This picture was captured exactly five years ago. May 3rd, 2015 was the day that my friends and I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead. That morning, we tried to hastily get as many of our belongings moved out of our 5th Street house as possible for our parents to take home after the ceremony. I started work at 8 AM the next day and we needed to be moved out of our house by 5.
At the point this photo was taken, I had an understanding that a special chapter of my life was closing, but I was less aware of how vastly different adulthood would be after college. Friends would leave (I’m the only one of these six that remains in the Fargo-Moorhead area), careers would launch, and a void would be felt. To this day I think back on the relationships I shared with professors, the house I lived in with my best friends, and how little I knew about what would come next in my career.
I’ve been in touch with some current seniors who are facing one of the strangest times imaginable; today, Concordia’s Class of 2020 will be tossing their caps in their family homes after watching a virtual ceremony. The economic impact of a worldwide pandemic has painted a much more challenging outlook for the job market, and there is an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty that shapes the minds of graduates across the country.
I wish a crystal ball could tell us how everything will shake out so I could provide more staunch advice, but the reality is that it’s an unsettling time for all of us, whether we’re graduating today or have been working in our career for decades. What I can tell you, though, is that I’ve made a range of mistakes over my five years after college that have taught me crucial lessons about work, life, and how to find a better balance between the two. It’s been a while since writing a LinkedIn article, and I thought what better time than now (on the 5 year anniversary of my college graduation) to offer five pieces of advice that I wish I would have had when I was tossing my cap.
Lesson #1: Reserve some life for after 5 o’clock.
Okay, so sometimes you might have to work later than 5 o’clock, but you catch my drift. When you first get in the swing of things with your job, it’s going to be intoxicating. The praise you’ll get from a job well done, the paychecks and bonuses that follow a laborious time, and the internal gratification from achieving early success will get to you; it got to me. But remember, there are important things that make up your life outside of work that will still demand (and deserve) your attention, and it’s important to find a balance whereby you can both put in hard work at the office, but also devote time and energy to the things outside of your work.
I skipped out on a lot of time with my family and friends to spend late nights and weekends in the office. I was so driven to achieve career success that I never really “clocked out.” Even on vacations, I’d fake having to use the bathroom so I could sneak in some time on my work email to try to stay on top of the ball. I never let my mind off of work, and as a result sacrificed much more than I realized. Push yourself like hell during the 8-5’s, but set boundaries for yourself before and after work to devote to the people, places, and things that are most important in your life.
Lesson #2: Focus on the right relationships.
The most important relationship to look after is the one you have with yourself. You know what you need on a more intimate level than anyone else in the world, so don’t lose touch of that. For me, I have a need to devote time & mental energy to my creative outlet (making music). I’m sad to admit that between May 2015 and December 2019, I only made fifteen songs. In the five years prior to that, I had made over eighty. Getting back to devoting more time to a creative outlet has actually done wonders for my productivity and happiness at work too.
I know this is different for everybody, but for me, one of the relationships that I also neglected for a while was my relationship with God. Once I was off campus and living on my own, I filled my Sundays with some combination of work, sports, and exercise, and little-to-know time for my faith. Getting back to focusing on my spirituality has been a very positive move for me. Though your relationship needs may vary, just remember to not neglect them (whatever they may be). Reserve some time to tend to yourself.
Lesson #3: Connect to your community.
What you may have taken for granted in college is that you are very much a part of the on-campus community. You’ve got your friends, you support the same clubs, and you attend the college’s events. People look out for you, and you look out for them. Well, when you exit college it suddenly feels a lot more isolated and you realize that you, as a human, have a longing for a sense of community that needs to be nourished.
It took a while for this lesson to set in with me, but I did ultimately realize that I needed to belong to a community so made efforts to volunteer, join community boards and non-profit organizations, and even hosted some of my own community-focused events. Your access may vary depending on the size of the city you’ll be moving to, but ask around. You’d be surprised how quickly you can connect to a cause you support, and some of my best friends I’ve made have been through these community boards or initiatives that I’ve joined. If you’re sticking around the Fargo-Moorhead area, just send me an email (email@example.com). I’d be happy to introduce you to some of the awesome people, places, and things that make up my community.
Lesson #4: Don’t stop learning.
Textbooks are expensive. And I hate to say it, but… they’re often not necessary. I remember at the launch of my independence after graduation, I was so excited to be done with my education that I didn’t devote any time to continued learning. Yeah, sure, there are lessons that are taught in your work environment, but I mean the independent learning of new skills that will help you in your career and beyond. Maybe it’s a class about personal finance and how to manage your expenses (warning: you’ll start having a lot more of them), or perhaps it’s even some cooking classes to eat healthier and more affordably.
But don’t ignore the resources out there that can make you better at your job too. Learn how to read HTML, build a basic website, use graphic design software, or excel in digital marketing. There are so many great resources that are available through a simple Google or YouTube search that will add to the “skills” section of your resume, and improve your ability to tackle new tasks at work. Being committed to continuing your education (even through some quick, free tutorials) will also keep your brain sharp and your level of motivation high. And if you’re struggling to find a job right out of school due to the state of the job market, lay out 4 or 5 hours a day for learning. You’ll appreciate the routine, trust me.
Lesson #5: Take others’ advice with a grain of salt.
Yeah, honestly, you can neglect this whole article I’m writing if you wish. You’re going to get infinite “pieces of advice,” and oftentimes it will be unsolicited. Everybody around you has an opinion on what the right thing for you to do (or not do) is when it comes to your career, but you have to take some time to do a little soul-searching and determine that for yourself.
I remember thinking at some point in life I would have all the answers figured out, but I’ve realized that nobody has a road map to a successful life because no two narratives are identical. The diversity of the human experience is part of its beauty, so what worked for someone else by no means indicates that it will work for you. I’ve learned to preface any advice I provide current students with this: “I’m going to tell you what helped me, but you need to determine what will help you.” It’s the truth; you come into the world the same way you leave it (on your own), and though it’s a fruitful exercise to collect nuggets of wisdom from those who enter your journey along the way, remember that the only person you’ll ultimately need to answer to is yourself. So, what do you want?
It’s a strange time for all of you graduating seniors right now, and my heart is with you. You may already have your next job lined up, or you may be completely uncertain of what you’ll be doing three days, three weeks, or even three months from now. But you know what? Neither do I, and neither do so many of us, regardless of how long we’ve been in the working world. If I can impart one last lesson before I leave, it would be this: you can’t plan for anything in this life except change, so arm yourself with courage and knowledge that can help you adapt to all forms of uncertainty. This may be your first opportunity to do just that.
Looking forward to reading your lists in 2025.