goodbye college, hello corporate

See where this post originally appeared on The Daily Muse.

This week, universities around the country begin the time-honored tradition of hosting graduation ceremonies. Pomp and Circumstance. Mortarboards. Tassles. It’s hard depressing to think that it’s already been seven years since I finished my undergrad degree, but this is an exciting time for college seniors everywhere.

Or is it?

The transition from college to what’s more commonly referred to as the real world isn’t an easy one. In fact, I can’t think of many rites of passage more shocking to one’s system than moving from life as full-time student to life as a full-time employee.

Sure, most of us worked during college, logging long hours and not a lot of money — but when you graduate — your entire identify morphs into something new. Every decision changes, from the clothes you buy to your bedtime, and it can be tricky to get through this smoothly.

Here’s are some things I wish I’d known when I finished school and first started working, that would have made my life a lot easier:

It’s hard to please everyone. When I started working, I had a lot of friends who were still in school, and I had a hard time balancing my work persona with my former student self. I wanted the best of both worlds: to be able to stay up every night and party, while still being able to wake up and perform at work. It took about two months of this chaos for me to realize, begrudgingly, that it wasn’t going to work. Amid chiding from my still-in-class peers, I eventually started going to bed earlier and found it much easier to play the part of a model employee. This was rotten at first, but after I became more accustomed to managing my time, I found something of a happy medium between commitments.

Health matters. The life of a college student is not always the picture of health. For four years I has been a pro at staying up late, eating whatever was cheap and convenient and taking part in more than my fair share of adult beverages (I gather I’m not alone here…). Once I started working, I had to be on my game, attentive and engaged. All day. Five days a week. This was not possible with a hangover or even without a good breakfast. Little by little, I began to embrace healthier behaviors, as I learned what was required to excel in a completely new environment.

Pride and prejudice. In college, I had an academic scholarship and stayed on the Dean’s List; I graduated with honors and felt pretty accomplished. I was, frankly, used to being recognized for my accomplishments. But this all changes when you start working. No longer will you be rewarded for every achievement, nor will you be evaluated by a simple, consistent system, like grades. Instead, you’re responsible for paving your own way and creating your own success stories. I’m a very structured thinker, and I like clear direction and parameters in my work, which isn’t always an option. I found myself very quickly being challenged in new ways and the uncertainty often made me crazy. Fortunately, I had a lot of positive influences who kept me going, otherwise I may have had a dramatic Jerry McGuire-type exit from my first job.

Friends in low places. In college, I spent 99 percent of my time with my friends, room mates and sorority sisters. I chose who I wanted to hang out with, eat with and socialize with almost all the time. Then suddenly, I was spending 40 to 50 hours a week with a lot of new people…And shockingly, I didn’t like all of them. I felt isolated from my familiar network and didn’t immediately find coworkers I could relate to or feel comfortable with – this was really hard. I soon learned that just because the people I worked with weren’t like my typical friends, they could still be awesome to hang around and I could learn a ton from them. I very slowly but very significantly changed my perspective in terms of who I could consider a friend, which was a tremendous lesson. To this day, some of my closest friends and mentors are people I’ve met at various jobs.

Life goes on. Simply put, life gets a lot harder after college, and it doesn’t ever seem quite as carefree. But – it will be ok. Things change and get confusing, but a lot of cool things come along with being forced to grow up (it’s not just lower car insurance).

If I had known how much my life would change and all the obstacles I’d face after college, I probably would’ve packed up and moved to a remote island to avoid it all. Fortunately, I lacked a crystal ball, so I entered the workforce with rose-colored glasses and expensive new suits.

And despite all the ways I could have prepared and planned for my future, I think that the youthful optimism I had as a new grad was really all I needed.

Cheers to everyone graduating this spring. It’s not going to be easy out there, but it’ll be amazing.

2 thoughts on “goodbye college, hello corporate

  1. Jessica–My daughter, Ceiba, told me you had a fabulous blog so I am now reading it–and liking it. Remembering leaving education and entering the working world through your blog has brought me many smiles–and embarrassments–exciting and challenging memories. You are right, it can be hard–but it can also be so amazing! Robin Winters

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