This dreaded question from well-meaning friends and family can be overwhelming – especially if the answer is ‘I have no idea.’ For a lot of students, college or university can provide a steady routine where the path is more or less laid out. You know what’s coming tomorrow, and next year. Until graduation that is. Relax. Stop and smell the flowers. It’s ok, and you’re not alone. We don’t all have the answers at graduation.
In fact, it goes hand in hand with the more than 40 percent of young people who don’t feel that they are prepared for the working world.
I remember graduation vividly. I felt like a cork bobbing in the ocean. All of the familiar things I had come to know were quickly vanishing from sight: my tight knit group of friends, the house I rented with my roomies, the nook in the library I claimed as my own, the familiar annual class selection and schedule frenzy, the feeling that at any moment I could just walk around the corner to find a friend. I was leaving all of that behind for the next chapter and that chapter started with moving back in with my parents (gasp!) with no job (gasp!).
For some, the path after graduation is clear. Grad school, a gap year to travel, or a job already lined up make for an easy answer.
But for all the young people who are about to graduate and don’t know what is coming next, here are some suggestions as you get started on the next chapter.
Keep a Routine
When you feel anxious or stressed, it can be hard to resist the urge to just pull your covers up and go back to bed. While you’re figuring out your next steps, make sure you continue to balance time for both you, and the job or career search. Stay active and on top of the news and current events in your field; make plans with friends and family; start or continue with a fitness regime. Job hunting can be strenuous so keeping active physically, socially and emotionally is key.
Don’t Drop the Calculator Just Yet
Chances are your day-to-day is changing drastically and may even include a move back home to save some money. This is a good time to sit down and create a budget that captures all of your expenses – including some news ones that come with life post-graduation. Remember to factor in student loans and other new expenses like building a workplace wardrobe, transit to work and helping your parents with household expenses. It’s also important to treat yourself, so don’t forget to include entertainment as a line item for things like nights out with friends. This online budget tool can help you plan your expenses.
Drink Lots of Coffee (or Tea)
With like-minded professionals that is – that’s code for networking! Seek out mentors who have careers that you admire and take them out for coffee, a walk or a brief meeting. They might not be able to give you a job on the spot, but they might lend you some meaningful advice or put you in touch with someone who can. Always ask for advice and suggestions for another person to add to your networking list.
Do Your Own Thing
Create opportunities for yourself that demonstrate your full potential. Start a blog that curates industry thought leadership. Create YouTube videos on a topic that you’re passionate about. Write poetry. Working on something that keeps your brain working and stimulated will not only set you apart from your competition, but also help you to develop new and marketable skills.
Keep Your Eyes Open to Opportunities
They might come in the least likely place. Maybe the job offer isn’t your dream job, but it comes with the opportunity to work with someone that you admire. Or maybe taking a short-term contract that doesn’t offer long term security will lead to a valuable new skill or new contact. When you’re right out of school, make sure you put your foot in every door that could be open to you. For tips on entering the workforce, check out this page.
Try not to let yourself get down when a friend talks about their amazing job opportunity, or when your cousin (who has been working for a while) scores an awesome new condo. It’s easy to believe everything we see on social media is real and that your friends are moving on to new and amazing things, but perception isn’t always reality. If you put the work in, your time will come too.
So how did my “next chapter” pan out? I was someone who didn’t like the uncertainty very much. Within a few months of leaving, a lot of coffees and networking meetings, I landed a great job at an advertising firm. A few months later, I took the next step, found a great little flat with my best friend, and moved out. But if my future self could have met me back then, she would have said “Don’t be in such a hurry. Take your time. Enjoy not knowing what the next step is. With ambiguity comes opportunity”. Some of the best experiences in my life have happened when I wasn’t so certain of the path ahead. They key is to embrace the ambiguity, keep learning and growing because something great is always just around the corner.
One last thought – no matter where you’re headed next, don’t forget to celebrate this achievement. Graduation is not a given – you worked hard for this one! Take a moment to reflect on that achievement and all the steps that you took to get here. Congratulations.
Not everyone follows the same path after graduation, read about how three recent grads approached life after school here.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.