isn’t often that exciting. We’re talking answering phones, doing coffee runs, filing (in the digital age, how is there still so much paper?), and other grunt work. Here’s the thing though: Everyone had to do it. If you are able to get an entry-level job in the field where you think you’d like a career, try to make the most of it no matter how much it sucks on a day-to-day basis. Remember that the people working over you paid their dues, too (and probably had to deal with even more paper). Instead of doing your assignments with a sigh and an eye-roll, try to knock your superior’s socks off with the quality of your work. The more you kick butt in your entry-level position, the more quickly you’re likely to get noticed and be able to move on to the next step in your career. Not happy with the field you’re in? Turning in a top-notch performance is more likely to get you better assignments (since you can’t put coffee runs on your résumé), help you develop more skills, and give higher-ups reasons to give you an excellent references, all of which can help you land a new job in a different field.

6. You should think twice about going back to school.

“The cliché for college graduates in the last few years is to go to law school if you don’t really know what you want to do next,” explains Zach, a University of Maryland grad. Though many college grads are thrilled at the prospect of finally being out of school, for others, it’s a daunting experience — after all, school’s what you’ve been doing for pretty much as long as you remember. Why not keep it going?

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Turns out, there are plenty of reasons. Though you don’t need to repay your undergraduate student loans as long as you’re still in school, you’re likely to rack up more debt in a graduate program. A master’s degree in the humanities or social sciences isn’t an especially helpful credential, and universities don’t usually offer grad students funding unless they are pursuing a PhD. The changing nature of higher education also means that visions of a cushy, tenured life in the ivory tower are now less realistic than ever. Unless you’re pursuing a degree with an eye toward a non-academic job (e.g., in medicine, business, or the sciences), racking up another diploma may not be the best plan. Though he had always wanted to be a professor, Zach says that the close-up view he got of “the stresses of balancing research, publishing, teaching, and bureaucracy” in his graduate program made him reconsider his goals and priorities.

7. You might wind up moving back home.

Millennials are used to hearing all kinds of terms bandied about to describe them — are new grads even Millenials, or are we still saying Gen-Y? One buzzword you’ve likely heard is “boomerang children”: Kids who leave the nest for college, but, like a boomerang, return and move back in after graduation. There’s definitely a stigma attached to having to shack up with Mom and Dad, but if you’re struggling to get a job and your parents are willing to support you, being a boomerang child may not be a bad call.

Shana remembers feeling ashamed of living at home the summer after she graduated, as she “watched many of my peers move away, buy new cars, and make contributions towards their 401k’s.” Though it was stressful to feel like she wasn’t keeping up, she now would advise grads “Don’t be so eager to move out when all your friends are moving out of town. Paying for rent sucks. Paying for groceries sucks. If your parents are letting you stay at home, stay!” Having that basic support system can give you the help you need to stick with a difficult job search, or allow you to beef up your résumé by volunteering or doing an unpaid internship. That said, you’re an adult now, so just because you’re sleeping in your childhood bedroom doesn’t mean you have license to act like a kid. Make your own bed. Wash your own laundry. Do the dishes. Remember that this is a temporary step, not a permanent lifestyle.

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8. Your values will be challenged.

“Prior to graduating from college, we were warned that college kids eventually lose their idealism and liberalism,” explains Rachel. She didn’t think this would happen to her — until it did. “Even having focused so much of my studies on social inequality, it was actually very difficult to work for a non-profit with the very people I’d been studying about,” she remembers. “Just because I had the academic and historical background did not mean I had a real-world understanding of life in underprivileged or unequal situations.” Struggling to make ends meet herself, Rachel found that as time wore on, she had “lower sensitivity” toward the people she worked with. Eventually, she left her non-profit gig for a corporate job.

Recent Columbia grad Yanyi says she’s noticed recurring themes in the conversations she has with friends about “being an adult,” the definition of which is “murky at best, but loosely includes holding down a job, paying your own bills, and owning Real Kitchen Appliances.” Yanyi explains, “What’s interesting is that people completely embrace or reject this: Dive headfirst into investment banking or struggle for a long time to identify and acquire a usually nonexistent job that will offer meaning, happiness, and gainful employment to them.” Being in the ‘real world’ is going to challenge you to take a hard look at your values. You’ll no longer confront ideas as abstract concepts being batted about in a seminar; instead, the choices you make will put your commitments and values into practice. It’s not going to be easy, but you are definitely going to learn a lot about yourself.

