Advice for the grads.

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Denver, CO. May 2018.

 

The first time I brought Kyle home – like “home” home, as in “meet the parents” and “let’s see how long it takes before my mom breaks out the baby pictures” home – it was Easter weekend. Of last year. He had met my parents once before when they were visiting in Chicago, but I had considered that more of a ‘practice round’. A ‘by the way, this is the guy I’ve been hanging out with — see, I told you he’s not a murderer!’ sort of thing. This was the real meeting. The “family holiday” meeting. The “staying for a weekend” coup de gras (my parents live in Ohio, so it would have been tough to turn around and drive back after dinner.)

My parents are not the kind of parents who live to embarrass me. In fact, when my mom suggested “We should dig out those old home movies! Kyle, do you want to see Jennifer’s first Christmas when she was a baby?”– my dad mumbled to my mom, “I thought we said we weren’t going to embarrass her. Remember…?” and she was like, “Well, THAT’S not embarrassing! She was so cute! It’s only the FIRST Christmas.”

‘It’s only the FIRST Christmas’. Not the fourth or fifth when I turned into a real diva about Santa and got really specific with my Barbie demands “Dear Santa” Christmas-list-letter.

So my parents dragged out the old home movies. And the baby pictures. And the articles I wrote for the county newspaper during my journalism internship as a high school senior.

“Did Jennifer tell you that she had a journalism internship as a HIGH SCHOOL senior?” my mom asked Kyle. And of course Kyle was like, “Why no, she didn’t!” 

Thank God for moms. Right? Otherwise I would have to be that annoying person at parties who totes on her glory days from high school – “Did I ever tell you about that time I wrote for a newspaper? In high school? Oh I haven’t?! WELL, I wrote fifty page one stories. Fifty of them. Not that I counted or anything…”

“She wrote FIFTY page one stories.” My mom was the one who counted. “As a high school senior,” she told Kyle. “FIFTY.”

I mean, the stories were like “Local Post Office Gets A New Roof” and “Tractor Days Festival June 22-24”, but still. I’m sure that even if the stories had been “US President Meets With World Leaders”, I would have been just as successful. Although I probably would have had to Google, “Who are other world leaders?”, etc.

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When people used to ask me what I was going to be when I grew up, I confidently responded, “A journalist”. It was just a given. I was going to be the next Katie Couric. I was going to travel overseas to cover the war, and the royal weddings, and whatever the heck was going on in Darfur. (Which I pronounced at that time like, “Darf-War”… because I thought it was like, The “Darf” War.)

Four years later, my answer became more and more wishy-washy. I’d switched my college major around three times and whenever someone would ask me what “the plan” was after graduation, I would much-less-confidently respond, “Ah… I don’t know, maybe something in marketing? Or sales. Or…like, Human Resources…?”

Long story short – I didn’t have a clue. Once the journalism thing fizzled out (which is a story for another day), I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Or be. I’d spent most of my life telling people that I was going to be a writer, a reporter, or a news anchor, so when I was faced with the opportunity of doing LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE… I was stuck. I didn’t know WHAT to do. “Becoming a journalist” had become part of my identity. What would I do if I didn’t turn out to be who I was “supposed” to be?

“You can be anything,” was the theme of our high school Valedictorian’s graduation speech. There were also a bunch of Dr. Seuss references thrown in there. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

Has anyone ever left a commencement address feeling inspired when the speaker references the guy who wrote “Green Eggs and Ham“? Asking for a friend.

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Denver, CO. May 2018.

As someone who is BASICALLY THIRTY (I think that’s what twenty-nine is. You’re not “in your twenties” anymore as a twenty-nine year old – if you screw up at this age, people won’t blame it on the fact that you’re a “twenty-something”, they’ll more likely say that you need to get your shit together because you’re “basically thirty”) — I like to consider myself something of an expert on this whole “being lost in your twenties” thing.

“What do I do now?”, “What if I don’t know WHAT to do now? Am I SUPPOSED to know?”, “Why isn’t someone telling me what to do now? Can’t they see that I don’t know? What if I’m not doing this right? I need an adult to ask for help”, “Oh, right. I guess I’m the adult now. GREAT.” 

Advice #1: Take the crappy job. Take this with a grain of salt. I am well aware that there isn’t a Dr. Seuss quote out there that says “take the crappy job” and that this sentiment isn’t too popular amongst graduation speech advice.

Follow your dreams. I am a big believer in that. I’m not saying you should limit yourself to a life as a department store greeter if you have a masters in psychology. But if you don’t know what your dream is — aka, you don’t know what you want to do with your career (and you don’t have a masters in psychology) then just do SOMETHING until you figure it out. I spent so much time worried that I was going to “pick the wrong job” and “get stuck in the wrong career” — but the jobs that I took to essentially pass time and pay bills along the way ultimately led me to the career that I have now.

