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7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated College

Spring is a time for new beginnings. Flora is coming back into bloom, baby animals, and of course, graduation season. I often find myself extra nostalgic during this time of year as I think back to my college graduation. I thought I had it all figured out. And while I was nervous about what came next, I was confident I could tackle anything after college. 

With age and time comes wisdom. Since I’m unable to time travel back to 2012 to share what I’ve learned with myself, I hope I can impart some wisdom on those of you entering the workforce during these uncertain times. 

Here’s what I wish I knew when I graduated:

1. Plan — but not too much

Goal setting has always come naturally to me. Planning makes me feel safe and relieves my anxiety. Midway through my college career, I was already planning precisely the type of work I’d hope to be doing in a big city like Chicago. I knew all of the steps I had to take to get there. 

In hindsight, the level of planning I’d done didn’t allow for the natural flexibility of life. Things happen — expectations don’t always get met. 

Instead, I wish I’d created a road map highlighting stops along the way I didn’t want to miss after college. Flexible planning keeps things realistic. It also allows opportunities for growth and learning and the ability to change direction.

2. Treat yo’ self … with kindness

I had big dreams when I graduated. Who doesn’t? But when I set off to Chicago to dip my toes into what I thought would be my future, things didn’t pan out exactly the way I’d planned. I can still remember calling my best friend and crying because I didn’t love my job and I was lonely. I felt like a failure. Why wasn’t it all going according to plan?

Just because things don’t work out as expected, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t achieved something. Speak to yourself with kindness and know that life ebbs and flows. Your resilience and strength will support you. And if you’re like me, you’ll always get the job done and make things work. 

Your mid-20s are one of the most challenging times in your life. You’re young but also a full-fledged adult with loans, bills, a job, and a lot of plans. You don’t have to know everything and do it all perfectly.

3. Feedback isn’t the norm

In college, I was used to validation regarding my efforts through grades, recognition within my department and student-run integrated marketing agency, and confirmation from my classmates. I’m always pushing myself to grow, and constructive criticism is something I regularly seek out. 

When I entered the workforce, I quickly found out clear and consistent feedback isn’t always easy to come by. More often than not, merely completing the work and getting it approved was all the feedback I’d receive. 

The lack of input threw me for an unexpected loop and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I began to find new ways to ask for simple feedback and even sought out the guidance of mentors. Ultimately, it helped me develop a critical eye for my work and built my confidence.

4. Never stop learning

Leaving college doesn’t mean your opportunities to learn something new are over. And you’re reading this right now, so clearly you’re looking for some perspective! 

While you’re going to want to take a breather from the everyday college experience, I encourage you to continue finding ways you can sharpen your skills. This could be utilizing your local library card to access Lynda, taking a course on UDemy, or getting a Google certification. 

Also, I strongly recommend asking your employer to pay for you to continue to learn. It doesn’t matter what field or industry you’re in; there’s nothing more compelling on a resume than seeing someone who is constantly striving to push themself further.

5. It’s all about balance

I worked hard in college. I was involved in my student-run integrated marketing communications firm where I worked with real clients and eventually led the organization’s 80 students. I entered the workforce prepared to do whatever it took to prove myself, which often included working long hours and consistently looking for ways to go above and beyond. I quickly learned that all work and no play is an equation for burn out

Post-graduation is a better time than ever before to immerse yourself in your favorite hobbies, find new ones, meet new friends, and work on finding out who you really are after college. Push yourself to try new things, say yes to going to events or parties you’d otherwise skip — you never know what you will learn about yourself. 

For me, I found out that I could make a difference in my community through animal rescue and built lasting friendships by joining a local chapter of Code For America.

6. Be smarter with money

Just because you can buy things, doesn’t mean you should. I did great a job saving and scrimping shortly after I graduated. However, once my salary increased after my first entry-level job, I began a pattern of poor spending that took me years to beat.

Budgeting is fantastic and can completely change how you view your income and expenditures. My recommendation is to always live at a lower level of spending. This prepares you to be able to save money freely, set goals, and treat yourself when you deserve it. Also, focus on building good credit. 

7. Don’t take anything for granted

Life happens fast. I feel like I blinked, and now I’m eight years into my career. Take the good, bad, and weird with the perspective that there’s always an opportunity to get something out of it. The bad days will build perseverance and resilience, and the good days will keep you going. Most importantly, never take your talented co-workers, managers, and network for granted. 

About Brittany Schlacter

Brittany Schlacter is the Communications Specialist at The Rapid, the public transportation authority for Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan and a Director of West Michigan Critter Haven. You can follow her thoughts and animal adventures on Twitter.