Not That Kind of Grad: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned (Since J-School)

Career Advice

It’s been one year, three months and 28 days since I graduated from Carleton University.

In that time, I’ve traveled to Rwanda and Brazil, completed a Master’s degree, and started my first real job. I’ve also been rejected from a dream internship, moved back to my parents’ house, and fell out of touch with my best friend.

Finishing university can feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. It can feel like everyone around you is speeding through milestones and you’re stalled. It can feel like you’ve spent the last four years floating down a lazy river and now you’re in the Pacific Ocean.

Suddenly, the comforting structure of semesters and reading weeks and midterms vanishes and a whole new world takes its place. Whether it’s a new job or a new degree or simply a new phase of life, change comes with a mixed bag of emotions: excitement, hope, and probably some fear thrown in for good measure.

Now that I’m past the one year point, I thought it would be a good time to look back and share some of my career lessons learned after journalism school.

Here are a few of those things.

1) Plans change

After graduating, I had a plan for myself. Step 1) land internship. Step 2) get full-time job and build a career. Long story short, I didn’t get the internship and I felt like a failure. However, the closing of that door led to the opening of another – the chance to spend two months in Rwanda. While spending half a summer in East Africa was not my original plan, I will be forever grateful for the rare opportunity to immerse myself in such a beautiful country and culture. Sometimes, your second plan is even better than your first.

2) Stick it out.

There will be times that you will feel like you’re in over your head. You might find yourself like me, in the middle of a Master’s degree on the verge of dropping out because you had no idea what you got yourself into. But in the wise words of my Dad, “stick it out.” Now I see that those times I wanted to quit were times when I spent too much time comparing myself to my colleagues and not enough celebrating my own progress. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back. You can handle so much more than you think.

3) Know your worth.

Especially when you’re just starting out in a creative field, you can feel like you’re caught in a Catch-22. You need experience to get work and work to get experience – sound familiar? Likely, you will turn to unpaid jobs and internships to gain said experience but then you end up stuck in a different dilemma: being flat broke. After graduating, I turned down some writing opportunities because they didn’t pay. While it can be difficult to say no, remember you didn’t spend four years in university to work for free. Hold out for the paid gigs–they do exist, trust me!

4) Friends will come and go.

Everybody tells you this will happens, but it can still be a shock when it happens to you. I have close friends from high school whom I haven’t spoken to in a year. I also have friends who I’ve known for less than a year that I now can’t imagine ever living without. The natural stresses of post-grad make friendships harder to maintain but they can also help reveal which friendships were simply connections of convenience and which truly add value to your life.

5) Be open.

Be open to failure and to success. To change and to routine. Like the first lesson, remember that nothing is set in stone. You can make all the right moves, take the right classes, do the right internships, and still end up just as lost and confused as everyone else. But that’s okay! Say yes to as many things as you can. Take last-minute weekend trips and jobs overseas because often the most unexpected opportunities are the most transformational.

While in no way do I believe that what I’ve learned will apply to every situation or every person, I do hope that these lessons provide some comfort to my peers to whom this does. The transition from student to post-grad can be as enlightening as it is challenging but don’t let the setbacks shadow your achievements. You’ve made it here and you will make it through.

Originally published in October 2015 for Carleton University’s Learning Log.