9. Your college grades aren’t really that valuable.

Yes, we know you worked crazy hard and pulled more than a few all-nighters to polish up that GPA. But here’s the thing: Once you’re out of school, your college grades just aren’t a big deal. So long as they aren’t utterly abysmal (like “D is for Diploma” level), your GPA isn’t likely to help or hurt you. In fact, few employers are likely to even ask about your grades, let alone want to see your transcript. While you can (and should) put your GPA on your résumé if you had at least a 3.0, even within two years of graduating you should probably take it off and focus on your work experience. Explains Aaron, “I’ve talked in job interviews about skills I learned in my classes, but people want me to prove that I really learned those things by doing them, not by asking what grade I got.”

10. You have to get out there and create the life you want.

“If you grew up in the ‘K-12 then college’ trajectory, you’re used to having The Next Big Thing on the horizon. You’re also used to fantasizing about it and the life it’s supposed to give you,” explains Yanyi. But, she continues, “After graduation, your Next Big Thing is the rest of your life.” Sure, your parents, your friends, and society at large still have expectations for you, but it’s up to you to decide what you really want — and more importantly, you’re the one who has to make it all happen. “You can no longer delay figuring out who you want to be; every day you will make choices that actualize who you are in the world,” she continues. “You will have to stand by definitions of ‘justice’ or ‘good’ that you may not have figured out. Or maybe you have. How will you act? What mechanisms of our world will you look to move?” No more parents, no more professors: Grads, it’s up to you to get out there and make it happen.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

If you’re going to spend 1/3 of our life at work, you should enjoy it, right?

Trust me, I know that’s easier said than done. Difficult coworkers, less-than-desirable tasks, or even just being in the wrong position can all lead to a lack of enjoyment and fulfillment in your work.

But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? Or better yet, if you struggle with all of the above (and then some), what if I told you that enjoying your work and finding fulfillment regardless of those obstacles is possible?

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you because I was there too. Before implementing the tips below, I struggled to get through each day, much less find real fulfillment, in the office. Now, even after the toughest days on the job, I still come away with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. The best news is, so can you.

If you’re ready to make those hours count and find happiness and fulfillment in the office, then read on to find out how to be happy at work and find fulfillment in your career:

1. Discover the root(s) of the problem

For this first step, we’ll need to think back to 8th-grade physics (humor me). We all know Newton’s 3rd law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you think about it, the same can be said outside of physics, and we see this law play out in our daily lives, day after day.

Simply put, all the issues we deal with in the office (and life in general) affect us in a noticeable way.

If you’re appreciated at work, like the work you do and receive frequent praise, promotions, or raises, then this will probably have an altogether positive effect on your life in the office.

But what if we reverse this? What if you feel under appreciated, get passed up for promotions, or get denied raises? This is sure to affect the way you feel at work on a negative level.

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So, before you can implement the steps of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, we first have to discover the reasons why you don’t feel that way already.

Think about it, write a list, or make a mental note. Run through all the reasons you’re dissatisfied in the office, and don’t hold back. Knowing the exact obstacles you’re facing will make overcoming them that much easier.

In fact, as a side-challenge to this article, I recommend picking the top three reasons contributing to your dissatisfaction at work and using the following tips to tackle them.

2. Practice gratitude for an instant uplift

Did you know the simple act of feeling grateful can increase your happiness and make you more fulfilled at work?[1]

Well, it’s true, and it’s scientifically proven.

Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that practicing gratitude “reminds us of what we lacked in the past.” Meaning, it serves as both a boost to happiness and a bit of a wake-up call that things have been or could be, much worse.

Trying to conjure up feelings of gratitude can seem almost impossible when your work situation seems bleak, but hear me out: There are incredibly easy ways to get started and it doesn’t involve trying to “force” yourself to feel grateful about things that stress you out.

