What I Learned in a Year After Graduating College

Time is a tailwind to the young—don’t ignore this huge advantage. Pexels

It’s been a year since I’ve left the safe confines of the college campus. Since graduation, living in the non-academic world has been a big change. I was fortunate to have found a job that hones a craft I am passionate about. Although many aren’t as lucky, or maybe aren’t happy in their current job, there are some general guiding principles to help navigate the post-grad life. There are many people who make fatal blunders in their first year, perhaps out of carelessness, but more likely they have been lulled into believing their college education has guaranteed them lifelong success, and nothing could be further from the truth. There are a few things I wish I had told myself before I started my first day of full-time employment.

Your credentials don’t mean anything. It doesn’t matter if you were fraternity president, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, donated your time to a dozen worthy causes, or whatever it is that you feel sets you apart—you will need to prove yourself in front of your new colleagues. Most of my co-workers never got a full page summary of my skills and experiences that made me great for my job, I had to show them. They don’t know how great you were in a past life, so it’s up to you to prove it. You are only as good as what you have done lately—no one can ride successfully into the future on their past accomplishments for very long. As a corollary to this, understand no task is beneath you. If your boss asks you to do something you think is menial, prove you can do it. Garnering trust from clearing the bars set by small tasks is not worth nothing. These are opportunities to build relationships and establish credibility—the small things add up. There will be moments early in your career where you are entrusted with a small amount of responsibility, relish the opportunity! Prove you can handle it, and you will be entrusted with more.

Learn when to take risks. There are plenty of opportunities to get caught up in negative risk-taking. Sending an angry e-mail, complaining to your co-workers, or partaking in office gossip are all examples where people can disqualify themselves in front of their peers. Look for opportunities to engage in positive risk-taking, whether it’s working on a new project, joining a committee, or participating in an inter-office competition. Always be looking for opportunities to prove yourself and show that you’re trustworthy to inherit responsibility.

Two words: side hustle. You’re probably not starting out of school doing the thing you love full-time. Maybe you are. Either way, it’s okay, but don’t not find time to do the thing you really love. If you love photography find a way to stay connected to the craft and do shoots on the weekend. If you’re interested in starting your own business connect with a local small business incubator. If you love politics, volunteer on a local campaign. You get the point. Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be something that makes money right out of the gate. Investing a small amount of time over several years will open doors and create connections that will lead you to make money doing the thing you love. When the moment is right, you will have spent the time honing your skills that prepare you for the perfect opportunity—whatever it is. As the stoic philosopher, Seneca the Younger, said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” 

Live life. Your life starts now—there will never be the perfect time to do whatever it is you’re waiting to do. Whether it’s starting a business, running for political office, or writing a book. Obviously, these larger goals need to be broken down into achievable steps, but don’t wait for “the right moment” to start. The journey of a thousand miles begins by taking the first step, and the first step is a lot easier to take now than later down the road. Time is tailwind for us all, and we would be wise to harness it in our quest for a fulfilling life.

Be patient. It’s been said that, “Your 20s are for learning and your 30s are for earning.” If you’re young, you’re exceptionally lucky—time is on your side. Although it’s hard to be patient now, understand careers are made over the years. You need to spend your 20s developing skills and learning as much as you can. Your 30s and beyond is the space you can use to showcase your mastery and achieve commercial success. All around us we are tempted to follow in the footsteps of those who have found the quick rise, we should be weary as these stars are usually followed by a swift change in fortune.

Get involved. After a full work week, you’re probably less inclined to act on this one. Perhaps, like me, you find it hard to find the motivation to sit with a group of strangers when you just want to unwind. The excuses are endless—you say “I work too late,” or “I have other priorities.” Understand, the world waits for no one, find a way to press the flesh and get a finger on the pulse of what is going on around you. These experiences will help you understand trends and where the winds are headed in your industry. Getting involved, in anything, is a good way to cast a wide net for the right connection and opportunity. If you’re involved in any craft get involved in a trade group—surround yourself with local masters who can help guide you along the path.

Read. Even if you’re no longer regularly attending class or following a reading schedule, you should try. The schedule you maintained in college of reading several books a month sharpened you as a person. Even if you’re not interested in reading 19th century British literature, you should find something you are interested in reading about. Reading expands your mind and allows you to learn from the experiences of those who have come before you. It also allows you to see into the mind of people you want to emulate. As the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said, “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”

These tips won’t set you on the hot track to success, but a year goes by quickly after graduation. And the value of the time you invest in bettering yourself will compound over the years to sharpen and hone your skillset. Remember, time is a tailwind to the young—don’t ignore this huge advantage.

Matt Joyner is a finance professional in the Metro-Portland, Oregon area. He is a 2016 economics graduate from Michigan State University. You can find him on Twitter @MattAJoyner or contact him at matt.a.joyner@gmail.com