I started out working as a server at a local winery while I was applying for marketing jobs. Eventually I took on more responsibility in an Event Coordinator role, which I was able to add to my resume. After about a year and a half of orchestrating weddings and corporate events, I found myself in a consumer services role for another company. This is the same company that I work for now where I was later promoted to Regional Sales Manager.

Guys, I was applying for MARKETING jobs. But somehow the path that I chose led me here and I couldn’t be happier.

Advice #2: Get creative. With that whole “take the crappy job” advice we just talked about… take it, and run with it. Get creative. Find opportunity where others wouldn’t. When I was working as an event coordinator, I spent evenings designing fliers and coming up with our own events that we could host for our wine club members to draw in new customers. I created and managed the social media pages. I even started a newsletter.

The point is – no one asked me to. I didn’t “have” to, I just did it. Because I knew that a career in marketing was the direction I wanted to go in, and I’d have to hustle and create my own opportunities if I wanted “experience”. I wanted to be able to show potential employers something when I went in for job interviews. Not only did it show ‘experience’ (sort of, probably not the same experience one gets from working in an actual marketing department), but it showed that I was a self-starter and that I was driven. These skills are important for ANY career and worthy of showing off in any job interview.

Advice #3: Hustle. I think the hardest part for me when it came to life after college was the idea that things would magically fall into place. Once I had that magic piece of paper (that college degree I’d spent four years of my life working toward), everything would be okay. I’d have a “good job”, and be able to afford a “nice house”, and all of the other crap I thought was supposed to happen immediately after college. Like you walk across the stage and just magically become an adult.

It doesn’t work like that. OH, how it does NOT work like that. You have to work. You have to hustle. You will not get things handed to you. It is a slap in the face (at least it was for me, because I was so naive) that no one is impressed by your Bachelors degree. “What experience do you have?” potential employers will ask. “What can you bring to the table?”

Go on job interviews. A lot of them. Even the ones that don’t work out are good for practice.

Develop a “side hustle” if you want to. Start a blog. Create your own jewelry business on Etsy. Whatever you want to do. These hobbies can teach you valuable skills in the work place (learning how to manage social media, invoice numbers, SEO, marketing techniques, etc.) If your venture is successful, these can also be impressive things to add to your resume.

Advice #4: Pay no attention to social media. Everyone’s doing better than you. I mean, they’re not – they’re just really good at posting happy things to Facebook and Instagram. It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap and ask yourself why so-and-so is doing better than you are just because they got engaged this week, and your biggest accomplishment was buying a new sponge for the kitchen sink.

But you’re doing a good job. Really, you are. I know it doesn’t feel that way because everyone you know seems to be doing better at life than you are, but they’re not. They’re just better at posting stuff on Facebook.

Advice #5: Go at your own pace. Being in your twenties is not a race. It can seem that way – trying to get ‘the career’ and ‘the husband (or wife)’, and ‘the house’ and ‘the kids(?)’ before you cross the finish line into your thirties, but it’s important to remember that we all have our own path. Some people get married and divorced in their twenties (twice), some people don’t get married at all until their thirties (me. I mean, I’m not engaged yet – but I know it’s going to be my thirties. I’ve slowly and bitterly come to terms with it.)

The point is – IT’S OKAY. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way, and you don’t have to speed through it. These are IMPORTANT milestones. Don’t rush through them just because you’re trying to keep up with Sally Homeowner on Facebook.

Advice #6: Figure out what kind of person you want to be, and the rest will fall into place. This one is kind of hokey, and kind of hard to explain. It was a realization that hit me as a twenty-four year old when I had moved back in with my parents (which I was quick to tell everyone was a TEMPORARY STAY, I was NOT “BACK”) and was job hunting for something that would “jump start my career”.

I was angry. And embarrassed. And cranky, like, all of the time. It was sort of like being a teenager all over again. I was convinced that once I found my “career job”, everything would be better. It would be the kind of thing that would transform me into a happier person who would be patient, and positive, and organized, and go to the gym every day.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a job. Especially for someone who said that she didn’t want her “career” to “define” her. I realized that I could be that kind of person – patient and positive and.. someone who works out?… before even starting a job. I could do that on my own.

Figure out WHO you want to be instead of WHAT you want to be, and the rest will fall into place. 

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2 thoughts on “Advice for the grads.

  1. Oh well I loved this blog post. I wanted to be a writer myself (I still want to, to be fair) but you have to be creative, as you said, and make sure you have something you do on the side. This blog post is very true!

    Liked by 1 person

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