For an instant pick-me-up, try this:

Find a loose piece of paper, a blank sticky note, or anything you can write on, be it physical or digital. List just three things that you are absolutely without-a-doubt thankful for in your life.

Now here’s the trick: Don’t just list what you’re grateful for, you have to list why you’re grateful for them, too.

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For example, simply saying “I’m grateful for my kids” will probably make you feel good, sure, but what if we could amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling into real, lasting motivation?

Instead, write the reason you’re so thankful for your children. Is it because they make you laugh and forget about other stressors? Or maybe they help to remind you of why you go to work every day in the first place?

Whatever your reasons may be, jot them down and keep your list somewhere you can see it while you work. A quick glance at your gratitude list throughout the day can provide powerful, positive motivation to keep going.

Bonus:

If you can find just three things to be thankful for that specifically relate to your job, and list why those things make you grateful, your list can also help you find fulfillment in your work itself which can give you an even bigger boost of positivity throughout the day.

3. Take meaningful time for yourself

We all know creating a strong work-life balance can be crucial to feeling satisfied in our jobs, but rarely do we ever address how we’re spending our time outside of work.

Many of us survive a 9-hour work day and commute home only to find ourselves busy with our personal to-do lists, running a household, and taking care of a child (or 2 or 3, and so on).

If you spend all your time working, whether in the office or within your household, you’re going to feel drained at some point. This is why setting meaningful time for yourself every day is highly important.

Look, I get it: I don’t know anyone in the working world who can shun all responsibility for a 3-movie marathon or happy hour with friends whenever they feel like it. But finding time for yourself, be it just 30 minutes to an hour, can really make a difference in how you feel at work.

This works because you’ll have time to actually relax and let the day’s stress melt away while you enjoy something just for you. The to-do lists and stressors will still be there after you’re refreshed and ready to tackle them.

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No time for me-time? Try this:

If you have a busy household, you’ll need to capitalize on a block of time you know will be completely uninterrupted. The easiest way to do this: try waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual (or push bedtime back an hour if you’re a night owl, like me) and take time to do something you enjoy.

This could be reading with a cup of tea, catching up on Facebook, spending time on a passion project—anything! As long as it’s meaningful to you, it works!

Bonus:

Starting your day with meaningful time for yourself can set you up to have a positive mood that lasts well into office hours, and having your me-time in the evening can give you something positive to look forward to during the day.

4. Get productive and feel accomplished

Don’t you just love the feeling of checking the last item off of a hefty to-do list? That’s because self-motivation can be a huge driver of positivity and success.

When we accomplish something, no matter how small, it makes us feel good, plain and simple. Applying this tactic to your daily work can be the motivator you need to find fulfillment during the daily office grind.

While there are tons of steps to get more done at work, I’ll share my personal favorite: Prioritizing.

Now, many people handle prioritizing differently. Some like to tackle the little tasks first so they can spend focused time on the big to-dos. Others like to knock out the big items first and get to the smaller ones when they can.

No matter which camp you’re in, you may be missing one crucial step: Time management.

So how’s this work? When you factor in the amount of time your priorities will take, it can transform your productivity ten-fold.

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Say you have three top priorities for the day. You might jump into the smaller ones or the bigger ones depending on your preferred method, and then find yourself out of time and bringing work home with you at the end of the day.

This is prevented when you factor in time. Knowing how long each item will take, or deliberately setting specific blocks of time for your priorities can help you accomplish more in the same 8-9 (or 12) hours that you typically spend at work.

Try this:

Take a look at your priorities and consider how long they should take. Pop into your Google calendar (or Filofax, whatever works for you) and schedule time to work on your priority items around any important meetings or events of the day.

The most important thing to remember is to stick to your dedicated time.

Often, when we know exactly how long we have to work on something (and honor this time limit), we’re motivated to get more done on time to avoid taking work home at the end of the day.

The bottom line

There’s no need to waste 1/3 of our lives feeling unsatisfied at work. Luckily, you now have the tools to get started, take back your time, and become happy and fulfilled at work again.

The only question is — which tip will you try first?

Featured photo credit: Ellyot via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Psychology Today: The Healing Power of Gratitude

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