TODAY'S Internet seems to be full of lists: 10 reasons to get married; five things that make a leader great; 24 sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan recipes to lose weight, gain energy and live a healthier life. There is no shortage of advice out there, for just about anyone, experiencing just about every one of life’s situations. I’m certain that there are already countless articles giving guidance to future graduates, those who are about to venture out from the “safe” confines of university into the “real world.” Having just graduated myself, I’m currently going through that very evolution, and staring the “real world” in its big, daunting face. Despite the plethora of suggestion-spouting lists, I still feel I could have could have been better prepared. So, here is my list of things I wish someone had told me to do at university before life after university:
1. This is the “real world.”
My experience in school was a mixed bag of work styles – from the type-A overachievers (myself) to the ‘barely-theres’ that seemed to sleep through every assignment. It seemed unfair, and through both of my degrees I was told this sort of conduct would be inadmissible in the working world. Wrong. This is exactly how people will be in the “real world.” They will be late on projects. They will do sub-par work. They will not show up. Rather than complaining about it and thinking that these types of people won't get away with this behaviour in the “real world” (they will), practice your leadership and people management skills and learn how to work with them now, before your salary depends on it.
2. Connect with as many professors as you can and keep in touch.
During my first degree, I worked with one of my professors in his psychology lab. In addition to him acting as my thesis supervisor, we were really good friends and he inspired my love of writing. After University, I did what most students do – move on and forget. Fast forward 6 years – I was applying to graduate school and needed an academic reference, and because of the four years we spent working together, I figured this professor was the best choice. When I approached him, he agreed but expressed with admonishment his disappointment that I hadn’t kept in touch over the years. I felt like a fool – asking someone who was at the time effectively a stranger for a reference based on a relationship that had expired six years prior. You never know when you might need a reference or when you might stumble upon a contact you need them to introduce you to, so build relationships with your professors and keep them in the loop.
3. Enjoy your “freedom.”
Your school schedule is undoubtedly incredibly busy; with classes, tutorials, seminars, internship hours, study time and exams, but it is critical to appreciate the freedoms you do have while you’re in school. Take time to enjoy the outdoors, see the world (even the one that is just around you) and experience life beyond the library. Depending on where you end up in the working world, you may be forced to spend 8 or more hours a day locked away inside a halogen lit office listening to the sounds of students heading out to enjoy a sunny day at the beach, those sounds drifting in from windows located absolutely no where near your desk. Get outside and make today’s worker bees jealous before you become one yourself!
4. Invest in your friendships
Making friends in the “real world” is hard. As students, we naturally gravitate towards those facing the same intellectually arduous workout we are, finding reprieve and solace in each other’s mutual suffering. Outside of school, adults seem to have a harder time bonding, and the “real world” becomes a stage where we all try to pretend we have everything under control – a stagecraft that can leave us feeling a little lonely. If you are back at kindergarten square one when it comes to making friends, the friends you invested in during your university years will be the people who commiserate with you over the harsh realities of the “real world” – even if they are doing it over the phone or through your computer screen.
5. Start applying for jobs now!
The process of finding a suitable job is likely going to be long, and it isn’t an easy one. In addition to watching your bank account slowly drip dry, you’ll see your self-esteem take a hit when the rejections start rolling in. The combination of the two is bound to make you a bit distressed, so start applying early while you are still buoyed by the motivational forces school tends to trigger. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll get offered a job “too soon” or that your current unavailability will preclude you from an interview. Good companies will wait for the right candidate.
6. Make a plan for the next phase of your life.
Some people I know seem to have known from birth what they want to do with their lives. They’ve had a path and they’ve followed it. Myself, I’ve known absolutely, positively, for certain where my future was headed about 7 times throughout my life. And had absolutely, positively, for certain no idea where I was headed probably about five times that. Nevertheless, I think it’s important before leaving school to have a plan. I also think it is equally important to be ready to scrap that plan at a moment’s notice. Yes, that’s right: make a plan you’re willing to commit to and then be equally willing to let it go. This is because a plan gives you direction and motivation, even if only for just a little while, which is certainly better than wandering around the “real world” aimlessly hoping something will fall into your lap. Someone famous probably once said that it was better to deviate from a plan than to not have one in the first place. He or she was right.
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