I’ll preface this post with this: I loved college. It was an incredible experience, and I would not trade those times, and the friends that I made there, for anything. However, looking back, I realized that college is not the real world. It’s not representative of what you’re going to face in the workplace. The real world is infinitely more complicated and filled with more pitfalls than could ever be imagined. So, I’ve devised a short list for all of my recently graduated and on their way to graduating friends, of things that I wish I would’ve known before having to learn them the hard way. Not like you’ll believe me or listen anyways, but here goes.
1. College is a business.
When you look critically at college as an educational institution, it is incredibly profitable. Your tuition goes up and up every year until you graduate, putting you further and further into debt, while filling your brain with fancy book learning. It’s really an incredible system and it’s designed to make you believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that your education in the classroom is the key to your success. I agree with this… to a point. I do believe that classroom learning is a great way to transfer knowledge, and that professors are a great resource of institutionalized knowledge. Realize though, that most professors spend most of their lives in academia, which means, sadly, that they can lose touch with reality, and become mired in the trappings of educational politics and tenure. Therefore, don’t always take opinions as fact, and take everything taught with a grain of salt.
2. The real world is hard.
I found this one out right out of school. College is akin to a security fence, it’s great to on one side of it, and scary as shit on the other. It will seem as though when you graduate, that you’ll be ready to take on anything that the world can dish out. You’re invincible, or so you’ll think. It’s what I thought. I had lived in a brilliant little world where I was the star, and when I moved out of my security bubble and into the real world I got a hard, cold, pimp slap of reality. My college degree didn’t mean that I was ready to take on the world. It only meant that on paper, I was smarter than a kid who had just gone to high school…on paper. You’ll have to learn to adapt, which we’ll get to later. Oh, and wait until those school bills start coming in…
3. You’re not the most impressive thing coming into the office.
Curb your ego. You may have been an excellent student, you may have graduated suma cum laude. That doesn’t really mean a lot when you’re competing for your first real job. Don’t bring your arrogance to the table, because it’s a waste of time and a test of patience. Someone hiring for a business is not going to be impressed with your attitude if you come in like you’re the next CEO of the company. Be willing to learn. Be ready to absorb feedback. Be ready to shovel some shit. It’s part of the game, you need to start out low man on the totem pole and outperform, outclass, and most importantly outlearn the competition. Go into your interviews armed with information and questions, show that you know your audience and that you actually care enough about their time to spend your time putting in the leg work.
4. You’re education is valuable, learn how to leverage it.
Think about all of the classes that you took. Even the lame ones. I started out as a Music Industry major, and through lots of introspection, and general dislike for having to do what I didn’t want to do, I switched to a major of my own design. I didn’t know if this was good or bad, but it’s actually turned out to be much more useful than I ever imagined. It had taught me to look at things from as many angles as possible, looking for opportunities. Careers don’t always present themselves in the forms that we would like, all wrapped up with a pretty title and a big salary. It takes a lot of thinking, evaluating, and most importantly trial and error before you’re going to find something that makes sense for you. It’s hard, and it’s scary, but being able to find those nuggets of information that you absorbed in college will enable you to leverage a career out of things that others may not see as opportunities.
5. Learn to look outside your books, the world is much bigger.
Adapt. Learn. Get better, faster, and stronger with each failure. Fail often and fail better. Don’t rely on just the things that you’ve learned in school to get you through. The world won’t wait for you to find the career of your dreams. It takes scrapping and testing to find that dream job, and believe me, it’s out there, but you will have to fight for it. Unless you’re going to be a Cardiologist or a Trial Attorney, your career path is not clear cut. If you would’ve told me that after studying communications, artist management, journalism, and music theory, that I would end up working with Twitter as a career, I would have laughed and punched you square in the jaw. And yet, here I am. An opportunity presented itself for me to begin a career. Was it what I always dreamed of being? No. Is it something that I truly enjoy? Yes. Does it allow me to do other things that I love? Hell yes. This is all because I thought outside the box, and dove headfirst in the the small but violently active social media scene. Marketers, PR people, advertisers, all getting mixed and blended around in this soup of social connections. Look for opportunities, emerging fields, find something that you’re passionate about. If you start a career and find out that you hate it, don’t be afraid to ditch it. The best advice I ever received was from an old boss, and he said “If you want to be successful, you can’t be afraid to fail. You have to know that at the end of the day if you bet everything, your house, your car, whatever, and you lose, you can always build again.”
Do it, find what you love and do it. Find your passion, find your fire and execute. Find something someone is already doing and do it better, do it with more dedication, make it your own. Only you determine how successful you’re going to be, but be smart about it. Calculate, wait for the right moment, then take it.