It’s almost two years to the day since I received my degree. I remember the anticipation of opening the email which contained my results and then a few weeks later donning a cap and gown, having my photo taken with a scroll and thinking “Wow, I’ve actually made it”. Now I know this sounds quite dramatic but ever since I was very young, I knew I wanted to go to uni and get a degree. So, reaching the day where I had actually achieved this dream was quite overwhelming. Of course, graduating is but a small step in the larger path of life but at the time I remember thinking I had the world at my feet. The memory of graduation popped up on my phone this week and I was shocked at how quickly those two years have flown by. I’ve certainly learned a lot since graduating and whilst I am still learning to navigate the world of work, career and life in general, I wanted to share some of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned so far.
In classic “what would you say to your 21-year-old self” style, here’s the biggest pieces of advice I would share with myself, or in fact anyone who is soon to be graduating and wants some insight from a little way down the line…
First things first: it’s okay if you’re unsure of what you want to do long-term
This is potentially the biggest thing that I struggled with upon graduating because it’s largely the first thing people ask when they hear you’ve graduated – it’s all about what comes next. I had completed an internship during my second year of uni which had given me some interest in a specific industry, but I wasn’t completely sure if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had always assumed that I would figure it out in time for graduation, find a job straight away in that field and stay there forever. I just assumed that’s what people did. Having talked to close friends and colleagues, it turns out that no one really does that. In fact, few people have a set career path; most are just going with the flow.
This leads me onto my next major point which is that finding (and getting) a job is REALLY difficult. I did talk a little about my early experience of this a couple of months after I graduated. If you want to read this post, please click here to find out about my experience of job hunting as a new graduate. I had been fed by school teachers, college tutors and university open days the information that “having a degree is the key to getting a great job”. This may be the case for some professions but, so far, my degree has had very little to do with the jobs I’ve had since receiving it.
Despite my expectations of life after graduation, I have held a few different positions in the last two years: the first few months I spent as a waitress, after not hearing back from a significant amount of what I considered for myself more “career-based” job applications; I worked for several months interning at a local magazine which I loved; and I’m currently working as a Receptionist and Duty Manager at a hotel which I’m also really enjoying.
I suppose what has surprised me the most is that I have enjoyed working in jobs that I never expected to be doing.Working across a range of positions, rather than finding that “dream job” straight away has allowed me to meet some great colleagues, make business connections which have led to other opportunities and grow professionally in ways I never could have foreseen.
Now, I don’t want to make this seem like it’s been all sunshine and roses because it hasn’t been. There was a period of time where I wasn’t earning and relying on savings while I applied for job after job, just hoping to even hear back – and let me tell you, that doesn’t happen very often. I’ve also worked in a position which I really didn’t enjoy to the point that I would cry before every shift because I didn’t want to go. The job wasn’t difficult. I worked hard each day and I got on well with my colleagues. I just really hated the job itself. I’ll tell you this for free: life is too short to work in a job that you hate.It’s not worth it. The silver lining was that being in that position helped me figure out what I don’t want to do.Looking back, I’m glad I had that experience because it helped narrow down my options and the industries I was applying for when I began looking for a different job. I really do think that was such a valuable lesson for me to learn – even though I learned the hard way.
Now I’m in a job that I do enjoy, and although the atmosphere and team are amazing, I know it’s not my long-term job. I’m still researching and trying to figure out what a long-term job looks like for me, and I’m gradually getting more of an idea. I know that I do want to use my degree, and I know the industry I feel the most excited to work in when I read job descriptions. Something a business acquaintance advised me a few months ago was not to let myself get stuck in a job because it’s comfortable. It’s important to keep pushing yourself to discover new things and try out different roles until you find where you are meant to be. I think that’s so true. It would be so easy to stay where I am forever because it’s a “good job”. I think something I will have to keep reminding myself in future jobs is that just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. Stay as long as you want, sure, but remember that there’s nothing stopping you from trying different things until you find somewhere that you feel truly settled and fulfilled professionally. I’m hopeful that, for me, it’ll be one of those situations where when you know, you know.
These first two years out of uni have definitely not been what I expected, but I have come to terms with taking a little longer to find my long-term job. I’ve realised that it’s all a learning process. Each position you work in, whether that’s an apprenticeship, internship, work experience or paid employment, and whether they follow your desired career path or not, they all contribute to building your character as a person, increase your social and professional circles, influence your outlook on life and contribute to your working journey. You might be lucky enough to land the perfect job straight away (and if that is you, reader, then congratulations!) but if not, don’t stress. My dad always jokes that he is still trying to figure out what he wants to do! You will figure it out in the end. It may take longer than you originally expected, or longer than that person you know from uni who you follow on Instagram, but as long as you’re learning different skills, meeting new people and working hard through all your different jobs, you’re doing something right.
I’m interested to see where I go from here, and I’m sure that when I look back in another two years, I will have much more insight that I wish I knew now.
To the journey!
If you’re wondering what your options are after graduating, I wrote a piece for Style of the City during my internship. Follow this link here to give it a read.