Graduation and Beyond:
Where do I go from here?
Sydney, the daughter of a good friend, graduated from college this past June, and I had the honor of attending her commencement. In the hours leading up to the ceremony, she took me aside and confided that she felt a strange mix of emotions, both exciting and terrifying. While she was proud of her accomplishments, she also felt a little depressed. She said she felt a bit like someone had just dropped her off in a scary, unfamiliar part of town at night with the message: "You're on your own from here. Good luck."
I empathized with her. Her laments sparked memories about my own graduation day, years ago. My fellow graduates and I sat facing the dais waiting for our names to be called, and I remember looking around and wondering if everyone felt as mixed up as I did. It was a breezy day and faces were veiled by blowing hair and flapping gabardine, but those I could see held expressions that were a mix of elation and trepidation. I am sure we were all wondering what life would bring in the months and years that lay ahead.
As I continued to talk to Sydney, I reassured her that the transition from college to post-college life is a big step and it's normal to feel many conflicting emotions. I know I felt pulled in many directions back when I was her age—by loyalty to the people I had come to love, by hopes and dreams, by practical obligations, and by a fear of the unknown. In my case, I didn't entirely want college to end, and I remember feeling edgy and grumpy half the time and excited and optimistic the other half.
So as Sydney, and her mom, dad, and I drove to her graduation ceremony, I shared all of the things I wish people would have said to me back when I was 22 and facing "real life." I am sharing my ideas again here, along with additional advice provided by friends and colleagues at work. I hope that this information will be helpful to other recent college grads, like Sydney. I also hope these will help all of us remember that the learning journey never ends.
- Just try it. A key to success is keeping an open mind and not being afraid to plunge into new situations, even if they seem scary. If you're not sure what you want to do with your life and career, don't be afraid to try something for a little while to see it if is a good fit. If not, disrupt yourself, and switch gears.
- Be an 'experience sponge': Never underestimate the power of experience. Embracing new challenges can yield great results in terms of how it shapes you and what you learn along the way. Accumulated experiences can be layered on top of other experiences, to gradually build an area of personal expertise in work and in life. Look for ways you can apply what you've learned from one situation to others.
- Believe in yourself. Design your own authentic life and don't let others try to quash you into their perception of what you should or should not be doing.
- Own your mistakes, and learn from them. Think of mistakes as opportunities, not failures. Most highly successful people have not gotten to where they are today without taking a few wrong turns.
- Experiment and innovate. Don't be afraid to question the status quo; it's through questioning and shaking things up a bit that discovery happens and doors open.
- Always make a contribution. Success requires hard work, grit, and endurance.
My colleague, Andrea Crouch, a Content Developer at Socratic Arts, says it well: "Do more than is expected. Don't adopt a 'C is good enough for me' attitude. People who aren't successful tend to do the bare minimum and nothing more. And they are often the biggest complainers, saying things like, 'it's not my job' or 'I don't get paid enough to do that.' My mom, a longtime business owner, always told me that successful people are the ones who are willing to do what others are not. They stay at work late, they pursue opportunities others don't think are important, and they aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty."
Here are a few more great tips from my colleagues* at Socratic Arts:
- Treat others as you would like to be treated. Cultivate empathy and boundaries to nurture others and yourself.
- Pursue everything with vigor and enthusiasm.
- Find joy in your work and be passionate in all that you do.
- Try to find the silver lining in tough situations.
- Make a conscious decision not to complain.
- Take risks—a better "you" is on the other side of fear.
- Meditate, exercise, read, and learn on a daily basis.
- Outsource your well-being to a carefully curated tribe that includes health care professionals, financial advisors/planners, fitness gurus, hobbyists, loyal and loving friends and family, and maybe even a librarian.
- Do the 'right' thing, always. While it may have unwanted consequences in the short-term, it typically works out for the best in the long run.
- Chase opportunities to work, create, produce, and collaborate with others.
- Be a 'servant' leader, not a dictator.
- Focus on solutions rather than problems.
- Be prudent financially. Understand your choices and the potential outcome of your decisions in the short term and the long term. If you don't know what you don't know, educate yourself.
Following these tips will help give you a jumpstart on your post-college life and your career. Is it always going to be easy? No. But the best thing you can do is to keep marching forward bravely and do your best. While college graduation will probably be one of the memories you are most proud of, it is just a beginning; a launching point for many future opportunities and accomplishments. In the words of Zig Ziglar, American author, salesman, and motivational speaker, "Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude."
About the Author
is a Senior Designer and Project Manager for Socratic Arts. For the last 23 years, she has designed performance improvement solutions for a gamut of industries, including medical and life sciences, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, insurance, aviation, automotive, defense contracting, consulting, disaster response, non-profits, associations, and more. Her skillset is vast, with her greatest expertise revolving around the worlds of instructional design, interactive design, UX, usability analysis, and content creation. She loves using her combined knowledge and experience in these areas to design and deliver best-in-class creative solutions to Socratic Arts' clients and their audiences.
Susan currently lives outside Asheville, North Carolina, with her two dogs, "Gunther" and "Baloo," a formerly wild Mustang horse, "Songwe," who she gentled and trained herself, and her life partner, Michael. She is also an avid photographer, writer and poet, and outdoor enthusiast.
* Thank you to my Socratic Arts' colleagues who contributed to this article: Mike McGarry (President), Holly Christensen (COO), Nikki Shull (Instructional Designer & Project Manager), Lyz Best (Instructional Designer & Project Manager), and Andy Crouch (Content Developer).