A new round of classes just graduated college and, the story goes, catapulted off into the “real world.” But often our idea of the real world isn’t, well, real, and our misconceptions about it can only be corrected over time through experience. Here are some thoughts I had when I graduated college and what I would tell myself if I could travel back in time and correct my own faulty notions.
1. “These people in my graduation photos will also be my friends years from now.”
You’ll be surprised who will no longer be your friends in a few years, and you’ll also be surprised who will be. Over time, as you discover your values, you’ll want to become closer with certain friends and drift away from others. Try not to lose touch with anyone, because the relationships you’ll want to deepen later may not be those that are strongest now.
2. “Jobs are impossible to find, so I’d better hold on to whatever I can get.”
Any old job is not hard to find, but the right job might be. Rather than taking anything you can get out of desperation, focus on becoming an excellent candidate for the jobs you really want — because you can get one of them, but it will take work that other jobs might distract you from.
3. “I’ll just play the whole career thing by ear and go where the wind takes me.”
This approach catches up with you. Eventually, you’ll find yourself wondering if the wind has taken you where you want to be. If the phrase “five-year plan” sends shivers down your spine, try this thought experiment: Brainstorm a few possible professions and picture how you’d feel if you looked into a crystal ball and saw yourself in each profession in five years. Pick one that makes you reasonably happy and test the waters by talking to someone, taking a class, or applying to jobs in that field.
4. “This person is a good friend; therefore, they will make a good roommate.”
Living with friends can feel like a never-ending sleepover, but it can also become a nightmare. Not all your friends are necessarily responsible, clean, or even mentally stable, and feeling uncomfortable coming home at the end of the day can take a toll on your mental health.
5. “Spending money is irresponsible.”
If you were on meal plan and used campus housing in college, it’s likely that spending money was an occasional treat. But now, between meals, laundry, toilet paper, and all your other living expenses, it’s a part of daily life, so don’t feel bad about it.
6. “Salary negotiation is for pushy people.”
Many recent graduates don’t negotiate their first job offers because they either haven’t heard of the concept or fear coming off pushy. However, some companies offer smaller salaries than they’re willing to pay because they expect you to negotiate, so if you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table. Other companies sincerely offer as much as they can and might say “no” if you ask for more, but they won’t hold it against you.
7. “I should live wherever my significant other lives.”
Any relationship fit to last will survive the distance if your careers take you apart for the time being. If your relationship is not strong enough to work long-distance, it’s not worth turning down a job over.
8. “I should sign a year-long lease for an apartment since that’s what everyone seems to be doing.”
Only commit to a year if you are confident you will stay in the same place for a year. The process of getting out of an agreement or finding a replacement is a huge hassle. In some cities, housing options are limited, so you may have to take whatever you can get. But if you have options, it’s easier to get a renewable, short-term, preferably furnished sublet or lease in case work or life takes you elsewhere.
9. “My salary is an indication of how accomplished I am.”
It’s more likely an indication of what industry you’re in and what stage your company is at. And you might not want to sacrifice your preferred industry and company for a higher salary.
10. “Now that I have set work hours, I can just screw around outside them.”
When you’re in college, you’re never done working because there’s always more studying, reading, or revising you can do to improve. But in the “real world,” you get to do whatever you want after you clock out each day. Don’t waste that time. Start a side project, take a class, or explore new hobbies. Who knows? The activities you enjoy enough to undertake outside of work could enhance or even become your job one day.