It is early Fall. That means for members of the Class of 2014, new horizons await beyond the manicured lawns and iron-wrought gates.
For many of us Millennials, the path has always been set clear, predictable. The road to success was defined as:
(a) perfect grades
(b) high SAT scores
(d) a deep concern for diversity
(e) a myriad of cool and unique hobbies (one or two of which you must be good at—like, really damn good—because just “passionate” is overrated).
Then we get into a good college, study hard, pick up a few internships, maybe travel a bit.
But now…. What now?
As the tents are being pitched and free mints are getting arranged on plastic tables, you are making last-minute tweaks to your resume. Company and non-profit recruiters are rehearsing the pitches, the ones they will eloquently present to a group of young hopefuls who are about to experience major change (notice I avoided using the “G word”).
Though what is it, exactly, you are hopeful for?
The answers may vary. Some are more direct: a good job, a high salary, a career, the White House. Others are more complicated: a way to end poverty, a shot at closing the achievement gap, a good job.
Regardless of the reason, you are scared. You are frustrated. You are nervous. You are lost.
And if you aren’t one or all of these things, you are a brat. Because you should be. Because discomfort and awkwardness create humility. And it is okay to acknowledge them. They are your allies.
Humility does not mean ignoring all the things you do and how good you are at doing them. Humility is taking credit for your work, your accomplishments, and then appreciating the people who have made it possible for you to do so. Humility teaches you to be honest, and it affords you the privilege of being reflective.
Take that humility with you as you pursue the next step. Take ownership of your strengths and your achievements. Give thanks. Demand respect, in everything you do. The years after college will be some of the most difficult, lonely, and unstable years of your life. But they are also the most freeing; they are yours to explore and grow in ways you never expect.
So continue being uncertain, go on, and keep questioning your decisions. Just keep a few things in mind as the career fairs and job posts roll in…
It is not just you who needs to do some growing up, it is your mind, too. In your 20’s, the brain is still developing, so whatever path you choose, you have to be always learning. Just like your body, your brain needs exercise in order to stay strong and healthy. If you are not immediately going on to graduate school, formal schooling is over for now. But education is forever. It is a process, always. The quality of your life will not amount to much if you view knowledge as a means to an end.
In the fledgling years of your career, you will need to do a lot of reflecting. Do this through writing.
After college, your assignments will most likely not come in the form of an essay prompt. It is then incumbent on you to express your thoughts, your emotions, your experiences. Writing, for no one but yourself, will allow you equanimity through the good and bad times. It will clear your head; you will be able to see yourself and your goals with more clarity than ever before. College may have been your chance to figure out what your interests are to study, but the years following are your chance to discover what you are passionate for life. Do not let this privilege go to waste.
‘I would be very lucky to even find a job where I bring someone their coffee or making copies,’ was what I used to tell myself. I was wrong. I see that now.
At the behest of all my hard work, of always playing by the rules, I owed it to myself (and the people who supported me along the way) to find a place where I feel valued, where my mind is appreciated.
You can imagine my surprise the first time my boss said to me, “You are smart. That is a really good idea. I want your feedback on this.” It made me happy to work somewhere that cared about what I thought. I became more engaged, more excited, more fulfilled.
The key to loving what you do is feeling like you are part of a team, that your ideas and contributions have meaning. If you have this, it changes the way you see work, gives you a purpose, pushes you to be better and do better.
When your mind gets the respect it deserves, you move closer to finding that passion, that thing that makes you dance on the inside when you do it. You will know it. Follow it.
As the teacher Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”